Well it may have taken a little longer than anticipated, but he delivered. 14 years after being hired as General Manager and President of the Rangers, Glen Sather finally constructed a team worthy enough to be called a “champion.” How he got here, well, that’s an interesting story.
It didn’t start out all ice cream and sugar plums for Sather. His first several seasons on Broadway were littered with big-name acquisitions and playoff-less seasons. The acquisitions of Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, and Darius Kasparatis represent an era in Ranger hockey that many blueshirt faithful would rather soon forget. Fortunately for Glen Sather and the Rangers, the 2004 lockout hit, and the man who once claimed he’d never lose a game if he had the Rangers payroll during his days in Edmonton would start a careful rebuild in the heart of Gotham.
And since then it’s taken shrewd drafting, value free agent signings, and clever trading to restore the original six team back to prominence.
To be fair to Sather, the biggest piece of the current championship team was acquired back in 2000 during his first year on the job. It took until the seventh round and over 200 picks before the Rangers found its future franchise player with pick number 205…goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Not a bad return on a seventh round pick out of Sweden.
Like any team, the Rangers have had its share of draft-pick misses (most notably Hugh Jessiman in 2003), but they have been able to find talent early and late in the draft to help build its roster up. Forwards Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Carl Hagelin and defenseman Marc Staal have all been key contributors during the team’s playoff run this year. Stepan and Kreider make up two-thirds of the Rangers’ de facto top line while Hagelin has played the role of penalty-killer/third-liner/complimentary piece to perfection and has been rewarded with a number of key goals. Staal has been the longest-tenured skater on the team and has made it back from a series of head injuries to round out a formidable defense corps. This list doesn’t even include drafted players the Rangers were able to package to upgrade in the roster (more on that shortly).
It’s nice to be able to draft, but if you can’t supplement your drafting with some key free agent signings, then a team will never get out of neutral. The biggest ticket item on the current roster acquired through free agency is still center Brad Richards. He’s finishing his third season in New York and already there are questions about him being bought out this summer. While those questions can wait, Richards has followed up a horrific season last year where he was even benched during the playoffs with a solid, if unspectacular, season where he has taken on more of a leadership role with the team.
The Rangers have also had success signing undrafted free agents. Dan Girardi was signed back in 2006 and has slowly developed into a top-pairing blueliner. Additionally, Norwegian hobbit Mats Zuccarello was signed in 2010 and after an inconsistent first three seasons in North America, finally found his game this season and led the Rangers with 59 points.
But where Glen Sather and the Rangers have had their biggest success…where they have truly cemented their contender status, is via the trade market. Under the radar moves such as acquiring Brian Boyle for a 3rd round pick or swapping unreliable defenseman Michael Del Zotto for the steady Kevin Klein have provided the depth necessary to survive the Eastern Conference. But the four moves that will define Sather’s tenure with the Rangers…the four moves with the biggest impact on the direction of the franchise:
- Trading free-agent bust Scott Gomez for stud blueliner Ryan McDonagh. Yes, there were some other pieces involved, but those two will forever be linked. Sather seemingly locked himself into another bloated contract when he inked Scott Gomez to a monster deal following the 2006/07 season. For reasons only known to Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey, the Canadiens thought it was wise to part with the blue-chip prospect for the albatross contract of Gomez. Not only did the Rangers pick up its current-day best defenseman, but it freed up money to sign free-agent Marian Gaborik.
- Sending home-grown Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, along with prospect Tim Erixon and a 1st round draft pick, to the Columbus Blue Jackets for all-star Rick Nash in the summer of 2012. Rumors circulated that Nash only had eyes for the Rangers so when the swap was made, it only added to the level of expectations for the winger. He’s been solid in his two regular seasons in New York but has yet to be the game-breaker they acquired him for in the playoffs so far. Of course one big series over the next two weeks and he’ll never have to buy a meal for himself again in Manhattan.
- Looking to regain the depth lost after the Nash trade, the Rangers sent sniper Marian Gaborik to Columbus for forwards Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, and defenseman John Moore. Since then Gaborik has moved on to the Kings and is having a fantastic playoffs. The three players acquired by the Rangers deepened the Rangers while also helping the Rangers save a few cap dollars.
- Shipping captain and fan-favorite Ryan Callahan and two draft picks to Tampa Bay for Martin St. Louis. St. Louis wanted out and only wanted to don the Ranger blue. Callahan, set to be a free-agent and seeking his last big payday, could never come to terms with the Rangers and Sather made the risky move to trade him. At first it looked like the Rangers got fleeced as St. Louis looked like a shell of his former self immediately after the trade. But that all changed during the playoffs and St. Louis has tallied 13 points to lead the Rangers in scoring while Callahan wonders where he’ll call home next season.
And despite the success building the roster, there’s no doubt the team wouldn’t be where they are today if not for head coach Alain Vigneault. After several failed hirings including Brian Trottier, Sather finally hit a good stretch of coaches beginning with Tom Renney, then John Tortorella, and finally Vigneault. Sather has the uncanny ability to change coaches just at the right time and have his new hire build on the success of his predecessor.
It’s been a long, difficult road for Glen Sather since his success in Edmonton. But after 14 years, calls for his head from the media and fan rallies to protest his tenure, the man known as “Slats” is having the last laugh.