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Q&A: SI's Kostya Kennedy

Sather wants another shot to win before it's too late

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Posted: Thursday June 01, 2000 05:03 PM

The New York Rangers named Glen Sather, architect of the Edmonton Oilers long-running dynasty, as president and general manager Wednesday. spoke with Sports Illustrated hockey writer Kostya Kennedy about the impact Sather's move will have on both his new team and the one he leaves behind. Glen Sather has been one of the most sought-after GMs since Peter Pocklington owned the Edmonton franchise during its championship run in the '80s. Why is Sather making this move now?
Kostya Kennedy: He just finally got tired of trying to operate within a low budget. I spoke to Sather last year, and about this time the year before that, and both times he said, "Wouldn't it be great to go to a place that had all the money I could spend? On the other hand, wouldn't it be great to get something done [in Edmonton]?"

He was tired of the real challenge of trying to succeed with a low-budget team. And now he realizes he's 56 years old, and though he wants to be in the game awhile longer, he's getting toward the end of his career. He doesn't think a small-market team is viable, so this is a chance for him to win. Sather was the glue that held the Edmonton franchise together for years. What will happen to the Oilers?
Kennedy: Kevin Lowe [a potential Oilers GM candidate] has a great reputation. We'll see what he can do.

There's no reason why Edmonton can't still be a strong franchise. There's a great tradition there, they have a great fan base and they have a pretty good arena lease. So they have some money to work with. And you look at what Ottawa is doing on a low budget. If they get the right people in place -- Sather is very good, but he's not the only one who can put together a good team -- I don't think his departure will spell the end of the franchise at all. Sather's scouting record was not good. We mention in this week's magazine he has drafted only two All-Stars in 17 years. Is Sather the right GM for New York and the Rangers?
Kennedy: We're going to find that out. He might be. He's a good trader, he's a good talent evaluator. And as we've seen, particularly with the Rangers, just getting star players doesn't make a winner. You have to have third- and fourth-line guys. Dallas got guys like Mike Keane to help it win the Cup. Key players augment the stars, and that's how you become a championship team. So I think Sather's really going to help there.

The success he had in the past was in an era of pre-free agency and when budgets mattered far less than they matters today. Sather has only been with a small-market team in an era when small market and large market haven't really mattered. Obviously having a big budget doesn't guarantee success at all, especially with what we've seen with the Rangers the past three years. But it makes winning possible. And I think Sather thought ultimately that winning was not possible [in Edmonton]. He's now going to finally have a deep team.

The other thing Sather does really well is negotiate contracts; agents really respect him. That's not really necessary in New York because the Rangers can overspend when they want someone. But Sather's as good as anybody out there. He's got as good as record as anyone the Rangers were going to get as the GM. While he might be better suited to a small-market team because that's where he's operated previously, there's no reason why he can't adjust his style of negotiating, his style of trading and all that goes with it. What does this mean for the Rangers in the long run?
Kennedy: It means that Mark Messier is coming back to New York for the short run. It means they will continue to have a lot of respect in hockey. Sather is deeply respected. While I was reporting the piece on him for the magazine, I found that just about everyone -- players, players' agents, fellow GMs, coaches -- really respects "Slats. Teams in the past that have traded with the Rangers begrudgingly or out of financial necessity are going to have a better rapport because of him. It'll be good for the Rangers. Sather takes over a team with a high payroll, which was $61 million this past year. What should his first moves be?
Kennedy: I think he'll bring in Messier and he'll try to trade Theo Fleury out West somewhere, depending where the Rangers can get a good deal and where Theo would accept going, because he has a no-trade clause. Sather has to get Mike Mottau, the Hobey Baker winner and defenseman, signed. The Rangers wanted Mottau to go play for Hartford in the playoffs after the Frozen Four but they haven't been able to agree on contract terms. I think Sather should immediately work out a deal with him and then groom him with Brian Leetch. That would add a little youth on the blue line.

Then Sather's got to bring in a coach. It could be Kevin Lowe. Then I think he should definitely get Mottau and Manny Malholtra? some playing time. Even if Malholtra is only a third-line center or he can be a good third-line center, the Rangers have to find out what he can do. Other than that, it's going to depend on what they get back from a Fleury deal, and how the draft goes. Basically the team needs some fine-tuning. Messier will give them some more strength up the middle. Sather will look around after the draft and see what's out there in the free-agent market. I don't think there's a lot out there this year, but he'll have to check it out.

Over the long run the Rangers have to bring in a young goaltender. Mike Richter is very good, but he is somewhat on a down slope. And by the time the team gets to where they want to be in three or four years, they'll need a young goaltender who can take them to the next level. With Sather at the helm, is it time for the Rangers to go in a different direction, maybe play the younger players?
Kennedy: I think it is. They played young guys more often than it appeared last season. They just didn't have that many young guys. They did play Mike York quite a bit; Kim Jonsson got some good playing time and Jan Hlavac saw some minutes. They started playing these guys some last year, but I do think they have to commit more deeply to a youth movement. Last year they were trying to win games at the same time they were trying to go wit the youth movement. I think they've got to let guys like Maholtra come on and play. Sather should let them go out there and make some mistakes, and maybe lose some games early on. It's the only way these guys are going to grow. If and when they trade Fleury, the Rangers are going to try to get younger in that deal. They have something like 11 guys on the roster who are 30 and over. They don't have young veterans --with the exception of Petr Nedved -- who are between 25 and 29 (the key ages for NHL players).

So I think it would be good for them to go in another direction. It wouldn't help them too much to get involved in the unrestricted free agent market. Basically it's filled with a whole lot of older players who won't really help. Who will follow Sather to New York?
Kennedy: Lowe has to decide whether he wants to be a coach. It's hard for me to answer that because it's really a lifestyle decision. Being a coach is hard work because it takes you away from your family, away from home, and you're always traveling. He has the opportunity to be the GM in Edmonton, and I think he's going to give it serious consideration. If I'm betting, I'd say he's coming to New York. Lowe has a chance to move into upper management with the Rangers in five or so years. So it's also a question of whether he wants to wait.

Messier is definitely coming. Toronto will make a bid to get him, but the Rangers would like to have him back. Unless Toronto blows him out of the water with an absurd amount of money, he's coming back to New York.

Related information
Rangers hire Sather as GM, president
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