It may have taken him a while, but Glen Sather seems to have found the secret formula that eluded him since James Dolan made him President and General Manager of the New York Rangers.
This is essentially Sather’s third batch of Rangers teams that he has put together since 2000, and it is appearing to be the most successful.
Initially, Sather tried to build the team around broken down has-beens, such as Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Anson Carter, Alexei Kovalev, and Bobby Holik. This route was unsuccessful; the Rangers failed to make the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
Sather realized that it was not working and, looking forward to a likely lock-out, dismantled his team toward the end of the 2003-2004 season.
Although he traded away a plenitude of players to rebuild after the lock-out, Sather brought in Jaromir Jagr from the Capitals in exchange for Anson Carter. After the lock-out, the Jaromir Jagr Show began in New York. Sather built the team around Jagr, especially by signing fellow Czech and former Penguin Martin Straka to play with him.
This strategy sent the Rangers to the playoffs after a phenomenal season from Jagr, but its flaws showed when the Rangers were swept by the Devils. Jagr was playing hurt, and it was clear that the Rangers would not be able to win without him being effective.
Although Sather brought in Brendan Shanahan for the next season, he only really replaced veterans Martin Rucinsky and Steve Rucchin, and did not solve the dilemma.
Sather began to prepare batch three during the summer of 2007. He started to build a team that did not need to rely on Jagr by signing top free agents Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. The result was that the Rangers had a great season even though Jagr was having one of the worst years of his career.
Sather would then have his most trying offseason since he took over for Neil Smith as general manger, and other than a regrettable Patrick Rissmiller signing, it appears that he made all of the right decisions.
He turned the page on the Jaromir Jagr era at Madison Square Garden after deciding not to resign him along with Straka and Shanahan. It was a difficult decision to make, but Sather saw how his team was outplayed in the playoffs by a young and speedy Pittsburgh Penguins squad.
The Rangers needed to shift their leadership responsibilities to younger and faster Drury and Gomez, and build the team around them, adding Markus Naslund to assist as well.
The Rangers already had promising, young, and speedy forwards such as Brandon Dubinsky, Nigel Dawes, and Ryan Callahan, but Sather knew he needed to add this type of player who was also a proven goal scorer.
He accomplished this by trading Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman for the very talented Nikolai Zherdev (as well as Dan Fritcshe).
Zherdev had a history in Columbus of inconsistency and clashing with his coaches, but carried also a reputation of being a top-class offensive player, scoring 26 goals in the previous season. So far this season, Zherdev has been the Rangers' best player.
Although the defense lost a physical Tyutin, Paul Mara and Marc Staal have stepped up to the plate to fill that void this season. Sather also re-signed Michal Rozsival and added Wade Redden to give the Rangers arguably their best top defensive pairing since Brian Leetch and Vladimir Malakhov.
Sather also understood that Sean Avery was a disaster waiting to happen, and although he was valuable to the Rangers during his short tenure in New York, Sather did not want to risk a big contract on the time bomb.
He found a replacement for Avery in Aaron Voros, who has the offensive upside and grit of Avery without the distractions and lack of discipline. Voros is playing phenomenally this season, quickly becoming a fan favorite.
In another great transaction, Sather parted ways with another undisciplined distraction: Ryan Hollweg. This move was addition by subtraction, as Hollweg has practically no hockey skills and is already getting into trouble in Toronto.
Currently, Sather is looking like a genius after his offseason reshaping of the Rangers. After the Rangers’ great start this season, it appears he may have finally found the right recipe for success.
It was a long process, but currently to succeed in the NHL it takes great goalkeeping, a physical, yet skillful defense, and a pacey offense in order to realistically vie for the Cup.
Sather put that type of team together in New York, and the Rangers have a very legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup.