Rebuilding The New York Rangers, Part Two: Enter Sather

Tonight's Healthy ScratchesCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2010


When GM Neil Smith left the New York Rangers following the 1999-00 season, he left them depleted of youth and stocked with overpaid, under-performing veterans.

The Rangers, who were cellar dwellers in the Eastern Conference for the previous three seasons, were in desperate need for a new direction.

With their farm system and future devastated from years of selling the farm and horrendous drafting, the person who would take over for Smith would have a formidable and strenuous task at hands.

Who would be better to turn the Rangers stock around than the mastermind behind the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the '80s?

Glen Sather assembled one of the most devastating collection of players to ever play for one organization. Sather was responsible for players the likes of Jarri Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Grant Fuhr, Mark Messier, and Wayne Gretzky.

To say the man had an eye for talent and utilization of youth would be an understatement. With that core of young, home-grown superstars, Sather and the Oilers won five of the six Stanley Cups they played in during an eight-year span.

Not only did he develop players, he knew when to say goodbye to them and rebuild when needed. By 1991, just about every one of those aforementioned players were traded for younger players and draft picks. Sather knew how to play the small-market game, and he played it well.

The Rangers viewed Sather as a sure fire solution to solving the Rangers problems.

Finally, under Sather and newly appointed head coach Ron Low—Sather's understudy and former coach of the Oilers—the Rangers would once again develop their own players, establish a solid core of home-grown talent, pepper that with the right crew of veterans, and they would once again be on top of the NHL standings.

Sather once said that if he was given the Rangers payroll, his team "would never lose a game." Well, now he had it. And, let's just got to him.

Ever see what happens to some children that come from a very strict, supervised home environment when they go away to college? They turn out to be some of the most unruly, wild, uncontrollable kids in the whole school.

That's what happened to Sather. He came from tight-pocketed, money-strapped Edmonton, Alberta, to the Big Apple, where there is no there is no limit. The place where price tags are nonexistent.

Rather than sticking to the blueprint of developing within and trading less for more that generated Sather so much success, he instead went on a spending spree that would have made even George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones proud.

His first year on the job, other than the reunion with Mark Messier, there wasn't much a difference in personnel from the previous season. There also wasn't much of a difference in the standings, the Rangers once again finished with the fifth-worse record in the NHL.

It was during the 2001 offseason where Sather began to go nuts with his MSG checkbook.

The first major move he made was trading away one of the most beloved Rangers of all time, Adam Graves. Like I said, Sather had the great ability to know when to trade his veterans for youth. At the time I remember being distraught when I heard the news that Graves was traded, but now that I look back on it, it made perfect sense and was a good move.

Graves' goal production was clearly on the decline over the past few seasons and the Rangers were moving in a young direction—or so it seemed—when Mikeal Samuelsson was received in return.

The Rangers also signed 24-year-old defenseman Bryan Berard. Berard had missed a major part of the previous season with a nasty eye injury which put his career in doubt. However, the offensive upside on this former first-overall pick was well worth the gamble by Sather.

The Rangers also selected a goaltender with their first-round draft pick that summer. Dan Blackburn played in 31 games that season as an 18-year-old for the Rangers, another indication that Sather was determined to make this team younger.

Then, the trades started coming.

In August of that offseason, Sather made perhaps one of the biggest trades in recent Rangers history when he acquired Eric Lindros from the Flyers.

Lindros, arguably one of the most dominant players in the NHL at the time, was another gamble for Sather, however. Lindros had missed the entire previous season with head injuries stemming from a series of concussions. When he was healthy, there was no doubt he was an offensive horse, but staying healthy was a huge question mark.

The superstars didnt' stop there. Near the trade deadline of that season, Sather traded for the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure. Bure, again, one of the most deadly scorers in the league, had injury problems. During parts of the two seasons he spent on Broadway, Bure scored 51 points in 50 games. He was forced to retire just 39 games into his second season with New York after a knee injury.

With those two trades, Sather gave up a first-round draft pick in Pavel Brendl, another first rounder in the Bure deal, along with a second round and two fourth rounders.

At the end of it, none of those draft picks amounted to anything in the NHL, but the risk was still there and the path to getting younger was strayed.

Tom Poti, Matthew Barnaby, and Martin Rucinsky were also all brought in at that deadline.

The finish? Fourth in the Atlantic Division and once again, fifth worse record in the NHL.

Sather's veteran spending spree was in full effect the following offseason. Bobby Holik bolted across the Hudson River from the Devils and signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the Rangers.

"He is one of the league's premiere two-way centremen, combining superlative size and passion for the game with an intense desire to win and excellent leadership qualities," said Sather of Holik.

Sather wasn't done reeling in former tri-state rivals with Holik. The very next day Sather signed former Islanders' pest defensemen Darius Kasparaitis to a six-year, $25.5 million contract. He also fired Ron Low and brought in former Islanders great, Bryan Trottier to coach the Blueshirts. Trotts didn't last however and was fired midway through the season.

During the season, Sather continued bringing in veterans at the youth's expense when he reacquired Alex Kovalev from the Penguins. Sather sent Mikael Samuelsson, yes the same Samuelsson that was acquired for Graves, and former first-round draft pick Rico Fata to Pittsburgh.
Sather also parted ways with Radek Dvorak a month later when he brought in Anson Carter from the Oilers. With Dvorak gone, the Czech line of Dvorak, Petr Nedved, and Jan Hlavac, who was traded in the Lindros deal, was completely broken. The Czech line was one of the Rangers most consistent and productive lines in recent memory.
The finish? Fourth in the Atlantic Division and the eight-worse team in the NHL, missing the playoffs again.
Sather, unlike previous seasons, didn't open up the checkbook leading to the 2003-2004 season. The Rangers went with much of the same group of players as the season before. The only major face missing was goalie Mike Richter, who was forced to retire due to consistent injuries.

The Demolition
The Rangers were once again lingering at the bottom of the standings throughout the season. Unlike season's past, Sather was not a buyer at the trade deadline. No, Sather was a seller of unrealistic magnitude. The bomb was planted and towards the end of the regular season, Sather pushed the detonator and imploded the Rangers organization.
Kovalev was moved to Montreal. Marty Rucinsky to Vancouver, Barnaby to Colorado, Nedved to Edmonton, Chris Simon to Calgary, Vladimir Malakhov went to Philly, Greg DeVries was shipped to Ottawa. Then, the second most shocking move of the season came. Brian Leetch was traded to Toronto, on his birthday. Arguably the greatest Ranger to ever wear the sweater, was now gone, just like that.
In return, Sather accumulated a massive amount of prospects, rookies, and draft picks.
I said that Leetch was the second most shocking move, because the most shocking and one-sided trade came in late January of that year.
Sather, some how swindled the Washington Capitals into trading Jaromir Jagr straight up for Anson Carter. I understand that Jagr had his problems in Washington, but this is Anson Carter we're talking about.
With no hockey played the following season due to the lockout, the Rangers had a dramatically different team the next time they stepped onto the ice at MSG.
Along with all those veterans, Sather also bought out the contract of Bobby Holik and said goodbyes to Mark Messier when he officially announced his retirement from hockey.
The 2005-06 season finally began what Sather was supposed to do in the first place; rebuild.
Sather built a steady core of veteran players, not superstars, around Jagr with the likes of Michal Nylander, Martin Straka, Marek Malik, Steve Rucchin, and midseason acquisition Petr Sykora.
With Jagr playing on an other-wordly level, surprising production by rookie Petr Prucha, and the emergence of soon to be Olypmic Gold Medalist goalie Henrik Lundqvist in goal, the Rangers shocked the hockey world and reached 100 points and the postseason for the first time in seven years.
After an early dismissal by New Jersey, the Rangers came back the next season again only making a tweak or two during the offseason. Committed to youth, Sather only brought in Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen, and Aaron Ward.
The Shanahan signing was right for every reason. Not only could he still produce, but he was an outstanding leader and mentor for the youth. Cullen would be essentially replacing Steve Rucchin and Aaron Ward was a very steady defensemen.
The Rangers were playing steady, but inconsistent down the stretch, which sparked Sather to make a minor move in stature, but huge in production.
Sather traded for Los Angeles Kings' superpest Sean Avery. After putting Avery with his energy and surprising scoring touch into the lineup, the Rangers went 17-6-6 to finish the season.
The Rangers swept the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round but were then knocked out by the Buffalo Sabers in the second.
Tasting a little bit of success, Sather's addiction to big name stars got the best of him once again.
During the offseason, Sather gave out humongous contracts to free agents Chris Drury and Scott Gomez.
Both were overhyped, overpaid and likewise underachieved.
The Rangers had another hum-hum season and were ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the team clearly no longer belonging Jagr, the Czech superstar left the NHL and went to the KHL of Russia that following offseason.
Too bad Sather's spending habits didn't leave as well.
Sather once again opened up the the bank and signed Michal Rozsival to a four-year, $20 million contract and Wade Redden to a six-year, $39 million deal.
Unlike year's past, where Sather could give any player any amount of ridiculous money he wanted, under the new NHL CBA there was a salary cap implemented.
With the Redden, Drury, Gomez, and Rozsival contracts, the Rangers hands were seriously tied.
That's where they remain today. Tied. Luckily Sather was able to move Gomez over the offseason in order to sign Marian Gaborik.
The Rangers need to take a page out of Sather's book from the 2003-04 season and implode.
However, the first person that needs to be relieved of duty is Sather himself.

Part Three coming soon.


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