As the frenzy of free agency has abated, we can sit back and examine the results with more perspective.
The gist of my stance on the Rangers’ offseason is simple: I trust Glen Sather completely, and so should you. “Why?” People ask, and quickly point to the dark years of the early 2000s.
Let’s start at the beginning. Glen Sather took over from Neil Smith, who, while he deserves credit for winning the Stanley Cup in 1994, dismantled the team not only in the short term, but for the future as well. The price of the win-now team of 1994 was almost unprecedented.
If you think that Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and Angelo Esposito was a high price for two months of Marian Hossa, how about the group led by Tony Amonte, Doug Weight and Mike Gartner?
Soon after the party was over, Glenn Anderson, Stephane Matteau, and Brian Noonan were gone, and Esa Tikkanen was in his last throws. In 1997, GM Smith again reloaded for a win-now team. The next season, with Mark Messier gone, Adam Graves was no longer the same, and Leetch, Gretzky, and Richter could not win by themselves.
Literally NOTHING was left in the Rangers’ system. When a prospect made a mark, he found himself gone with surprising speed (i.e., Marc Savard).
Enter Glen Sather, the architect of maybe the most powerful dynasty of all-time. Rangers fans forget that Glen Sather built a team so powerful that he was able to relinquish Wayne Gretzky in his prime and still win the Stanley Cup.
Sather's talent evaluating ability in the early 80s may be unparalleled in the history of the NHL. In a span of several years, Sather picked up stars such as Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey in the early first round of the draft, but it is his later-round selections that are amazing.
Mark Messier (third round), Glenn Anderson (fourth round), Andy Moog (seventh round), Jari Kurri (fourth round), Esa Tikkanen (fourth round) are all examples of Sather’s talent gauging ability.
Admittedly, Sather’s magic touch was nowhere to be seen as the Oilers finally faded. However (as a headline bragged while Lou Lamoriello struggled with his mistakes just following the lockout), “Slats is back.”
Glen Sather has built the Rangers back up. There is no longer a huge hole in the minor leagues, as was the case under Neil Smith. The minor league system teems with prospects such as by Bobby Sanguinetti and Alexei Cherepanov.
It is time that Rangers fans appreciated Sather for what he has done the last couple of years.
I don’t feel that he has the respect he deserves for several reasons: First, that he is friends with Jim Dolan (no further explanation required). Second, that the Rangers did not win for the first four years Sather was general manager. Third, because we have not yet fully seen the extent of the young talent pool Sather has compiled.
Sather has made many changes, but they are the last in a top-to-bottom overhaul of the organization. Whatever the case, the Rangers have an excellent coach and the prerequisite for a Stanley Cup, a top-notch goaltender. Sather has made changes which I support. I will now review them.
We should not complain about the Wade Redden signing. Redden is not Brian Leetch, but he is a top pairing defenseman. The important point is that he’s something NOT to worry about. He will not give the puck away like Tom Poti or take dumb penalties like Marek Malik, both of whom were unfortunately plugged into primary roles in the past.
Redden is versatile and clearly a smart player if you look at his +/- ratings. With the cap rising by the year, his “high” price is much less worrisome than some ambulance chasers make it out to be.
The Kalinin signing could turn out to be a brilliant move. It is low risk (in that it’s a one year contract) and could pay dividends. Kalinin is still young and by no means should be judged by his performance last season.
Michal Roszival may well do even better on the power play, as he will no longer shake in his skates at the sight of Jaromir Jagr to his right and act like a “deer in the headlights.”
Dan Girardi and Marc Staal can only get better. Paul Mara is a solid player who is certainly nothing to sneer at, especially as a sixth defenseman.
By using four defensemen who have substantial offensive ability, the Rangers have made a pivotal organizational transition which has gone completely overlooked. They will now use a normal power play format with two defensemen on the point at all times, with Redden, Roszival, Kalinin, and Mara.
The power play will no longer be a muddle of Martin Straka and Roszival both constantly deferring to a shadowed Jagr. There will no longer be desperate stimulus strategies such as having Marek Malik shifting between the front of the net and the point.
It is easy to under estimate the stabilizing effect of having four defensemen who can play the point on the PP. The Rangers will head into the season prepared, with two set PP units.
Rangers fans are worried about goal-scoring. While the defensive corps is certainly better established, the situation at forward is nowhere near as problematic as some claim.
Let’s recap: last season, Jaromir Jagr, Shanahan, and Straka declined. Avery missed many games and when he was in the lineup, he had trouble with the puck because of wrist problems.
True, it’s much more reassuring to hear Sam Rosen say, “Jagr with Dubinsky and Straka” than “Dubinsky with Zherdev and Naslund,” but perhaps this juxtaposition will put in perspective the power of name recognition. Zherdev and Naslund combined had roughly the same output as Jagr and Straka (pro-rated). The difference is that Zherdev and Naslund should be expected to do better this season rather than decline (which I will get to later).
I think that we have a good sense of what to expect of Drury and Gomez, but what of the unknown commodities?
The Rangers’ offense this year will rely on growth. The truth is, nobody knows what Petr Prucha, Ryan Callahan, and Nigel Dawes can accomplish on one of the top lines. All three will get chances to step into a major role.
Personally, I think that Prucha’s magic is gone, that Callahan will remain the same (a hard-working winger with some scoring ability), and that Dawes will continue to develop into a sniper.
If even one of the aforementioned players flourishes, the Rangers will be in great shape, with two full lines that can score. Besides, there’s no question that Brandon Dubinsky will continue to emerge as a threat.
What should we make of Naslund and Zherdev? With these acquisitions, Sather is betting against Ken Hitchcock and Alain Vigneault, and the odds are in his favor. Both Naslund and Zherdev are escaped prisoners of ultra-defensive trapping coaches. Both players are going to hit the ice as if they’ve just escaped prison.
We know that Naslund is aging, but it is perfectly realistic to expect him to score 30 goals, since he’s actually allowed to shoot the puck this year. Zherdev, only 23, is the wild card, having come from a similarly restrictive situation, and in addition having great potential. (One need only go on YouTube for reassurance.)
Also, lest we forget, Zherdev was acquired for Fedor Tyutin and a bulky bag of pucks that cost over $2 million (Christian Backman). The opportunity cost of the trade is very low. Tyutin is a defined commodity and is not going to explode offensively. The only thing to say about Backman is that Sather deserves credit for managing to trade him to clear cap space.
Let’s face it, the Jagr/Shanahan generation could only last for so long. For the first time in over a decade, a Rangers fan can look at the roster and minor league system and exhale because there is youth and talent throughout. If the team falters in the short term, it is built well enough to rebound the following season.
This team has nowhere to go but up. Thank you, Slats.