James Dolan hasn't gotten a lot of good press in recent years. But the New York Rangers are trying to change that.
While Dolan's New York Knickerbockers remain a mess, the Rangers are in the Stanley Cup Final and, even though many New Yorkers are loathe to give him any credit for it, the fact that his name on on the bottom of everybody's paycheck with the Blueshirts means he it entitled to some.
So here we go: first off, he signed off on the organization’s smartest decision in years—the dismissal of attention-loving coach John Tortorella in exchange for the low-key but more competent Alain Vigneault.
He approved a trade of his diva former captain, Ryan Callahan, a plumber player who somehow thought he was a star, for a real star, Martin St. Louis.
All of that Callahan gun-to-the-head-of-ownership posturing could have easily lapsed into the same sort of final decisions Dolan’s teams always seemed to make: give in, overpay the guy and then wonder what happened when the player laughed all the way to the bank over such a foolhardy decision.
The Knicks have deservedly gained Dolan most of his bad press. In 2007, former NBA commissioner David Stern called the Dolan-owned Knicks "Not a model of intelligent management," per ESPN.com. The signing of Allan Houston to a six-year, $100 million contract is almost as laughable as Dolan's decision to give Houston the assistant general manager job for the franchise.
Dolan's much more serious troubles came with Isiah Thomas as his coach. In 2007, a jury ruled Thomas and Madison Square Garden liable for $11.6 million in damages to a former Knicks female employee for unwanted advances from Thomas and a hostile work environment. Dolan was ordered to pay $3 million as part of the damages.
In 2005, Dolan handed out a five-year, $50 million contract to coach Larry Brown. He fired Brown after one season and bought out the rest of the deal, which amounted to $28 million for one year of coaching.
The Rangers have consistently made the playoffs in the 17 years since Dolan's inherited Cablevision empire assumed control of the Rangers, but not until now has he been able to say he has a team in the Stanley Cup Final.
His team got to the NBA Finals in 1999, but no title resulted, and it's been downhill since. The Knicks have made the playoffs just five times since 1999-00, despite gargantuan payrolls.
Not much is known about Dolan. He hates the media, even though Cablevision owns one of the biggest newspapers in New York (Newsday). He sings in a blues rock band in his spare time. He has given money to charity.
If owners get all the blame for their awful teams (Knicks, some Rangers teams), this version of the Rangers should be properly ascribed to Dolan's hand.
They have some older players (St. Louis, Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist) who earn a lot of his money. But those are three excellent players who have proven worthy of his underwritten signature. Vigneault might go down as his best move overall, a coach who calmed down an uptight locker room left over from the volatile Tortorella era.
In hockey, Charles Wang is indisputably ahead of Dolan in the "owner who gets worse press" category. Wang's New York Islanders continue to be a laughingstock, playing in a dump of a building and (it will change when they move to Brooklyn) and sticking with G.M. Garth Snow despite several horrendous trades, including the dealing of Matt Moulson and first-and-second-round picks to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek -- then getting only a second-round pick and prospect forward Sebastien Collberg from Montreal for Vanek.
You can toss the ridiculously named "Atlanta Spirit" ownership group that failed miserably with the Thrashers ahead of Dolan in the bumbling owners category, and probably everybody who has owned the Florida Panthers since 1998 too.
James Dolan didn't respond to an interview request for this story, which is not breaking news. But let it be known to his media handlers: We have noticed your hockey team, and we wish to give you some credit for it.
Yes, it's called good press.
What would a Stanley Cup mean to James Dolan and his legacy? It certainly wouldn't make up for his having helped make the Knicks a total disaster the last few years. But it would be a nice start to making many New Yorkers like him. We'd assume Dolan would be present to lift the Cup over his head at least once and get champagne sprayed on him.
Dolan would get to participate in a parade through the streets of the Big Apple and glad-hand Rangers fans and generally act like the king of the world for a while.
What would it mean for the Rangers? It would only be their first Stanley Cup in 20 years and second in the last 74 years. The Cup of 1994 certainly chased away a lot of bad old ghosts for the franchise, but 20 years is starting to become a pretty big drought again, especially for a team with as much money as this one has had.
Money will never be a problem for Dolan. Respect? Admiration? Legacy? Those are the things money can't buy. He's still got time to get them.