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Glen Sather’s meticulous, messy and marvelous making of NY Rangers

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NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 21: General Manager Glen Sather of the New York Rangers (L) introduces Alain Vigneault as the new Rangers coach at Radio City Music Hall on June 21, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

He resembles how a cartoonist from the New Yorker might depict a professional hockey team’s general manager: Old, sly, worry lines cross-crossing his brow and a cigar found in his maw.

They don’t make’em like Glen Sather anymore. Guys who played 658 NHL games and then coached 932. Architects of five Stanley Cup champions who become Teflon general managers in New York of all places, where players and coaches are usually run out of town by their third bad pun negative headline on the back page of the Post. (“SLATS ALL FOLKS” had to be one, right?)

The New York Rangers didn’t make the conference final in 12 years under Sather, and now have made it two of the last three seasons; advancing to the Stanley Cup Final 14 years after Sather was hired as the team’s president and general manager, which followed 21 years in that position for the Edmonton Oilers.

He’s beaten his critics, agents, collective bargaining agreements, his many missteps and, oh, you know, cancer in that span. His team is now four wins from delivering on the promise of his hiring: To bring another Stanley Cup to Manhattan.

The constructions of this Rangers’ team reveals some new tricks learned by an old dog over time, but also some incredible good fortune smiling on him. Some of that luck was simply drawn from the Rangers being who, and where, they are. And some of that luck involved other general managers, and his own owners’ wallets, being so kind as to make Sather’s blunders disappear.

The end result is the first conference championship in 20 years. But the journey there was anything but orthodox.

The Rebuild

In 2004, Year 4 under Sather, the Rangers changed course. They traded Brian Leetch. They purged the roster of high-priced veterans like Alex Kovalev, Matthew Barnaby and Petr Nedved. Mark Messier played his last NHL game as well.

It was a rebuild, but not one without marquee names: When the Washington Capitals had to rid themselves of Jaromir Jagr for their own reconstruction of the roster, Sather obliged, costing him Anson Carter and getting Ted Leonsis to pay part of Jagr’s salary.

Then the lockout happened, and the cancelled season. When the Rangers returned, they did so with Jagr leading the team in every offensive category and a rookie goalie named Henrik Lundqvist sporting a .922 save percentage in 53 starts.

As the years passed, the formula that would eventually turn the Rangers into a winner was starting to take hold: Star players, acquired from elsewhere, leading the team in scoring; homegrown talent filling out the roster in front of what was obviously a franchise goalie. Dan Girardi debuted in 2006-07, as did Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

Alas, old habits die hard, and the Rangers were soon breaking the bank in 2007 for two free agents that would prove to be disappoints of varying magnitudes: Scott Gomez for $51.5 million and seven years from the Devils and Chris Drury for $35.25 million and five years from Buffalo.

Meanwhile, Jagr lost his center in Michael Nylander as the Rangers opted for Gomez and Drury. The next year, the Rangers let Jagr walk to the KHL, citing a desire to move in a different direction.

They signed Wade Redden to a six-year, $39 million contract that same summer. So, like, the wrong direction, then…

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Gomez

Gomez

Mistakes Were Made

In 2010, the minor league burial of Redden’s contract began. Drury was clearly on his way to a buyout, which he would receive in the following season. And Gomez, whose tenure with the Rangers remains one of the biggest smudges on Sather’s record, was on the trading block.

The Montreal Canadiens wanted him as their No. 1 center and, inexplicably, traded a blue chip prospect in defenseman Ryan McDonagh for a player (and a contract) the Rangers desperately wanted off their books. Once it was, they signed former Minnesota Wild star Marian Gaborik to a rather robust $37.5 million contract over five years.

It’s here we start to see the pieces fitting. Girardi was regarded as one of the NHL’s best defensive defensemen, a spotlight he’d share with Marc Staal, a Rangers draft pick now in the lineup. Brian Boyle was acquired from the Kings.

But by 2011, the John Tortorella Rangers were beginning to take on the characteristics that would eventually lead to his demise: Grunts that fit his style perfectly, and skill players that simply didn’t.

Which is partially why Sather decided to pursue a skill player that had excelled under Torts, to the tune of a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe.

They Had Big Apple Fever

In some ways, it’s unfair to judge anyone else in contrast to the Rangers’ acquisitions of Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis. The team had a Scrooge McDuck Moneybin of funds through which to pay their salaries. And in each case, the players choose New York as much as New York chose them.

Richards joined the Rangers in 2011 on a nine-year, $58.5 million contract as a free agent from the Dallas Stars. He was courted heavily by other teams, but the sense was always that he’d end up in New York with Tortorella.

In 2012, Nash wanted out of Columbus after having been their franchise player for the last decade. His suitors were many, but he wielded a no-trade clause that limited those options.

The Rangers always seemed to be the fit, even if the market seemed to be the opposite of the kind of personality Nash embodies. To get him, Sather packaged two homegrown top six forwards – Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky. They won the Rick Nash Derby, if there ever was one beyond his desire to play in New York.

The same scenario played out in 2014 with the stunning Martin St. Louis deal. He had a long-standing desire to play closer to his Connecticut home. His relationship with the team soured after GM Steve Yzerman’s Olympic snub for the Sochi Games. He wanted out and the Rangers were the only place he wanted to go. It took what’ll now be two first-round picks, but that added scoring dimension has been essential to the Rangers’ conference title this postseason – along with the unexpected emotional jolt he gave the team when he lost his mother in the semifinals.

The Rangers have all three of these players because they’re the Rangers. But that’s the hand Sather’s played throughout every major transaction. He usually gets his man, whether they work out or not.

Thank You, Columbus

The Nash trade gave the Rangers the kind of scoring winger they coveted, a.k.a. the kind of scoring winger that Marian Gaborik wasn’t going to be under John Tortorella. So they flipped him to the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline in a blockbuster from the Columbus end, acquiring three players that are on this playoff roster: Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, and John Moore.

Gaborik is the leading goal scorer in the playoffs … for the Los Angeles Kings, who traded for him in 2014 after he wore out his welcome in Columbus.

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29: Carl Hagelin #62 and Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers celebrates after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six to win the Eastern Conference Final in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2014 in New York City.Rangers defeated the Candiens 1-0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29: Carl Hagelin #62 and Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers celebrates after defeating …

Homegrown Talent (And Borrowing That Of Others)

No one’s going to confuse the 2014 Rangers with Sather’s Oilers Cup winners, whose best players were drafted by the team. (Seriously, like, all of them were.) But a surprising number of impact players in this postseason, beyond Lundqvist, actually are homegrown.

There are eight players drafted by the Rangers on their playoff roster, including Dominic Moore, who was drafted by New York in 2000 before going on to play with every NHL team outside of the Golden Seals. Among the eight are Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, three players directly responsible for this team playing for the Stanley Cup.

Three more – Girardi, Mats Zuccarello and Cam Talbot – were undrafted free agent pickups.

Nine players were acquired via trade, with four of them coming over from Columbus.

Three players were drafted by other teams and then signed as free agents with the Rangers, including Richards.

Let it never be said that Glen Sather isn’t aggressive in getting what he wants: He’s traded three first-round picks and nearly a half-dozen top six forwards in building this team.

But in the end, there is a balance between the players that the Rangers drafted and signed to their first NHL deals, and the big names they’ve brought in from other teams.

Live, Learn And Win

Sather hasn’t been perfect. In fact, he’s made over $100 million in mistakes that either had to be traded or buried in the minors or bought out.

But the philosophy behind this incarnation of the Rangers is akin to that of the New York Yankees during their 1990s run of championships: Yes, they needed Clemens and Wells and Cone and every other star from another team’s toy chest who became Yankees because, well, they’re the Yankees. But they never purchased a World Series title. It was always built on a foundation of the players they drafted and developed: Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada, Williams and others.

As Joel Sherman of the Post wrote: "If you were starting a team from scratch and could pick what you want, how different would it be from those traits attached to a switch-hitting catcher and center fielder with power and patience from both sides, an all-world shortstop, an unflinching lefty starter and the best closer ever?"

This isn’t to say the Rangers are any sort of dynasty, although one has to be encouraged by the ages of much of that homegrown talent. (Kreider and Stepan are 23, Hagelin in 25, McDonagh is their 26-year-old elder.)

This is to say that Glen Sather, the man who paid $45 million to Bobby Holik and $39 million to Wade Redden and $35 million to Chris Drury and then paid them all to make them go away, is four wins away from the Stanley Cup because of the foundation he laid and the trades he made, and not because of the Cablevision money he threw around for players outside of the organization. 

Which is something many of us never thought we’d say about Glen Sather as New York Rangers general manager.

But then again, many of us thought he wouldn’t still be in that job in 2014, either.

Wonder if the organizers of those “Fire Sather” rallies will be attending any of the Stanley Cup Final games at MSG …

HOW THE RANGERS WERE BUILT

PLAYER (PLAYOFF PTS)

BECAME A RANGER

ORGINALLY DRAFTED

Martin St. Louis, RW (13)

Traded by Lightning Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round draft pick, and a conditional 2014 second-round pick (now a first) – March 5, 2014

Undrafted

Derek Stepan, C (13)

Drafted by the Rangers in the 2nd round (51st overall) in 2008

By Rangers

Ryan McDonagh, D (13)

Traded by Montreal with Chris Higgins and Pavel Valentenko for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto - June 30, 2009.

By Montreal, 1st round (12th overall), 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Brad Richards, C  (11)

Signed as free agent to a 9-year, $60-million deal – July 3, 2011

By Tampa Bay, 3rd round (64th overall), 1998 NHL Entry Draft

Mats Zuccarello, LW (11)

Signed as a free agent by NY Rangers - March 28, 2013.

Undrafted

Carl Hagelin, LW (10)

Drafted by Rangers in the 6th round (168th overall), 2007 NHL Entry

By Rangers

Chris Kreider, LW (10)

Drafted by Rangers in the 1st round (19th overall), 2009 NHL Entry

By Rangers

Rick Nash, LW (10)

Traded by Columbus with Steven Delisle and Columbus' 3rd round choice (Pavel Buchnevich) in 2013 Entry Draft for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and NY Rangers' 1st round choice (Kerby Rychel) in 2013 Entry Draft - July 23, 2012.

By Columbus, 1st round (1st overall), 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Derick Brassard, C (9)

Traded by Columbus with Derek Dorsett, John Moore and Columbus' 6th round choice in 2014 Entry Draft for Marian Gaborik, Blake Parlett and Steven Delisle, April 3, 2013.

By Columbus, 1st round (6th overall), 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Benoit Pouliot, LW (8)

Signed as a free agent by NY Rangers - July 5, 2013.

By Minnesota, 1st round (4th overall), 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Dominic Moore, C (7)

Signed as a free agent by NY Rangers - July 5, 2013.

By Rangers, 3rd round (95th overall), 2000 NHL Entry Draft

Dan Girardi, D (7)

Signed as a free agent by NY Rangers - July 1, 2006.

Undrafted

Brian Boyle, C (6)

Traded by Los Angeles for NY Rangers' 3rd round choice (Jordan Weal) in 2010 Entry Draft - June 27, 2009.

By Los Angeles, 1st round (26th overall), 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Marc Staal, D (5)

Drafted by Rangers in 1st round (12th overall), 2005 NHL Entry Draft

By Rangers

Anton Stralman, D (5)

Signed as a free agent by NY Rangers - November 5, 2011.

By Toronto, 7th round (216th overall), 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Kevin Klein, D (4)

Traded by Predators for defenseman Michael Del Zotto – January 22, 2014

By Nashville, 2nd round (37th overall), 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Dan Carcillo, LW (2)

Traded by Los Angeles for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in the 2014 NHL Draft - January 4, 2014

By Pittsburgh, 3rd round (73rd overall), 2003 NHL Entry Draft

J.T. Miller, C (2)

Drafted by Rangers in 1st round (15th overall), 2011 NHL Entry Draft

By Rangers

Derek Dorsett, RW (1)

Traded by Columbus with Derick Brassard, John Moore and Columbus' 6th round choice in 2014 Entry Draft for Marian Gaborik, Blake Parlett and Steven Delisle, April 3, 2013.

By Columbus in 7th round (189th overall), 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Jesper Fast, RW (1)

Drafted by Rangers in 6th round (157th overall) in 2010 NHL Entry Draft 

By Rangers

John Moore, D (1)

Traded by Columbus with Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard and Columbus' 6th round choice in 2014 Entry Draft for Marian Gaborik, Blake Parlett and Steven Delisle, April 3, 2013.

By Columbus, 1st round (21st overall), 2009 NHL Entry Draft

Raphael Diaz, D (0)

Traded by Vancouver to the New York Rangers for a 5th round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. – March 5, 2014

Undrafted

Henrik Lundqvist, G

Drafted by Rangers, 7th round (205th overall), 2000 NHL Entry Draft

By Rangers

Cam Talbot, G

Signed by Rangers as undrafted free agent. – March 30, 2010

Undrafted

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