Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Dolan confident despite playoff drought
NEW YORK -- New York Rangers owner James Dolan has no idea why his expensive hockey club missed the playoffs for a seventh straight season.
One thing he is certain of is that it's not Glen Sather's fault.
In his annual end-of-season gathering with reporters, Dolan said Wednesday night that Sather would retain his general manager title next season despite not getting the Rangers into the playoffs in four years at the helm.
"I still have a great deal of confidence in him. Although we haven't had the results, I still believe that Glen can bring us a championship team," Dolan said.
Next season, the Rangers will make good on Dolan's pledge that all tickets will be cut by 10 percent because the team didn't qualify for the postseason.
"I felt that we would be in the playoffs and I, along with the rest of the team and staff, am very disappointed," Dolan said. "It is certainly not what we expected."
Sather has hired three coaches since he arrived in 2000 from Edmonton, where he won five Stanley Cups as a coach and executive with the Oilers.
The last full-time Rangers coach he hired was himself, 54 games into last season when rookie Bryan Trottier was fired. Sather and Dolan guaranteed a playoff appearance that never came.
"The fact that we didn't make the playoffs is not something that you can put just on Glen Sather's head. There are hockey players involved," Dolan said. "I don't think we know what happened."
Sather remained behind the bench this season before stepping down when it became clear in February that the Rangers again would not reach the postseason. Sather then presided over the dismantling of the franchise that had the NHL's highest payroll.
"I've seen what he has accomplished over the four years," Dolan said. "I know where we started from four years ago, and that entire organization is the design of Glen Sather. It was built up from literally nothing."
That's also what Dolan and Sather are trying to do now.
Numerous deals Sather made before the March 9 trade deadline stripped the Rangers of most of their marquee players and helped New York stockpile young players and draft picks.
Dolan and Sather decided that in the best interest of the franchise, the Rangers had to trade off their assets and build for the future. That meant abandoning a desperate run for the playoffs.
"It was too much of a risk," Dolan said. "We were better off taking advantage of the trade deadline and using this time to make a change in the strategy. I believe that was the right decision."
Traded away were Alexei Kovalev, Petr Nedved, Jussi Markkanen, Matthew Barnaby, Greg de Vries, Chris Simon, Martin Rucinsky and Vladimir Malakhov.
None of those moves compared in magnitude to the deal that sent defenseman Brian Leetch to the Toronto Maple Leafs after he spent his first 17 seasons with the Rangers.
"He's been an integral part of the team for a very long time," Dolan said. "To trade him was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone. But when you commit to a strategy, you can't half-commit to it -- especially a strategy like this.
"We didn't get rid of Brian Leetch. It took the offer that we got in order to make that very difficult decision."
And Dolan made it sound as though keeping Sather was an easy choice to make.
"I understand the skepticism about it, but I'm not making a change," he said. "I am going with Glen Sather, and we're going to be a success. We just have to show you."