Relaxed Rangers GM Glen Sather Confident in the Roster He's Built

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Relaxed Rangers GM Glen Sather Confident in the Roster He's Built
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — A general manager’s work is never done, even at this time of the season.

Just ask New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather about his busy Tuesday on the eve of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.

"It's really complicated," Sather said with coach Alain Vigneault seated to his right, attempting to maintain a straight face. "Today, it took us about three hours to figure out which golf course we were going to play on this afternoon. Then later on this evening, we have the question about dinner. What are you going to watch on TV tonight? Is Game of Thrones on? 

"It's tough."

Yep, the life of this particular 70-year-old general manager in early June isn’t all that taxing. 

After all the work that has been done leading to this Stanley Cup Final, after 14 years on the job without a trip to the Final, maybe he deserves the respite.

This isn’t one of those Rangers teams from the late 1990s or early 2000s that tried to buy its way to the postseason but failed miserably, missing the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons. Sure, it has its fair share of high-priced talent—Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards fit the bill—but that’s more of a product of great drafting, development and shrewd moves based largely on the wealth of existing in-house talent.

Rangers' top playoff scorers, how they got here
Player Goals Assists Points Acquired
Martin St. Louis 6 7 13 via trade for Ryan Callahan
Derek Stepan 5 8 13 via draft, second round, 2008
Ryan McDonagh 3 10 13 via trade for Scott Gomez
Brad Richards 5 6 11 via free agency, 2011
Mats Zuccarello 4 7 11 via free agency, 2010
Carl Hagelin 6 4 10 via draft, sixth round, 2007
Chris Kreider 4 6 10 via draft, first round, 2009
Rick Nash 3 7 10 via trade for Anisimov, Dubinsky

NHL.com

St. Louis was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Callahan, a 2004 fourth-round draft pick who was months away from unrestricted free agency. 

Nash was added in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets that dispatched Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, second-round picks in 2004 and 2006, respectively. 

Richards was a mega free-agent signing in 2011, but he was seen as a piece that could push the Rangers over the top and make them Cup contenders, not a desperate move to remain relevant in New York. 

The only five Rangers signed via free agency who are likely to dress during the Stanley Cup Final are Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello, Dominic Moore and Anton Stralman.

Despite the seven years of bad puck (four under Sather) and a 20-year stretch without a Stanley Cup (13 under Sather), the man who survived a prostate cancer scare doesn’t see his tenure, especially the early years, as "rocky."

BETH A. KEISER/Associated Press

"I don't think it's been rocky," Sather said. "Every year, there's only two teams that fight for the Stanley Cup and there's one that wins. It takes time to get in this position. Anyone that's been in the hockey business knows what it can be like, and it's complicated. I don't see any great personal satisfaction.

"I'm satisfied that the team is here. I think the job is partly done."

Sather’s mood during media day swayed from playful and jovial to angry and offended, depending on the question.

When asked if any teams with GM openings have contacted Sather to ask for permission to speak with assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, who has been very instrumental in the Rangers’ drafting success and day-to-day operations, he bristled.

"Do you honestly think somebody would pick up the phone and say, ‘I'd like to talk to one of your personnel at this time of year?'" Sather said. "I wouldn't entertain the thought of letting anyone speak to anyone right now."

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Clearly with all the watching of Game of Thrones and golfing, it wouldn’t make sense to interview anyone in the Rangers front office right now.

Yet when asked about using the Rangers’ final amnesty buyout on the final six years of Richards' nine-year, $60 million contract after the season, Sather said: "I've thought about it a lot. But it's not something that we're thinking about right now. … Certainly haven't thought much about it lately. But that decision will come in the summer."

A move that Sather made at the end of last season could come back to haunt him, although it could be why the Rangers win the Cup.

He dealt Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett, replenishing the depth that had gone missing in the wake of the Nash trade the prior summer. 

Now Gaborik is a King and leading the playoffs with 12 goals.

"It was like every trade," Sather said. "It's complicated and difficult." 

Well, maybe not every trade. 

The reason the Rangers had money available to sign Gaborik was because of one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. On June 30, 2009, the Rangers acquired the rights to defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward Chris Higgins from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Scott Gomez, a whopping disappointment in New York who still had five years and $30 million remaining on his contract.

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The next day, the Rangers signed Gaborik.

The ripple effect that has propelled the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 can be traced as far back as 2000, when Sather found Henrik Lundqvist in the seventh round of the draft. Four years later, there was Callahan and Dubinsky. Two years later, there was Anisimov.

Also in that time, the Rangers drafted other key players who are still with the team—Derek Stepan, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider—and made other moves that have made a huge difference. Picking up Kevin Klein for Michael Del Zotto was a small but meaningful move this season, and getting Raphael Diaz for a draft pick is paying dividends in the postseason.

At this point in his career, Sather is not as hands-on as he used to be and defers to Gorton and his staff in some areas. 

At the time the Rangers traded for McDonagh, the defenseman could have been walking around Madison Square Garden as Sather’s personal cigar lighter and he wouldn’t have known the budding star’s face.

"I had never seen him play," Sather said. "That was entirely our scouting staff. Jeff Gorton had seen him.  (Director of player personnel) Gordie Clark. I had no idea other than seeing the name on the paper.

"You don't give the managers credit for that. It's the people that work in the field that do those things for us."

Sather is still there when it matters most. Just ask St. Louis.

After the unexpected passing of St. Louis' mother during the second round of the playoffs, Sather made sure the newly acquired player received all the support the organization could muster in the midst of a trying time. 

"There was support from every angle," St. Louis said, "but it started at the top. I was very fortunate to have Glen and everybody help me out at a tough time."

"He’s a great guy and a proven winner in this league," Girardi said. "When he talks, you listen to what he has to say. It’s always something very smart and very great. We like having him around, walking around with a cigar in his mouth."

Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Perhaps the best move Sather made was deciding to fire coach John Tortorella after two successful seasons and hire Vigneault, a coach with a more easygoing personality and aggressive coaching style.

The pair have made wonderful music together this season and put on quite the comedy show during media sessions. 

After praising Vigneault for about 20 seconds, Sather had this to say about why Tortorella was fired last year: "Coaches sometimes run out of time wherever they are."

Vigneault, sharp as ever and one year removed from being fired by the Vancouver Canucks, replied, "I don't agree with that, but that's all right."

On the ice and off it, the Rangers are four wins from a Stanley Cup because of a group effort, one that is led by Sather, who has earned the right to play 18 holes and watch The Mountain crush the skull of Prince Oberyn as often as he likes over the next two weeks.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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