For those of you who’ve been following the team long enough to remember the pre-lockout days, you’ll be no doubt familiar with the position the Rangers find themselves today. Even if you’re a relative newbie, you’ll likely know just by hanging around with the rest of Ranger fandom, that this is a position that the Rangers organization, and GM Glen Sather are well familiar with.
The deadline this year is March 3rd, but with a freeze from this Friday until February 28th, there’s little time left to get something done. And the Rangers appear to be a team in need of something if they are to hope to keep their modest four year post-season streak alive.
As of today, they sit in 10th place in the East, two points out of a playoff spot, and only 23 games – and a possible 46 points – remaining. In fact, if you project out the points for each team in the East, the Rangers would fall to 11th, with the Thrashers also passing them. To make things worse, only three teams in the East have registered fewer points in the past ten games – Sabres, Bruins and Islanders.
And here’s where the history comes in.
For those of you who watched the Rangers from the 1997-98 to 2003-04 season, you know full well what this is like. Seemingly every year during those seven seasons of futility, the team was close enough to smell the playoffs, but each year found new ways to come up short. Current GM Glen Sather presided over four of those seven seasons, and is of course in control once again, so what will he do?
The following is a season by season breakdown of what he’s done in the past.
In his first year as Rangers GM, the Rangers were floundering after a Mike Richter knee injury and plucked Guy Hebert off of waivers, but the former US goaltender could not stem the tide, and the Rangers fell to their fourth straight season with no playoffs.
Other moves made at the deadline included sending Eric Lacroix to Ottawa in exchange for Colin Forbes, Alexei Gusarov – who had been acquired earlier in the year – to St Louis for Peter Smrek and Bert Robertsson to Nashville for minor leaguer Ryan Tobler. On another note, Tobler has gone on to forge a successful career at the Central Hockey League level.
Year two of Sather’s management once again saw the Rangers on the bubble at the deadline. The Manny Malhotra era finished finally, with the former first round pick – by Neil Smith – being shipped to Dallas along with Barrett Heisten for veteran Martin Rucinsky and the young Roman Lyashenko. The man who scored three of the eight goals in a rout of the Bruins in January – Jeff Toms – was claimed off waivers, but the fireworks really popped in the final two days of the trading window.
With the Panthers out of the playoff hunt, Sather saw an opportunity to get a marquee star for little to no down-payment. The Russian Rocket was available and the Rangers acquired him for the seemingly low price of a first round pick, prospect Filip Novak and the disappointing Igor Ulanov. A couple of lower round picks were also included in the trade, but the deal was all about Bure. The natural goal scorer had long wanted to be a Ranger, and he proved it in the remainder of the season with 12 goals in just 12 appearances to close out the season. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Bure would injure his knee in the preseason the following year, and would ultimately retire from the game.
But the dealing wasn’t complete. After a minor deal saw the Rangers swap defender Petr Smrek to Nashville for Richard Lintner, Sather dropped a bombshell by sending fan favorite Mike York to Edmonton for the out of favor Tom Poti and spare part Rem Murray. The move came after the deadline had officially past, but for many Rangers fans it was bitter news, that continued to manifest itself as Poti gradually became a target of boos at MSG.
Dvorak blew out his knee days after the trade line, and the new acquisitions would not be enough to make up the ground already lost. Ultimately the Rangers would finish 11th, seven points out of the final playoff place thanks to seven fewer ties – and seven more losses – than the Montreal Canadiens.
The 2003 deadline saw the Rangers with a chance thanks to some solid goaltending by acquisition Mike Dunham. The veteran netminder was acquired in December after Mike Richter went down with a concussion, and Dan Blackburn had the starting duties thrust on him. The season of turmoil continued when Glen Sather stepped in to replace a struggling Bryan Trottier and assume the responsibilities behind the bench.
What the Rangers needed though was some scoring with Bure succumbing to what would prove to be a career-ending knee injury, and they hoped to do add something through another trade with the Oilers.
Radek Dvorak was having a disappointing season coming off the previous year’s serious knee injury, and had managed just 6 goals in 63 games. He along with Cory Cross headed to Edmonton in exchange for Anson Carter and Ales Pisa. Neither player would be with the Rangers one year later.
Also at the deadline the Rangers moved Johan Holmqvist to Minnesota for minor league defenseman Lawrence Nycholat. The Rangers would finish ninth, but would be five points behind the eighth placed Islanders.
The season before the NHL lockout marked a milestone in Rangers history, becoming the only time where the team became outright sellers at the deadline. With the team on it’s way to a 13th placed finish, Glen Sather through in the towel and appointed Tom Renney as head coach.
A last gasp effort to try and revive his team in late January resulted in a one-sided 10-1 loss to Ottawa in Jaromir Jagr‘s Ranger debut. The team never really got any better and by the time March came around, the team was being dismantled.
On the way out were Alexei Kovalev, Jussi Markkanen, Petr Nedved, Chris Simon, Matthew Barnaby, Vladimir Malakhov, Martin Rucinsky, Paul Healey and Greg de Vries, but no move impacted a player – or fans – more than the trade of Brian Leetch to Toronto.
The trading of the career Ranger left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, and created a rift between the player and organization, that has only started to heal in the last two years. The once proud Ranger was clearly at the tail-end of his career, but the handling of the situation did not reflect well on Sather who appeared to limit his respect only to Mark Messier.
Coming out of the lockout, there were few positive expectations for the Rangers, in fact some even predicted they’d finish last in the East. But the team got off to a good start, with Jaromir Jagr and Henrik Lundqvist leading the way, and for the first time in ten years, the Rangers looked almost certain to play beyond the end of the regular season.
Coach Tom Renney appeared to be heavily influencing Sather’s decisions, by stating that he was relatively happy with his team as they made the stretch run. In the end Sather did trade Ville Nieminen to the Sharks for a third rounder, which he then used to acquire Sandis Ozolinsh from Anaheim. After a promising start Ozolinsh would prove to be a disaster in New York, and ultimately would be scratched in the final post season game on the way to a 4-0 sweep by the Devils.
The 2006-07 season saw the Rangers seemingly return to the bad habits, dropping at one point to 11th in the East before a shootout win by backup goalie Steve Valiquette and some fesity play from the newly acquired Sean Avery seemed to energize the team. A deadline deal which saw motor-mouth – and Jagr antagonist – Aaron Ward traded to Boston for Paul Mara, didn’t hurt the team and they went on to go 13-3-4 in their remaining 20 games, including a 4-0 shutout of the Canadiens on the night the deadline expired.
The Rangers would go on to win their first playoff game – and series – since 1997 and gave the Sabres a run for their money before ultimately dropping out in the second round 4-2.
There was little trading again to be done in 2008 with the Rangers simply looking to unload some players who appeared to be falling out of favor with the organization.
Former Ranger Assistant General Manager – now in the desert with the Coyotes – was happy to take on his former number one pick Al Montoya, along with the enigmatic Marcel Hossa, sending back speedy underachiever Fredrik Sjostrom and minor leaguers David LeNeveu and Josh Gratton. All in all not much lost or gained by either organization, with Montoya the only player still remaining with their organization today.
Last season saw a bit of return to the old Sather we know and … well know. With Tom Renney fired after a stretch of futility which saw the Rangers drop out of the playoff picture, and Don Maloney long gone, the moderating personnel within the organization no longer had a voice.
After installing John Tortorella behind the bench, Sather worked a deal with the Dallas Stars to reclaim forward Sean Avery at half his contract value – about the same amount Sather offered him back at the end of 2007-08. Avery had earned a league suspension, and had to get back into form with the Wolf Pack prior to being claimed.
The move was an eyebrow raiser for many who had witnessed Tortorella’s commentary on Avery while the coach was a panelist with Canadian TV, but at least initially it appeared to work.
Sather then added a big body – impending UFA Nik Antropov – for a second rounder off of the Maple Leafs. Once again as the deadline ended he pulled out a second deal, sending Petr Prucha, Nigel Dawes and Dmitri Kalinin to the Coyotes for rental Derek Morris.
The Rangers would make the post-season, but would end up dropping three straight games to lose 4-3 to the Capitals. Neither Antropov nor Morris would prove to be much of a factor.