Cross Checks: Glen Sather

NEW YORK -- While the Los Angeles Kings hammer out the details of their continuing celebration, plot out a parade route and figure out how many cases of champagne to order as they toast their second Stanley Cup championship in three years, the New York Rangers face much tougher decisions.


Rangers fans, who would you keep?


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In the aftermath of their season-ending loss Friday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Rangers will be forced to act quickly on a number of pressing issues confronting the club in the weeks ahead.

Who will stay? Who will go?

The most immediate of those questions is what general manager Glen Sather and the rest of the Rangers brass wish to do in regard to their veteran center and de facto captain Brad Richards.

The team has one existing compliance buyout to exercise, with many assuming it is a foregone conclusion that the team will use it on the 34-year-old Richards. This has less to do with Richards' subpar performance during the team’s finals series against the Kings, though the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner was dropped to the fourth line in the final two games due to his poor play.

The most prohibitive strike against Richards is the significant financial penalty the team will incur should he retire before the expiration of his nine-year, $60 million deal that runs through 2020. Those penalties are spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement, via the controversial cap recapture rule.


Will the Rangers make it back to the Stanley Cup finals next year?


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Richards wants to remain a Ranger, and his emergence as the heart-and-soul leader of the team during a surprising and successful run this spring might have temporarily helped his case, but a dispassionate, logical look at the matter will likely result in the team parting ways with him soon. The Rangers have a small window in which to make this decision: from 48 hours following the Stanley Cup final to June 30, so as to allow the player time to seek new suitors come free agency July 1.

Should Sather cut ties with Richards, it will not be an indictment of his play during a disastrous 2013 lockout-shortened season or a difficult five-game set against the Kings. It will be a business decision, nothing more, nothing less. And know this: Richards stands to gain financially should he hit the open market, as he will certainly garner interest from a number of teams looking to add depth and experience down the middle.

Next on the agenda will be the question of what to do with Rick Nash. The marquee winger, acquired in a blockbuster deal in 2012, was largely ineffective during the playoffs, especially when the team needed timely production most. Friday’s game was the sixth straight in which he was held off the score sheet.

Earlier in the postseason, Nash went through a 14-game goal drought. It is not for lack of effort -- the 29-year-old winger was engaged and assertive in trying to make a difference during the series against the Kings -- but the lack of scoring is jarring nonetheless, especially considering his $7.8 million annual salary. In two years with the Rangers, the two-time 40-goal scorer and two-time Olympic Gold medalist has scored only four goals in 37 playoff games.

The Rangers could always choose to buy him out instead, though that seems unlikely given Richards’ position as the prime candidate. Also, Nash has a full no-move clause, so he has complete control over his fate. Still, it is worth wondering whether he might see a trade from New York as a reprieve from the unrelenting scrutiny he has endured this spring -- sometimes deserved, sometimes not.

And considering the trade market developing in the weeks before the draft, which will be held the final weekend in June in Philadelphia, teams will be active in working the phones. With elite centers such as Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza and Ryan Kesler on the trading block, the Rangers might want to listen to any offers that would ship Nash elsewhere.

Sather also must decide whether to re-sign or let go some key players.

Among the most interesting of these is second-pair defenseman Anton Stralman, who was arguably the team’s best player on the back end this spring. Stralman, who has transformed from a training camp castoff (New Jersey sent him home back in 2011 without a contract) to one of the team’s most reliable defensemen, earned himself a nice pay raise with his stout play this spring.

Stralman is one of several impending unrestricted free agents who positioned themselves well. Rugged winger Brian Boyle, a critical member of the team’s productive fourth line and a dogged penalty-killer, will be coveted by a team seeking size and toughness. Benoit Pouliot, all those boneheaded offensive zone penalties aside, had a standout year.

The Rangers need to make it a priority to extend defenseman Marc Staal at the earliest opportunity - July 1 - for he is a cornerstone Blueshirts player and as solid of a leader as they come.

And then there’s the crop of restricted free agents, including Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and John Moore.

There are lots of decisions ahead of Sather, and none of them is easy. Who will stay? Who will go?
Without a pick in either of the first two rounds of Sunday's 2013 NHL draft, the Rangers may be in store for a pretty quiet day.

Even with some marquee names bandied about as trade talk intensifies -- Tyler Seguin, Kris Letang, Jeff Skinner -- the Rangers lack the salary cap space to make a major splash on the draft day floor.

With the announcement that the team will not exercise its one existing compliance buyout this summer (granting struggling center Brad Richards a one-year reprieve, at least), the Rangers have very little room to maneuver.

Team president and general manager Glen Sather could try and package some of his three third-round picks (the Rangers gave up a first-rounder in the trade for Rick Nash, a second-rounder in the acquisition of Ryane Clowe) to move up in the order, but a significant trade seems highly unlikely.

Richards' cap charge of $6.67 million, and the status of restricted free agents Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan, seems to squash any hope of a significant upgrade from last year’s personnel.

As speculated at season’s end, it is possible the Rangers could dangle promising young defenseman Michael Del Zotto as trade bait, though the concern is being able to find a capable defenseman to replace him at the right price.

Instead, expect the team to look into adding a depth defenseman to round out the team’s blue line via free agency.

The team’s inactivity will likely carry over into the free agency period as well, when the market opens on July 5.
Though the Rangers are interested in adding depth down the middle (Matt Hendricks is an enticing option as a pending unrestricted free agent) and still desperately need a right-handed defenseman who can man the power play (Letang, anyone?) they will likely move forward with the same group that made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals this spring.

There were plenty of fireworks once the Rangers made a hasty exit from the second round as the team dismissed polarizing coach John Tortorella and replaced him with the affable, gentlemanly Alain Vigneault, but, save for the critical contract negotiations for franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, there is unlikely to be much by way of headlines for the rest of this summer.

Sather’s not shy about big-game hunting, of course, but with the salary cap’s significant reduction and the Rangers’ money already tied up in players like Richards, Lundqvist and Rick Nash, expect the next few weeks to be pretty anticlimactic.

Trophy Tracker: GM award

February, 29, 2012
Here’s a look at where the General Manager of the Year award stands post-trade deadline as we head into the final quarter of the NHL season:

1. Mike Gillis, Vancouver Canucks

Gillis’ Canucks have moved past a rocky start to the season and a potential goaltending controversy to re-emerge as the NHL’s best, deepest club. They had it all and then Gillis made the bold move of sending emerging young center Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for Zack Kassian, a bruising winger with good offensive upside. Samuel Pahlsson, a Cup winner in Anaheim, should also add defensive depth up front as the Canucks look ready to embark on another long playoff run.

2. David Poile, Nashville Predators

Was there a GM that faced more pressure at the deadline than Poile, since he must not only ensure he’s building properly for the future but also do enough to keep two major components of that future, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter? After bolstering the blue line with veteran Hal Gill, he added two important pieces up front on Monday in Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad. The incoming pieces should blend nicely with a speedy, mostly homegrown team that is thinking Stanley Cup.

3. Glen Sather, New York Rangers

We admit it still seems strange to be considering the reclusive Rangers GM in this category, but there is no denying the admirable work Sather has done in building a gritty, defensively stellar Ranger team that remains the cream of the Eastern Conference crop. He did not add the offensive piece he would have liked at the deadline and time will tell whether that ultimately costs the Rangers a shot at a Cup, but we applaud what must have been a significant temptation to tear part of that roster apart to nab Columbus captain Rick Nash. In our view that would have been a colossal mistake and one that Sather might have made in the past but avoided this year.

4. Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings

Holland would have liked a shot at Gaustad, but he did his pre-deadline shopping early and got a terrific piece in defenseman Kyle Quincey, whom he acquired from Tampa Bay for a first-round draft pick. Quincey has emerged as a talented puck-mover, and the former-Wings prospect should help the team on what they hope will be another significant playoff run. Bigger picture, Quincey is a nice fit moving forward given the expected departure this summer of Brad Stuart and the retirement -- he really will retire one of these years -- of Nicklas Lidstrom. A lot of people are looking forward to what the Wings will be doing on the free agent market this summer given the cap room they’re going to have, but Holland’s shrewd drafting and player acquisition has the Wings in the hunt for the top seed in the Western Conference and the Stanley Cup once again.

5. Bryan Murray, Ottawa Senators

A year ago there was discussion about whether Murray was going to retire or be pushed out of his job with the Senators. Now his team is on a 7-1-1 tear, challenging the defending Stanley Cup champions for first place in the Northeast Division and looking at possibly securing home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, something that would have been unthinkable at the start of the season. Yes, Murray’s drafting of Erik Karlsson was a stroke of genius; the kid is a point machine. And there are lots of young players making important contributions, like Kyle Turris, whom Murray acquired from Phoenix earlier this year. But Murray’s most important move over the past year was hiring head coach Paul MacLean away from Detroit, where he was an assistant to Mike Babcock. The Sens aren’t there just yet, but they’re a heck of a lot closer than anyone had a right to imagine at this point in time.

Honorable Mentions: Don Maloney, Phoenix Coyotes; Peter Chiarelli, Boston Bruins; Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers; Greg Sherman, Colorado Avalanche; Dean Lombardi, Los Angeles Kings.

Trophy Tracker: GM award

January, 18, 2012
The NHL General Manager of the Year Award, which will be awarded for just the third time at the end of this season, is a bit of a dog’s breakfast of factors.

What kind of payroll does the GM have to work with? How does he draft? How are those draft picks developed? Has he added the right mix of free agents? Did he make an astute coaching change? In short, it’s a little of this and a little of that. But as we head fully into the second half of this NHL season, here are our top five GMs and some honorable mentions.

1. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues

At the time of this writing, the Blues had the top winning percentage in the Western Conference, were third overall and were a point out of first place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.

Not bad for a team that is 23rd in the NHL in payroll. Armstrong made the gutsy call 13 games into the season to can head coach Davis Payne in favor of veteran coach Ken Hitchcock, and the results have been stunning. Armstrong's acquisition of much-maligned netminder Brian Elliott in the offseason has turned out to be a stroke of genius; Elliott will travel to Ottawa (where he was essentially run out of town while playing for the Senators) for the All-Star Game next week.

Elliott, a bargain at $600,000 on a two-way deal, and colleague Jaroslav Halak are battling for a Jennings Trophy as the top goaltending tandem in the NHL. Armstrong also added veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, who have helped stabilize the team despite injuries to top players like Alex Steen and Andy McDonald.

2. Peter Chiarelli, Boston Bruins

All Chiarelli has done for an encore after his team’s emotional run to the Stanley Cup last spring is assemble a team that is as good as any on the ice at the midway point of this NHL season. Perhaps most impressive is that Chiarelli has positioned himself nicely for the trade deadline with loads of cap space, if he chooses to make additions in preparation for what could be only the second successful Cup defense since 1992. The reason Chiarelli has such flexibility is that his homegrown players -- Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and David Krejci -- have turned into core players. In short, the Bruins have it all going on. Again.

3. David Poile, Nashville Predators

You have to go all the way to the very bottom of the NHL’s salary ladder to find the Nashville Predators. But you don’t have to go very far down the standings to find the team, which is why David Poile, in our books, remains one of the game’s very best at team building.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have some tough challenges ahead as he tries to keep both Ryan Suter, who missed Tuesday’s loss in New York to injury, and Shea Weber under contract -- or make sure the Predators get viable returns if they have to part with one of those significant assets. But Nashville is once again in the very thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt, having won five of six and eight of 11. Rarely a big-time player when it comes to the trade deadline or free agency, Poile is once again coaxing just enough offense out of his team to stay competitive while continuing to be one of the most difficult teams to play against. Don’t be surprised if Poile manages to make his team better at the deadline in spite of the challenges he faces.

4. Glen Sather, New York Rangers

There’s a little bit of the Howard Hughes thing going on with the Rangers’ GM. Did he ever appear on camera during the recent HBO 24/7 documentary? And there is always the notion, at least externally, that assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld is the key component to how the Rangers operate organizationally. Regardless, it’s Sather’s name behind the GM title, and no one can argue with the success the Rangers have had this season as they occupy the top spot in the conference and look like a team poised for a long playoff run. Credit Sather and the Rangers for drafting (or signing) and developing a strong, hard-nosed core of players, including captain Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, the undrafted Dan Girardi (who is off to the All-Star Game), Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan. This core and coach John Tortorella are responsible for the team’s personality, illustrated by the fact that the Rangers are tied with St. Louis in goals allowed per game. They also boast the top winning percentage in the league.

That core of players was also instrumental in attracting top free-agent center and former playoff MVP Brad Richards to Manhattan and making the Rangers as dangerous as they’ve been since the glory days of Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, et al.

5. Bryan Murray, Ottawa Senators

Poor Murray. He’s in the middle of a rebuild and all of a sudden his team is so good he might end up having to rethink his strategy come trade deadline time. We’re being a bit facetious, but Murray has done an exemplary job of rebuilding this team on the fly. His acquisition of troubled former Phoenix Coyote Kyle Turris has paid immediate dividends, as witnessed by Turris' winning goal against Toronto on Tuesday.

Young players Jared Cowen and Erik Karlsson, who leads all NHL defensemen in points by a country mile, have accelerated the process of returning this team to playoff contender status. Perhaps Murray’s most important piece of work, however, was settling on Paul MacLean as head coach last summer. After a series of disastrous hires, the affable MacLean has quickly established a culture of winning and accountability without alienating his young players (or old ones, for that matter). The fact that the Senators have the fourth-lowest payroll in the league bodes well for the future in the Canadian capital.

Honorable Mention: Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia; Stan Bowman, Chicago; Dale Tallon, Florida; Dean Lombardi, Los Angeles; Mike Gillis, Vancouver

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for