Sather's failings are mitigated by the fact that he has been operating on a limited budget; this year Edmonton reached the postseason despite having a payroll of roughly $25 million, the seventh lowest in the league. (Only the Senators made the playoffs with a lower payroll.) While Sather will probably never live down the Messier deal, he has consistently improved the Oilers through less glamorous trades, including those that brought center Doug Weight from the Rangers in 1992-93 and goalie Tommy Salo from the Islanders in '98-99.
Perhaps Sather's most revered attribute in these dollar-driven times is his ability to be a fair-minded contract negotiator who retains the respect of players and agents while holding a hard line for management. That ability may be irrelevant in New York, however, because budget constraints are rare. For better or worse, if he moves to Manhattan, Sather will be entering a new world. "That's the adventure: to have the opportunity to go someplace new and to succeed," he says, "or fail."
The More Refs, The Merrier
One thing you probably didn't notice during the conference finals was the refereeing—and that's a good thing. Several players in the Flyers-Devils series praised the refs for consistently "letting us play," while out west the Stars and the Avalanche were also satisfied with the officiating. ( Dallas, in fact, didn't gripe even after being assessed eight straight penalties in Game 3.)
This was remarkable, partly because 10 refs appeared in each series and no two worked together twice in a series. When the two-referee system was phased in last year, some NHL executives advocated using one or two set pairs of referees to govern each playoff series, feeling such a setup would lead to more consistency. The league's collective bargaining agreement with the officials, however, mandates that they use a total of 10 refs in the conference finals. "The system has worked as well as I could have imagined," says Bryan Lewis, the NHL's head of officiating. "We're able to keep people fresh."
Apparently 20 eyes are better than four for another reason. "Say you only had two guys for the series and you got them angry early on," says Devils coach Larry Robinson. "Then you'd be stuck with them."