As a kid in the mid-to-late 1980s, I remember shinny on the frozen creek behind my parents’ house during downtime in the winter and pretending to be various Edmonton Oilers in the driveway during warmer months – never a guy who needed to be a star, I replayed Mike Krushelnyski hopping out of the way of a shot that got through for a goal over and over again.
In those days, even though I knew next to nothing about what it took to be a successful GM, Glen Sather was a hero of mine. As far as I was concerned, he was the best mind in the NHL and the architect of the greatest team hockey had known.
Fans of the Islanders and Canadiens dynasties that immediately preceded Edmonton’s will have pointed to Bill Torrey and Sam Pollock as the greatest ever at their jobs. They might’ve been right, but in my mind, Sather was still The Man; managing and coaching the team that turned me into a hockey fanatic. For his work he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the builders category in 1997, while still working in Edmonton.
Thirteen years later, Sather continues at the GMing game, but it’s been 20 years since he last won a Stanley Cup after winning five as coach-GM of Edmonton his first 11 seasons in the league. And the past 10 years have been anything but rosy.
In 2000, ‘Slats’ left the Oilers for the bright lights and big budget of Broadway. The free-spending Rangers missed the playoffs his first four seasons and have won exactly two post-season rounds since. Along the way, Sather has signed a number of players to contracts that have handcuffed New York and escalated salaries across the league.
Sather is now reviled – for his managing, not his personality – by many in New York. So much so that “Fire Sather” chants at Madison Square Garden are not uncommon and there was even a ‘Fire Sather’ rally staged outside MSG last March.
The decisions his haters point to other than bad signings include a revolving door of coaches; the selection of Hugh Jessiman 12th overall in 2003 – the only first-rounder from that year who has yet to play an NHL game and those chosen later in Round 1 include 2010 Olympians Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards and Corey Perry; and trading away fan favorites Adam Graves and Brian Leetch.
But for all his perceived faults, you have to give Sather credit for at least one thing: he’s sly as a fox when it comes to divesting himself of bad contracts. NHL.fanhouse.com posted a top-five worst Sather signings Wednesday and there are some bad ones. Whether they actually are the worst ones or not (Chris Drury is hardly a world-beater at $7.05 million per year) is up for debate. But take a look at all of those guys; see anything in common? None are still Rangers; all were traded or otherwise taken off the books.
The deep pockets at MSG HQ certainly help, but Sather has a knack for convincing others to take on his garbage. In June 2009, it was Scott Gomez and his $7.4-million cap hit on the move. Gomez was the other celebrated center, along with Drury, signed to monstrous deals in 2007. Somehow Sather managed to wrangle three-time 20-goal scorer Christopher Higgins and top prospect Ryan McDonagh – who is already battling for a blueline spot – out of Montreal. He used the money he saved to sign Marian Gaborik, who scored 30 more goals than Gomez last season.
This summer Sather traded over-the-hill goon Donald Brashear to Atlanta for serviceable center Todd White, then got Blueshirts executive chairman James Dolan to let him bury Wade Redden’s $6.5 million in the minors. How does Sather do it? How does he get other GMs to trade for his waste and how is he allowed to spend money as he does? Is Dolan a dupe? Are other GMs around the league dumb? I don’t think so.
You don’t become a Hall of Famer for nothing and you don’t draft the likes of Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Esa Tikkanen, Martin Rucinsky, Kirk Maltby, Miro Satan, Jason Arnott, Ryan Smyth, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and others by being a complete dolt.
Sather makes his own bed when it comes to bad contracts and he may be past his best-before date as a GM, but he still pulls a rabbit out of his hat about once every summer; just enough to make this writer, at least, raise an eyebrow and say “How’d he manage to do that!?”
So even though he has to deal with Drury and Michal Rozsival’s contracts, maybe it’s time to give Ole Slats a break. Sure he’s not the best GM in the league anymore, but is he the worst? Don’t think so.
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