Before Michael Jackson’s death, master comedian Lewis Black told a great joke about the singer; essentially, Black said, Jackson had become such a joke, for all the wrong reasons, that you could simply state his name as the punch line to any setup – e.g., why did the chicken cross the road? Michael Jackson – and you’d still make people laugh.
I don’t know if Black is still telling the joke (knowing what I think I know about him, I’m sure he is), but if he needs a replacement subject for it, I have the perfect candidate:
The New York Rangers, a.k.a. the NHL’s answer to what happens when an unstoppable force (Henrik Lundqvist) meets an immovable object (the contracts of Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival).
To be fair, neither Redden nor Rozsival is the chief culprit behind the Blueshirts’ current skid (1-5-1 in their past seven games; 7-14-2 since mid-October). John Tortorella isn’t to blame, either.
Nope, this mess is on the man at the top – president/GM Glen Sather – and the owner (James Dolan) who continues to support him.
Let me dust off and update the rap sheet on Sather: Since he took over as GM in June of 2000, the Rangers have won 14 playoff games – and no more than six in a single post-season.
But here’s the biggest indictment of his tenure: As a result of summer after summer of spending by Sather, the team’s prospects for future improvement have been severely hampered.
Redden’s $6.5 million salary and Rozsival’s $5 million annual stipend are painful enough, but Rangers fans are well aware their favorite franchise has roughly $10 million in cap space (and 16 players signed) entering next season and roughly $19 million in cap space (and eight players signed) for the 2011-12 campaign.
Sather won’t be able to foist one of his numerous overpayments on another GM in the next off-season the way he did with Bob Gainey last summer. He has damaged the Rangers short-term and long-term, nearly to the same degree Isiah Thomas did with the NBA’s Knicks.
How is it, then, Dolan fired Thomas nearly two years ago? Obviously, past successes as a basketball player carry less cache around Dolan’s office than past successes as an NHL GM and coach.
Say what you will about former Blueshirts GM Neil Smith, but the fact remains, the latter has won a championship in New York and the former has not. That Smith hasn’t found extended employment since then, while Sather keeps swinging and missing like a blindfolded kid at a piñata party in a wind tunnel, speaks to the inherent cruelties of life.
And that’s perhaps the biggest insult here: Rangers fans have had to endure the Sather era for more than a decade. Even in Toronto, where not winning NHL championships has become the team’s predominant tradition, Sather’s output in Manhattan would have had him on the breadlines in five years, tops.
It might be different were he proficient at drafting and developing young NHLers, but players such as Michael Del Zotto have been the exception and Hugh Jessiman-types the rule.
To summarize: Sather no longer can draft, spends free-agent dollars as if he were paid an agent’s commission and hasn’t seen the third round of the playoffs in 10 years. He has become a hidden husk of a fading legend, with a stick of dynamite where a cigar used to be.
With every passing day, the shine on his story dims. However, the more important defacing has happened to the Rangers, who have become the most directionless of the Original Six franchises – and the go-to punch line for forgetful jokesters.
Blueshirts diehards deserve far better than that. But nothing short of the current GM’s removal will reverse their malaise and stop them from believing Dolan wants 10 more years under Sather before giving up on this ghastly vision.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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