Now that the Rangers have reclaimed their magic at Madison Square Garden and extended another spring there, it is time to acknowledge the era and the man who created it. Glen Sather’s blueprint is a template for whoever else might try to build a franchise in that famous building.
The team president stands alone at the Garden, even after he ceded the general manager’s job to Jeff Gorton after having solidified the franchise, made the Rangers a perennial playoff participant and brought them to the brink of a championship. His team has a shot at getting to the Stanley Cup Final again, having advanced through the first round with a rousing 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday night in Game 6.
“If we play our game,” said Brendan Smith, a late acquisition from the Red Wings, “we’ve got a real team that can go all the way.”
A feeling like that is the product of a system that has been rock-solid for more than a decade. Kudos to the consistency designed by the executive who has been everything New York fans had hoped Phil Jackson would be.
You can accurately point out that this group of Rangers never has won the big prize. This much is certain: Since April 2006, the Rangers have had a record for which the Knicks and their fans would walk through fire. The Rangers have made the playoffs in 11 of the 12 seasons since the lockout. They reached the Stanley Cup Final three years ago and have put themselves in position to do it again.
Credit the Rangers’ staff for finding a hidden gem such as Mats Zuccarello, an undrafted free agent who stole the show and won the game with two goals Saturday night. Credit the organization again for figuring out a way to keep him two seasons ago despite the salary cap. Give points, too, for the way the Rangers have kept a solid core without becoming stagnant.
“For the guys who have been here for a while, we like these situations. We thrive on them,” said Marc Staal, a Ranger for his whole career since the 2005 draft. “A lot of guys in the room step up when we need it the most.”
Dan Girardi, another hidden gem found as an undrafted free agent in 2006, said: “You create really strong bonds. There’s a good core of us here who have been through a lot together, the ups and downs . . . We try to do a good job out there, leading with our play, leading with our voices in the room.”
Any series against the Canadiens is a fresh reminder of Sather’s crowning moment: fleecing Montreal to get Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez.
Like Jackson, Sather has a Hall of Fame resume and the full confidence of their common boss. Both have autonomy. Both rarely talk to the media.
A few differences, though: Sather never got into a spat with his star and never was bound by a particular style or philosophy. The Rangers’ boss also has a refreshing self-deprecating streak.
No, his time here has not been perfect. After his 17 seasons, the Rangers still have won only one Cup in the past 77 years. Win-now deals that cost four consecutive first-round picks might come back to bite his successor.
But his Rangers are relevant and they are very much alive. They had the Garden roaring Saturday night, and they earned at least another week to see what more they can do.