Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fire Sather Day Long Overdue

A day long overdue took place this past Sunday. For a decade, Glen Sather has failed miserably as Ranger Team President/GM. Despite four straight postseason appearances, the former Edmonton architect has eaten his words about having free reign and 'never losing a game.' The arrogance of a senile executive who got more than he bargained for when he made the dramatic move from small market to one of the largest that's front and center.

Perhaps it was that narcissistic attitude which was doomed to fail after replacing Neil Smith. When you're part of one of the greatest dynasties riding Gretzky and Messier's coat tails, it's easy to fall into the trap. Slats probably never realized how good he had it with a dynasty that included Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and Kevin Lowe. Winning five Cups can spoil you rotten.

Ten years later and Sather has tarnished his squeaky clean reputation by making poor choices that haven't worked out. Whether it's the Eric Lindros trade, the hiring of Islander great Bryan Trottier or drafting Hugh Jessiman, embarrassing is one of many adjectives that describes the Slats Era Error. The list goes on and on. Messier II. Pavel Bure. Alex Kovalev II. Vladimir Malakhov. Igor Ulanov. The brutal treatment of John MacLean. The awful mishandling of arguably the franchise's greatest player BRIAN LEETCH. R & R (Rozsival/Redden). Slats' humiliating cameo behind the bench. The refusal to talk to the New York media. It'd be easy to cite more but you get the jist.

Even in lucking out with Henrik Lundqvist and the Caps dumping Jaromir Jagr pre-lockout for Anson Carter along with Team Jagr imports Rozsival, Marek Malik, Martin Rucinsky and Michael Nylander, the Rangers only won two rounds with their best run three long years ago under Tom Renney before Chris Drury broke our backs. If only they could get the time machine and transport back. As I said to close pal/Buffalo contributor Brian Sanborn, you only get so many chances. The one instance when Renney should've been more conservative sending Blair Betts and Jed Ortmeyer out, it cost us a possible Conference Final. Even if they would've been heavy underdogs, you just never know.

The biggest mistake Sather made was investing so much in Redden and Rozsival, really setting back the franchise on one forgettable July day. While he gets credit for taking a waiver on Rozy who contrary to all the hate was a key cog in getting the team back to the playoffs, the $5 million was classic overpayment for a player who was beginning to show wear and tear. That he'd even dare to say Redden was the "best first passer" along with their 'No.1 target' speaks to how out of touch he is. Any hockey fan could've told him that he was morphing into Tinman those final years in Ottawa. Even if you want to give Slats the benefit of the doubt arguing that Redden was still productive, he hasn't been the same since Game Seven ECF versus the Devils in which he and Karel Rachunek got victimized by scrub Grant Marshall and immortal Jeff Friesen. If only he'd watched Redden get banged around by the Ducks in 2007.

Even long-term signings like Chris Drury ($7.05 M) and Scott Gomez ($7.357 M), who each helped improve the Blueshirts in Year 1, leading them past the Devils before falling to the Pens- were way too much because you can't build around either. One could cite the dreaded market value but couldn't we say the same for Bobby Holik? Sather gets credit for finding a taker for Gomez and using the money on Marian Gaborik, who's risking health by continuing to play on a weak roster that can't seriously challenge. He also gets kudos on Brendan Shanahan, who was a good Ranger. Matt Cullen wasn't a bad move but rather the way Renney used him.

Sather didn't know what he had in Brandon Dubinsky, who made Gomez expendable. However, there's nothing he could've done about Alexei Cherepanov, whose tragic death while playing in the KHL next to Omsk teammate Jagr on the bench, continues to haunt the Rangers. There's little doubt the gifted Russian who fell to 17 had a good chance of being an impact player, possessing great hands. Exactly the kind of finisher the club has been unable to produce forever. Unfortunately, we'll never know how good he might have been.

Asset management is another Sather Achilles' heel. As evidenced last year in rental deals for Nik Antropov (2nd Rd Pick) and most notably Derek Morris (Petr Prucha + Nigel Dawes), neither move made sense because that team wasn't capable of advancing. Even Henrik's great goaltending in the first part of the Washington series wasn't enough to save them from becoming the first Ranger club to blow a 3-1 series lead. It didn't help that John Tortorella acted juvenile, costing his team any realistic shot. Even exchanging Lauri Korpikoski for Enver Lisin is still mystifying because the young Finn who was an integral part of the Leetch selloff, was a solid two-way player who could shift to center. When Tort decided to go in a different direction letting Blair Betts go, he had a player on his roster fully capable of replacing the solid fourth line checker/PKer. Instead, Slats wasted a third round pick on Brian Boyle. Blame Colton Orr's departure/Donald Brashear's failure on the coach.

Even minor moves like Aaron Voros and Patrick Rismiller haven't panned out. This doesn't even explain the Ales Kotalik disaster or whatever happened to Chris Higgins, who at least finally scored his first Flames' goal into an open net. About the only way possible. Trading Fedor Tyutin for Nikolai Zherdev seemed good at the time because they weren't re-signing Jagr and gambled on the talented Russian was sensible. Markus Naslund just proved he didn't have much left. The bigger issue was when Slats subtracted Toots, he added Redden's disastrous $6.5 million albatross which combined with Rozy's $5 M put our cap in dire straits while weakening the blueline. At least with Marc Staal-Rozsival and Tyutin-Dan Girardi, the team had a decent top four who could all log important minutes. Perhaps that would've been a better way to go setting up for the future (Del Zotto, Sanguinetti, Sauer, Potter).

It's always easier in hindsight. It still doesn't explain the organization's non-committals to Corey Potter and Leetch link Mike Sauer, who's been riddled by injuries. As for Potter, we see the same qualities he brought to the 2003 Team USA WJC gold medalists. Solid defensively with good first pass and no glaring mistakes in brief Ranger stints. Why isn't he part of the solution? For the same reason Ilkka "Heineken" Heikkinen will likely return home a la Jarkko Immonen to Suomi. Even with cap constraints, it's quite baffling, which sums up a dysfunctional organization in a nutshell.

Fire Sather organizer Mike Zippo deserves credit for all the work he did setting up Sunday's fan pow wow directly across The Garden. We were there and shook the man's hand. While it's true he could've done even more to promote a protest which still drew in upwards of 150 along with the attendance of Ranger beat writers Larry Brooks, Michael Obernauer and Andrew Gross, it still was a good first step for a fanbase that's been disrespected. Kudos to close pal The Mouth on ramping it up. Blueshirt Banter's Joe Fortunato who also attended had the best take on the day.

While the MSG executive might simply be one person with one opinion, his opinion is shared by Dolan, and unfortunately Dolan's opinion is the only one that matters. The Rangers brass doesn't look at you and me as people, they don't look at you and me as fans, instead they look at us as dollar signs. Our support means everything to them, so long as we are paying to get in.

Things will never change so long as Dolan is at the helm. If it isn't Sather it's going to be someone else. It's a horrific blemish on an awesome franchise. We are the laughing stock of the league, we have one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and we still can't win games, we make horrific trades and free agent signings, and I'm pretty sure that the "brown paper bag" look is coming back into style for us Ranger fans.

Fortunato goes on to add that a brief encounter with Ranger radio analyst Dave Maloney influenced the decision to rip into the franchise, which leads us to a final point. Bringing back Ranger alumni is great because it recognizes past players who represented the logo. However, all the Viewing Parties along with charging even more to meet and greet Ranger Legends is just more of the same from Dolan, who continues to invent new ways to steal our money. When does it ever become about winning? What Fortunato notes is what I have to Dad, bro and friend about why I'm serious about not going next season. Until we take a real stand against the owner, he'll continue to jack prices so outrageous as the proposed 68 bucks it will cost for Round One if they make it. Four years ago, the Conference Semis ran a cool 45. The difference is we fielded a better team and were closer.

As long as we continue to go, we're the true suckers.

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