Front Office Material: Glen Sather

Glen “Slats” Sather
Rank #10
Plus                 176
Minus             43
Value              +133
Managing Experience:
Edmonton Oilers, 1980-2000
New York Rangers, 2000-present
Smythe Division Titles, 1981-1987
Atlantic Division Title, 2011-2012
President’s Trophies, 1985-1987
Playoff Appearances: 1981-1992, 1997-2000, 2006-2009, 2011-2013
Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1983-1985, 1987-1988, 1990
Stanley Cup Victories: 1984-1985, 1987-1988, 1990

As of 2013 Glen Sather is the tenth best NHL GM of all-time (according to my rating system) but 21 years ago he ranked even higher (8th). After a lean period during the 1990s and the early 2000s where he earned 40 of his 43 minus points, Glen Sather has slowly moved his way back into the top ten through his slow rebuilding efforts with the New York Rangers.

Right now Sather is the third best GM in terms of career value however in terms of Average Season Rating he ranks 10th between Doug Armstrong and David Nonis (the lean years from 1992 to 2004 lowered his ARS considerably).

Glen Sather was the greatest general manager of the 1980s with a value of +118 to Bill Torrey’s +94. During the 1990s his managerial value was a -7 (where he ranked between Don Maloney and Al Coates). During the 2000s his managerial value was only a +6 (where he was tied with Pete Chiarelli). Today, during the 2010s, Sather is in 12th place with a managerial value of +18 (between David Poile and Lou Lamoriello).

Still, Slats is in a position to elevate his rank once more. If he can get the Rangers to have a solid Stanley Cup winning season then he move up to 8th place on the all-time list according to my calculations.

In retrospect it seems that Glen Sather was destined to excel both as a head coach and as a general manager. During his peripatetic playing career, Sather spent eight of his 11 seasons playing for three great combination head coaches and GMs: Harry Sinden, Emile Francis, and Scotty Bowman.

Harry Sinden transmitted his emphasis on strong offensive hockey combined with physical toughness combined with speed and a great transition game. Emile Francis transmitted to Sather the need to be innovative, inventive, and open to new ideas. Francis, like Sather, was incredibly inquisitive; eager to learn the intricacies of hockey on all levels. So, too, was Glen Sather. Bowman taught Sather to always maintain total control of his situation: to make his own mistakes and also create his own triumphs.

When Sather’s playing career ended in 1977 he was ready to put it all into practice. Sather’s years in the WHA were a great shakedown cruise for him; a laboratory where he could hone his leadership skills and survey the game from the greatest vantage spot. When he saw the Winnipeg Jets with Bobby Hull and the Swedes: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson revolutionize hockey with their synthesis of European and North American tactics, Sather knew he had found the formula. What he needed were the players to make it work.

He began slowly but in 1978 he found the star around which all of hockey would orbit for the next two decades: Wayne Gretzky.

Even when the Oilers roster was gutted when they merged with NHL in 1979 he still had Gretzky and that’s not a bad way to start a brand new hockey team. Freed from out-bidding the NHL for talent, Sather could harvest the cream of the NHL amateur draft. In 1979 he drafted Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, and Glenn Anderson; in 1980, he added Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, and Andy Moog; and in 1981 he added Grant Fuhr and Steve Smith.

What followed electrified NHL hockey for the rest of the decade: five Stanley Cup titles in six tries. The Oilers became the last truly great NHL dynasty.

Strangely though, Sather failed to sustain his drafting success. After 1983 his draft picks were singularly uninspiring. Even when he found someone good like Jason Arnott and Miroslav Satan they were dealt away.

Edmonton could not sustain such high-market talent for long. The fire sale began in 1987 when Paul Coffey was dealt away; then the sky fall when Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles; followed by the coup de grace when Mark Messier went to the Rangers.

By the year 2000 the Oilers were an empty well and Sather was gone: having fled eastward to the Rangers.

It took time for Sather to rebuild the Rangers and along the way there were a lot of false starts, upsets, and bumps on the road; to this day there remains skepticism among Rangers fans about Sather’s performance as GM.

There were some gems found: Henrik Lundqvist in 2000; Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky in 2004; and Michael Del Zotto in 2008.

Still the Rangers underachieved. The closest they came to victory was during the 2011/12 season when they were the second best team in the NHL and reached the conference finals only to be beaten by New Jersey.

Now the Rangers start a new era with a new coach Alain Vigneault but will Glen Sather ever recover his reputation as being one of the greatest builders in NHL history?

The jury is still out on that question.

(My next column will feature the ninth-greatest general manager in NHL history.)

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