Rebuilding The New York Rangers, Part Two: Enter Sather
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 say...it 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.
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