July 29, 2011
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You're not gonna hear people say this too often, one suspects. But man, Glen Sather did one hell of a job in the last month.
Yup, he overpaid big-time both in years and cash for a concussed 31-year-old center who plays absolutely no defense but when you make decisions that good for an entire month, you're entitled to a misstep or two.
While you and I will probably disagree over the general goodness of the deal, it's not a bad thing for right now. Getting the league's annual Top Free Agent is never going to be a bad thing and, whether he lives up to the title or not four years from now, he probably helps considerably this season.
Sather takes one hell of a lot of crap from just about everybody because of his penchant for giving players way more money than they ever actually earned on the ice, and rightly so. But he deserves a metric ton of credit for engineering a plan to keep prettty much his entire team together, given that a healthy portion of it was up for free agency.
He got Brian Boyle(notes) and Artem Anisimov(notes) to re-up for alarmingly reasonable deals given their production last season. He did the right and obvious thing in cutting Chris Drury(notes) loose (and he'll soon do the same for the disappointing Wojtek Wolski(notes)). He got a very dependable player in Ruslan Fedotenko(notes) back for a relative song. He had an outstanding former first round pick in Tim Erixon(notes) jump right into his boat and didn't even have to hit him particularly hard with the oar.
Sather also replaced Derek Boogaard(notes) with a far more productive player who can play a similar role (i.e. beating up people too big for Brandon Prust(notes) to take down) in Mike Rupp, and actually saved $100,000 doing it, somehow.
But the real trump card in Sather's favor, obviously, was avoiding arbitration with Ryan Callahan(notes) and Brandon Dubinsky(notes). Some estimates had them getting as much as $6 million per year each from arbitrators, but given the sticky and generally unpleasant nature of the whole process, the pair opted to stay on Broadway for shorter money than they probably could have pulled, in exchange for more years. And both gave up two years of unrestricted free agency to do so. That's just great work.
But for all the Sather praise, let's not ignore two somewhat large elephants in the room.
First, he largely stood pat with regard to defense, only re-signing both Steve Eminger(notes) and Mike Sauer(notes) to reasonable deals. He added no one and chose instead to promote from within. The aforementioned Erixon will probably at least get a run-out with the big club in his first season in North America, and Ryan McDonagh(notes) will certainly get an increased workload. That's probably smart.
But shouldn't it be a point of concern that despite the overwhelming youth of the group, or perhaps because of it, there isn't anyone on the blue line that can actually push the attack? Marc Staal(notes) and Dan Girardi(notes) led the team with a combined 60 points (31 and 29, respectively) from the blue line, the lowest total of the two highest-scoring defensemen for any playoff team besides Tampa. The four teams that made the conference finals averaged 144.25 points and 31.25 goals from their D corps last year (again, this was heavily weighed down by Tampa's 121 and 19), and the Rangers were short of both marks by decent margins with 133 and 27.
In point of fact, you need both a solid offense and a strong defense to be elite in the NHL these days. No one would call Tampa's defense anything like that, but the offense certainly earns those marks. That, genius coaching and flukily good goaltending is the reason they made the Eastern Conference Final. It's difficult to foresee anyone on the Rangers replicating a Stamkos-and-Marty-level performance or John Tortorella becoming a Guy Boucher-level mastermind.
Let's put it another way. If your GM believes in his defense's ability to score goals, he doesn't bring in Brian McCabe, he of the 5-22-27 line with Florida, to run the power play. Granted, maybe they grow into it, but this factor, more than anything else this season — bigger than Marian Gaborik's(notes) ability to stay healthy or whether he kindles any kind of chemistry with Richards — is going to determine whether they sink or swim in 2011-12.
Overall, it was a massively commendable performance, one that falls just short of George McPhee's brilliant turn in Washington for the best postseason of any GM.
But the second problem is a the one going forward.
Gaborik, Callahan and Lundqvist all have their contracts expire at the end of the 2013-14 season. Dubinsky and Staal's run out the season after that. And that really only means one thing: The Rangers are setting themselves up, like the Capitals and Flames and Flyers did before them, to basically try to win the Stanley Cup in the near future before the team is largely broken apart.
Essentially, Sather is saying that this is a team that has to win within the next three or maybe four seasons before it has to be sold off in pieces, and it's hard to believe that this Rangers team goes from middling in the Eastern Conference to elite in that time without major additions, which they can ill afford. Richards was their go-for-it deal.
Sure, maybe they get lucky and go on a run in the 2012-13 playoffs. Maybe everyone from their very young defensive corps all mature into very strong players. Maybe the Richards signing works out exactly like it's drawn up.
But that's a lot of maybes for a team whose history of postseason or even regular season performance has, for the last however-many years, been decidedly middle of the road. Or worse. And we've seen how nearly all win-by-this-date strategies have worked out in the past.
Hint: They haven't.
We have no way of knowing what the next collective bargaining agreement looks like, but it seems likely that any team will not be able to keep together that many good (or, maybe by that time, great) players under any salary cap unless they have an extremely competent general manager.
And Sather, for all his wheelings and dealings this month, still hasn't sufficiently proven that he can be one of those.
Pearls of Bizdom
BizNasty on how pros play the full 60: "Baby powder still working wonders right now. Putting on a dance clinic at this wedding."
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