Glen Sather has been GM of the New York Rangers since 2000. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Wouldn’t it be great to be the GM of a hockey team and run it how you see fit? What strategy would you take? Would you stick to it throughout?
Because it’s a fantasy job based in reality – and because there are so many passionate fans – there are armchair GMs everywhere (heck, in the fantasy league I’m in, we’re all armchair GMs). The thing is, most moves we want to see are ones you’re more likely to have pulled in your keeper pool than in real life. There’s just more to the transaction side of the business in the actual GM’s chair.
GMs are constantly being judged by fans and onlookers at every turn. Did he get full value for a player? Why didn’t he trade this player? Why isn’t he trading the pending UFA who is unlikely to re-sign? Sometimes these measurements are fair and others, well, not so much. Here are four GMs I think, for the most part, get a rough ride when they don’t really deserve it.
Glen Sather, NYR – For whatever overspending mistakes he’s made in the past, the Rangers GM has been doing something right in recent years. After the lockout, New York focused in on the draft more than the free agent market and that’s left them with players such as Marc Staal, Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto.
Give all the credit you will to director of player personnel Gordie Clark and the rest of New York’s talent evaluators, because they deserve it. But you can’t completely overlook the GM’s decision to make those hires and zoom in on this part of the business - there's nothing wrong with knowing when and where to delegate. Sather is still spending from time to time, but when you run a big-market team it’s a strength you have to throw around, so long as you’re not overdoing it. And he no longer is.
While Wojtek Wolski hasn’t worked out at all, Sather’s dealing of Michal Rozsival and his $5-million cap hit to Phoenix last season showed a confidence in his young defense corps that is paying off. With most of their important players signed for a number of years, the Rangers’ breakthrough has set them up with a nice window in which to win. The only real way you can still slight Sather, it seems, is if there is some underlying grudge being held.
Brian Burke, TOR – It all started with the Phil Kessel-Tyler Seguin trade. Burke was supposed to build slowly through the draft and by making such an aggressive move he was setting the franchise back. Of course, Toronto is now playing some exciting hockey that has the city buzzing and the team battling for a playoff spot from a better position than any other post-lockout year. Would they be doing that with Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton? No way. This trade, whether you like it or not, accelerated the team’s push to the post-season. Plus, Burke has made many other great trades (Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul).
Say what you will about prognostications for the long haul, but isn’t it all about winning? The randomness of picks and prospects is lost on the fact the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have done so well with that formula, even if the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers have failed so miserably at it over the past decade-plus. And it’s not as though Burke is abandoning the draft. The Maple Leafs pour tons of resources into their scouting staff because it is a necessary route to winning, but it’s far from the be-all and end-all.
Now, I’m sure much of the Burke hatred stems from the fact his personality in the media is rather gruff. Unfortunately, he doesn’t always say or do the things people want him to do, but that’s hardly a reason to knock his job as boss of the Leafs. Toronto has decent chips to trade and you know Burke isn’t afraid to make the big splash, which is another reason why he’s one of the best in the business. You play to win and if acquiring a scorer means you lose a couple draft picks, so be it. And any mention of Colton Orr’s four-year, $4-million deal as reason Burke’s theories are outdated needs some serious perspective.
Jay Feaster, CGY – I gave kudos to the Flames GM in mid-January for his move to acquire Mike Cammalleri for many of the reasons I listed with Burke. Quite simply, if Feaster had the mandate from ownership to rebuild when he was hired, it would have started long ago. Clearly, that’s not what he’s there for at this time, so there’s little point in railing him for trying to win.
Garth Snow, NYI – How’s this for contradiction? On one hand, people berate Burke for not building through the draft with patience. On the other, Snow gets berated for not getting immediate results for building through the draft.
Again it’s the Pittsburgh/Chicago scenario that has many expecting too much, too soon. If one thing is for sure, Snow hasn’t greatly deviated from this gradual approach to a climb back to relevancy and at some point it might pay off. The acquisitions of Evgeni Nabokov and Brian Rolston run counter to that plan, but they were low-risk gambles on players the team hoped would give its youngsters a push.
The Islanders haven’t been a big player in unrestricted free agency, but that’s partly because of ownership and also because Snow is beginning to get results. One or two UFA signings wouldn’t have been enough to get this team over the hump and may have hurt more than helped (look at the Sabres). The Islanders are still rather brutal, but the fact players such as John Tavares are finding their footing is a promising development.
There’s always something to knock a GM for, but nobody’s perfect. That’s life. That’s sports. There are a handful of GMs (Scott Howson, Pierre Gauthier) who have made countless personnel decisions that have left their teams in dire straights, but the above four don’t fall into that category.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.