For many years, New York Rangers fans have been asking for Glen Sather's head. Despite being one of the biggest market teams out there, Sather has not been able to put together a successful team for quite some time, including some big disappointments like missing the playoffs last year.
Even though he has handed out some absolutely brutal contracts to underperforming players, Sather deserves some recognition for the complete roster the Rangers have been throwing out there every game.
All of the success has stemmed from the youth movement. Before the cap era, the Rangers kept bringing in superstar after superstar nearing the end of their careers (see Bure, Pavel; Lindros, Eric; etc.), only to make it nowhere. Ever since the lockout, Sather has been making a conscious effort to not trade away the young talent and give them some playing time.
Let's take a quick look at how that has panned out so far:
Brandon Dubinsky: Has really come into his own this season, leading the team in every offensive category (goals, assists, points), while playing great two-way hockey and bringing some leadership and toughness. He has really stepped up during the injuries as well.
Marc Staal: Has really just blossomed beautifully over the last few years, becoming one of the premier shut-down defensemen in the league, while adding a bit of the scoring touch over the last few seasons. The scary thing is I think he still has some more potential with his offensive abilities.
Will you still chant "Fire Sather" in the Garden?
Ryan Callahan: Cally is hurt right now, but when he is healthy, he is the cog that makes the wheels go around. Just the perfect example of how a coach wants every one of his players to play, by blocking shots, taking the body, hustling and scoring.
Dan Girardi: Talk about an absolute diamond in the rough. I am sure Sather would give credit to his scouting department for finding Girardi, who was an undrafted free agent; even still, I don't think many people saw this kind of production from him. Leads the league in blocked shots, is top 11 in the league in hits by defenseman and really improved his passing ability, as he is already about to break the 18 assists he has put up for the last three years. Sather did a great job locking Girardi and Staal up long term; even when, at the time, I thought Girardi was being slightly overpaid.
Derek Stepan: Stepan can be looked at as the Landry Fields of the Rangers. Just so much poise for such as young kid. He has some of the best ice vision of anyone on the team and has showed the ability to bury the puck. Oh and by the way, he is also the second leading scorer on the team.
Michael Sauer: Hasn't really been given a shot up until this point, despite being a former second-round pick, but he has now firmly imprinted himself in the lineup. He won't wow you with his offense, but he is one of the grittier defenseman I have seen wear a Rangers' uniform in a while, and his defensive ability can be seen by his team-leading +11.
Artem Anisimov: This is one of the advantages of not being afraid to dip into the Russian market. Anisimov should have been drafted ahead of where the Rangers got him, but because teams were scared off by the "Russian factor," the Rangers scooped him up late in the second round and are reaping the rewards. Anisimov is close to setting career highs in goals and assists, but if you just watch him out there, you can see his true dominance. He is always using his body to drive to the net and create scoring chances. The sky is the limit.
Matt Gilroy: Not sure if he really belongs in this category, but I love Gilroy, so it doesn't matter. He is finally getting his chance in the top six and is making things happen, just using his amazing skating ability to his advantage to really chip in on the offense and has looked MUCH improved in his own zone.
Another area I don't think Sather is given enough credit is with trades where he seems to make up for his poor choices in the free agent market.
Brandon Prust: Somehow Sather managed to get the Flames to make Prust a "throw-in" in the Higgins/Kotalik/Jokinen swap, and he is the one who has helped out either team the most. Prust is a perfect complementary-type player who hustles, does the dirty work and has been able to put some points up.
Steve Eminger: After handing out a dumb contract to Aaron Voros, Sather needed a way to get out of it, since Voros was best used as a million dollar punching bag for the other team. He shipped him off to Anaheim for Eminger. Voros has played just 11 goals in part because of injury, while Eminger has been an extremely solid defenseman for the Rangers for the whole entire season. Eminger hasn't been great by any stretch of the imagination, but getting something for nothing is a great deal.
Brian Boyle: Two years ago the Rangers shipped out a future 2010 third-round pick (Jordan Weal) for former first-round pick Boyle. Last year the trade looked worthless, but after some hard work in the offseason the Rangers looked to have gotten themselves a steal. He has already set his career highs with 14 goals and eight assists, and has been a key player on the penalty kill, using his long reach and big body. Boyle has gone from nearly being off the team to becoming an integral part of it.
Then there are just some moves that have given the Rangers depth to overcome injury.
Marty Biron: The first time the Rangers have had a solid backup in a while. He has given Hank some rest and produced better than you could have wanted (7-3 on the season), while playing for a minuscule salary. Just a perfect move.
Ruslan Fedotenko: Was an invite to training camp and played beautifully earning a spot on the team. Still have a hard time seeing him making the roster had Drury and Prospal not been hurt, but nonetheless a brilliant move by Sather to invite the guy who had his best years under Tortorella.
Mats Zuccarello: The Rangers got hit with unfortunate in-season injuries to Cally and Christensen, and, for once, it was nice for them to have depth now in the minors and be able to call up someone like Zuccarello to fill in. Just a wiz with the puck, he makes such intelligent decisions that he is able to overcome his short stature.
Ryan McDonagh: This one was a double plus, as Sather was able to get rid of Scott Gomez's awful contract and get something in return. McDonagh has only seem limited action so far, but he has looked decent and allowed the Rangers to play strong defense, despite the terrible year from Michael Del Zotto and injury to Michal Rozsival.
It is really just staggering the type of depth Sather has created with this team. Most years the Rangers would have been out of it with their star player in Gaborik missing some time, and some other key parts on both offense and defense going down, but with such a complete roster they haven't missed a beat.
I really hope I don't hear anymore "Fire Sather" chants ringing in the Garden this year, because credit needs to be given where credit is due, and he deserves some for sticking to his plan, making up for his mistakes, creating depth and putting an exciting, winning team out there for the fans to watch.