Surely, most New York Rangers fans can vividly recall the excitement surrounding the team last summer. Not only was Glen Sather able to cleverly unload the bloated contract of Scott Gomez (thanks again, Bob Gainey), but they were also able to sign a bona fide superstar offensive player in Marian Gaborik. It seemed, to the untrained eye at least, that things were finally starting to change for the better at Madison Square Garden.
A day after the Rangers returned to their all-too-familiar April stomping grounds (any of the various beautiful golf courses this world has to offer), however, we have to be thinking: what went wrong? After all, in trading Gomez and acquiring Gaborik, this team really made quite a coup. Such a swap improved the team dramatically, there’s no denying that.
Yet, despite such a great deal, this 2009-10 Ranger team failed to qualify for the playoffs. Even last year’s team, lousy as they were, managed that feat. Sure, we can (and will) discuss and debate the successes and failures of John Tortorella in his first full season behind the bench with the Rangers. We can (and will) complain (rightfully so) about the paltry efforts submitted by some of this season’s Rangers for much of the season.
Those issues, upsetting as they may be, though, are not the root of the problem. These are not the reasons the Rangers continue to sink further and further into the Bermuda Triangle that is NHL mediocrity.
It seems like every summer since the lockout, the New York Rangers have undergone some sort of makeover. After the surprising 2005-06 campaign, Sather brought in a prehistoric Brendan Shanahan in a move that actually did improve the squad. The 2006-07 Rangers went a round further than the first post-lockout team did, losing to the Buffalo Sabres in the Conference Semifinals.
The next offseason, however, the focus on change went up a few notches. It was that summer of 2007 that brought Ranger fans the mirage of a strong one-two punch down the middle, when Slats wildly overpaid for both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez.
Those massive commitments didn’t fuel any progress, so following the 2007-08 season, Sather set his sights on acquiring a top offensive defenseman. Instead, he signed Wade Redden, committing an enormous portion of the team’s salary cap budget to an overrated, declining and aging player who’s lack of passion on the ice is matched only by his lack of footspeed.
Armed with a $6 million third-pairing defenseman (as well as the nearly-retired Markus Naslund), the 2008-09 Blueshirts were so bad and so poorly put together that Sather then had to go out and acquire several rental players in Nik Antropov and Derek Morris, as well as hire a new coach (John Tortorella) just so that his Frankenstein monster of a team could qualify for the playoffs. Not surprisingly, the underachieving group could not overcome even a lackluster effort from the top-seeded Washington Capitals.
Still, not pleased, Sather again sought to reconfigure the Rangers. To his credit, he was able to pawn off that highly-overpaid and underachieving Gomez on the Montreal Canadiens for some decent assets, and sign a legitimate super star in Marian Gaborik.
Unfortunately, he also brought in some other new faces.
Ales Kotalik, a player with such poor hockey sense that his only saving grace in the NHL is his booming slap shot, is the type of player that most coaches loathe. Naturally, Sather gave Kotalik a three-year commitment.
Sather also made the astute judgment call of allowing a perfectly good enforcer in Colton Orr to leave, only to pay more money to a 38-year-old Donald Brashear, an enforcer who no longer shows any interest in enforcing anything other than the fact that he’s too old to play the game he needs to play to be of any use in this league.
Then, to top it all off, Sather decided to part with Nikolai Zherdev, who was acquired in a trade just a season earlier for the useful and desirably-paid Fedor Tyutin, a player the Rangers still haven’t replaced effectively.
Clearly, this most recent makeover has been even more of a failure than Sather’s previous attempts at remaking the team in the span of one offseason. It’s interesting, when you look around at the league’s best teams, you don’t see the Detroit Red Wings or the New Jersey Devils, teams that are perennial contenders, making large-scale changes every summer.
In fact, these teams hardly ever make such changes at all. Why would they? Unlike the Rangers, these franchises don’t paint themselves into corners with terrible planning and horrible decision making that forces them to scramble. They plan ahead, they hire the right people, and they bring in the right players, and that’s why they win.
The Rangers…that’s not their style. Neither, for that matter, is following the lead of teams like the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the Chicago Blackhawks, among others. These teams bide their time and rebuilt through the draft, and are now poised to be among the league’s best teams for at least the next decade, if not longer.
No, that certainly isn’t an option for this team. Instead Sather prefers to make headline-grabbing moves, common sense and logic be damned. Sure, neither Scott Gomez or Chris Drury have ever shown the ability to be franchise players offensively, but why not pay them like they have, anyway? Never mind the fact that Wade Redden has been on a steep decline for two seasons, he must still be good, right?
Research, scouting, planning…these are things that Sather-built Ranger teams don’t pay much attention to. It doesn’t fit the Glen Sather method (i.e. throw sh*t against the wall and see what sticks). And if Sather remains (and I’d personally be surprised if he didn’t) with the club in his current capacity, all signs point to another summer of classic Glen Sather management techniques. That should be our cue to realize that we’ve got another waste of a season to look forward to in 2010-11.