Credit for Rangers’ Success Starts at the Top with General Manager Glen Sather

The start of the New York Rangers’ ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference this season didn’t begin with a move that was made during the off-season. It didn’t begin with the hiring of head coach John Tortorella in February of 2009, and it didn’t begin with Vezina-frontrunner Henrik Lundqvist’s debut in New York in 2005. No, the Rangers climb began with a collection of moves at the end of the 2003-04 season, including the trade of one of the greatest players in franchise history.

To say Glen Sather’s first four years as Rangers general manager was a disappointment is an understatement. With a collection of veteran mercenaries who were starts past their prime, the Rangers missed the playoffs in every single one of those seasons. With Sather behind the bench for the first 62 games of the 2003-04 season, the team was unable to come together as a unit, and the empty seats at Madison Square Garden reflected the frustration of the fans, who were about to watch their team miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. It was at this point that the Rangers’ model for building a team was completely changed.

With the Rangers well out of the race in 2004, the Rangers made a number of moves at the trade deadline, essentially overhauling their current roster. The Rangers would give up Alex Kovalev, Petr Nedved, Chris Simon, Matthew Barnaby, Martin Rucinsky, Vladimir Malakhov, Greg DeVries, and Brian Leetch, who at that point had played his entire seventeen-year career on Broadway. When the trades were made, Sather said, “It’s difficult to make any moves of this magnitude. We’re obviously rebuilding and we have to do what we can do to help this club proceed and be successful in the future,” (USA Today). The return for these players wasn’t overwhelming. The Rangers got six draft picks back for these players, as well as a collection of young players. Only one of the draft picks the Rangers received in these deals is still on the roster, Michael Sauer, who was taken with one of the two draft picks the Toronto Maple Leafs sent to New York to acquire Leetch.

And while many of the returns of these trades never panned out long-term for the Rangers, the ripple effect of the trades is what made the Rangers better in the long run. This happened because it forced the Rangers to be better with their draft picks, and it forced the team’s philosophy to be centered around guys who the Rangers already had in their organization, and not players who came to New York because of the Garden’s deep pockets.

That’s not to say that the Rangers haven’t made big splashes in free agency since the lockout (see Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, Brad Richards). However, you would be hard-pressed to argue that the identity of this team comes from the players who came through the organization (via the draft or a trade for a prospect), and made their NHL debuts as Rangers. And the man to thank for that is the same one who has been booed for most of his twelve seasons as the Rangers’ general manager.

When Rangers owner James Dolan spoke to the New York media a few weeks ago (the first time he had done so in almost six years), he mentioned how he and Sather decided to change the strategy for running the organization. Although there were struggles in previous years, including a win on the last day of the season to just make the playoffs last season, the organization never wavered on its philosophy.

Now, the Rangers are reaping the benefits, thanks in part to the trade deadline moves of 2004.

 

Michael Rappaport

Michael Rappaport

Michael Rappaport is a junior at New York University majoring in Sports Management. He is one of the Featured Writers for the New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers, and joined THW in January of 2012. In addition to his work for THW, Michael has been featured in numerous publications such as New York Hockey Journal, Yahoo's Puck Daddy Blog, The Huffington Post, Spector's Hockey, and Kukla's Korner to name a few. You can talk hockey with Michael by sending an e-mail to michael.rappaport@nyu.edu, or if you want to shoot a quick message, following @Mike_Rappaport on twitter.

3 Comments

  1. In the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Sather selected Bobby Sanguinetti with the 21st overall pick.

    The Philadelphia Flyers used the 22nd pick to select………………..Claude Giroux.

    I won’t even comment on the disasterous 2004 draft other than to say that there was 10 + NHL All-Stars selected AFTER Sather wasted a pick on Hugh Jessiman.

  2. Michael, you are a relatively young Rangers fan, so you might not fully “get” the antipathy that Ranger fans held toward Sather from about 2001-2008.   He did nothing for the team in those years.  Even the great sell off of 2004 barely barely helped them (out of all those players they traded, and 6 draft picks, one worked out – and you consider that successful?!?!)

    Here’s the bottom line: the salary cap is what is responsible for Sather’s change of actions.  Being unable to spend ridiculous money on overpriced past-their prime vets, Sather had Dolan spend money on Scouting and Talent Development, areas with no limitation.  If you’re familiar with the Rangers’ front office, you’ll know it’s stocked with some of the best scouts in the NHL.  It’s been Schoenfeld and Gord Clark calling the shots at the drafting table.  They are the ones (along with other scouts), NOT Sather, who are responsible for drafting Dubinsky, Callahan, Staal, Stepan, Kreider, Anisimov, Del Zotto, etc.  

    Admittedly, Sather has made some very good moves (signing Gaborik and dumping Gomez for McDonagh being the best), but mostly he has done well by doing less than he used to.  Give credit where credit’s due.  The Rangers success started with the salary cap, and then goes to the scouts for drafting highly successful character filled prospects. Not Glen Sather.

    • I get what happened when Sather first got here, and I acknowledged it. Between 2000-04, he signed one mercenary after another, all to no avail. And I mentioned that the players that Sather acquired at the ’04 deadline as a whole weren’t that successful.

      The point I was trying to make was that the moves made at the ’04 deadline changed the way the Rangers went about structuring their franchise as far as player personnel. Certainly the scouting department with Gordie Clark has been tremendous and the picks that you listed came while Clark was part of the organization.

      Like I said, my point was that the organizational structure changed as a result.

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