Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sather Making All The Right Moves This Summer

Over the years New York Rangers GM Glen Sather has earned and taken a tremendous amount of criticism for the ways in which he has tried to construct this team into a championship contender.  He has failed miserably in the past by overpaying big names and hoping they could short circuit the actual building of a team.  Those plans took a back seat over the past few years as the Rangers incorporated more and more youth from their system, which along with key trades Sather made along the way set a foundation for a season full of promise last year. 
This summer the Rangers had to lock down the young players that helped bring so much hope for the future and add the elite piece they were missing to hopefully take the next step into a legitimate contender.  To open June Sather took advantage of the Calgary Flames issues signing young defensive prospect Tim Erixon by trading for a player who would have been a top-10 pick for the low price of two second rounders and prospect Roman Horak.  Then, before free agency began, the buyout of Chris Drury created $3.33 million in cap space for the Rangers to sign their five key restricted free agents and go out and add other talent.  The move to remove Drury goes beyond the money it saves, but also allows the Rangers to fully pass the leadership of the team to the younger core.

Now let us look at what has gone on the past week.

On July 1, Sather add Mike Rupp to help the team in the toughness department as he can fill some of the role Derek Boogaard was expected to fill before he passed away.  He also brought back an underrated and underappreciated piece of the Rangers successes last season in Ruslan Fedotenko.  Fedotenko is not a great offensive player by any stretch, but he brings accountability and hard work to the ice every night.  His presence was most felt by the club when he was out of the lineup and during the playoffs when he was likely their forward.
On July 2, Sather got the biggest fish in this year’s free agent pond to sign on to a 9-year, $60 million deal that will see him spend the rest of his career on Broadway.  The deal is a gamble in the length, but there is no questioning he filled the void of adding an elite talent to the roster, gave Marian Gaborik a number one center to play with and used the limits of the cap system to his advantage by getting it for under market rate.
Yesterday Sather got to work on locking in his restricted free agents with the early news that Michael Sauer re-signed and then the reports that Artem Anisimov also re-signed for two years.  Sauer and Anisimov are not the biggest of the restricted names the Rangers have, but both are critical pieces to what this team is building.  Sauer used his smarts and hard work to turn himself from an afterthought into a key piece of the Rangers young and budding defense corps.  Sauer likely would have received more from an arbitration hearing so to get a lower price and multiple years was a good move.

Anisimov improved in year two, but the ceiling for him is still much higher, and after the other restricted free agents filed for arbitration he was the only one left eligible for an offer sheet.  With other teams needing to reach the floor it is conceivable they would have thrown money at the potential Anisimov has and put the Rangers in a bind as to whether they wanted to pay that price.  While they are not the big names, a day where you can sign a top four defender and a second line center, who are both 23-years-old, is a good day for an organization and continues the great month Glen Sather is having.
This leaves Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Brian Boyle in need of contracts, but there is no reason to worry on any of them because of their arbitration filings earlier this week.  All three cannot be targeted by other teams and whether through deals before a hearing or an arbitration hearing itself, all will have contracts by early August.  The Rangers offseason has been a ringing success to this point and while we don’t know what day the other three will sign, it is all down to years and dollars now when they sign extensions with New York.  Right now it is hard to argue that Glen Sather could be having a better offseason with how the chips have fallen.  We also cannot overlook the way the draft has improved with Gordie Clark, development through the system and the Rangers giving chances to young players to prove themselves at the NHL level set the stage for Sather to make the specific moves he wanted this summer.
It has taken Sather much longer than was anticipated to make this team into a potential contender, but now the time is here and for all the criticism he justly got over the years, he must also get his due for putting the team where it is right now.  The organization took steps to give them chances to win now while reasonably locking down pieces for the future and possibly most important is doing both at the right prices.