Calling it a move that brings "instant respect" back to the organization, the New York Rangers today named Hall of Fame executive Glen Sather as their president and general manager.
The architect of the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty in the 1980s and early 1990s, Sather will try to revive a franchise which failed to make the playoffs each of the last three seasons despite its hefty payroll.
Terms were not disclosed, but it is believed Sather, who played 188 games with the Rangers from 1970-73, received a five-year contract worth about $3 million annually with stock options.
"We conducted a methodical search for someone with a track record of success with a connection to the Rangers and that is what we found," Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts said at a news conference this morning. "He is a Hall of Fame executive and brings us instant respect."
Sather, 56, spent 24 years with Edmonton, but stepped down as president and general manager on May 18 following disagreements with the team's 37-member ownership group regarding the team's budget.
"I'm excited, happy and honored to be here," Sather said. "It was a tough decision to leave (Edmonton), but it was just time to make a change and coming to New York was a great opportunity for me."
In New York, he will be working with a virtually unlimited budget. The Rangers boasted a payroll of $61 million this past season, but that did not translate to success as they finished with a 29-41-12 record.
The disappointing campaign cost general manager Neil Smith and coach John Muckler their jobs. Both were fired on March 28.
"They're both friends of mine and great hockey guys, but sometimes things happen with organizations where a change has to be made," Sather said. "As a champion of the small-market Canada teams, I almost hate to say this here, but the highest budget doesn't bring you a championship. I'm going to strive to bring a lot of good teamwork here."
With Sather running the show, it is a strong possibility that former Ranger hero Mark Messier may not be far behind. Messier played on all five of Edmonton's championship teams with Sather and led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup title in 54 years back in 1994.
However, Messier left the Rangers in a bitter divorce to sign a multi-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks in the summer of 1997. The franchise has not been the same since, failing to reach the playoffs, although Messier has been unable to lead the Canucks into the postseason.
"I can't make any comments about Mark because he's under contract to the Vancouver Canucks," Sather said today when asked about the possibility of bringing Messier back to New York.
Messier, 39, has a no-trade clause that can be waived and a $2 million buyout option in his contract with Vancouver.
Ironically, Sather was forced to trade Messier to the Rangers in October 1991 due to budget constraints in Edmonton. After he made the deal, Sather guaranteed that Messier would bring a Stanley Cup to New York.
Sather was also responsible for sending Esa Tikkanen, Craig MacTavish, Jeff Beukeboom and Kevin Lowe to New York, all key players on the 1994 championship team.
Lowe, who was hired by Sather to coach the Oilers last season, is considered to be the leading candidate for the Rangers job. However, Sather did not reveal any of the candidates he is considering.
"I haven't made the decision, but I have a list of names I'm looking at," Sather said. "I would like to have someone in place by the draft."
Lowe has become the prime candidate to replace Sather as the Oilers' general manager, but may opt to follow Sather to New York. MacTavish, Lowe's top assistant at Edmonton, is another possibility to coach for Sather in New York unless he is promoted in Edmonton.
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1997, Sather has been one of the league's most successful executives for two decades and was general manager or coach as the Oilers won five Stanley Cups between 1984-90.
In 1978-79, Sather laid the groundwork for Edmonton's success by purchasing Wayne Gretzky from the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. Following the Oilers' inaugural NHL season, Sather was named general manager. In 1980, he drafted Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Andy Moog.
After capturing the Stanley Cup following the 1983-84 season, the Oilers went on to win four championships in the next six years. Even after dealing Gretzky to Los Angeles before the 1988-89 season, Sather's Oilers won their fifth Cup in 1990 and reached the conference finals in 1991 and 1992.
Starting with Coffey, Sather was forced to systematically trade away the nucleus of those championship teams due to budget constraints and it caught up to Edmonton in 1993, the first of four straight years it missed the playoffs.
Despite the budget problems, Sather was able to re-invigorate the franchise with shrewd drafting and trades, and the Oilers have not missed the playoffs since. They have been eliminated by the Dallas Stars each of the last three seasons.