Sather on short end of wins-to-money ratio

The New York Rangers need a goalie. The New York Rangers need a defenseman. The New York Rangers need an attitude adjustment.

But mostly, the New York Rangers need a new coach.

They might also need a new general manager, but it is unlikely that GM/coach Glen Sather will be relieved of both positions. If you like, you can put up a strained argument that Sather has done the best he can as the club's GM, but if you try to defend his coaching, you might as well wave a white flag as you speak.

This Friday, Jan. 30, will mark the one-year anniversary of Sather taking over for Bryan Trottier behind the Rangers bench. By the way, the mere fact that Trottier was even named the head coach for the 2002-2003 season is another reason you could question Sather's ability as a GM.

If there was any doubt about Sather's ability to lead the Rangers, it occurred after the team was totally humiliated by the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night in Jaromir Jagr's debut, 9-1. Following the game, Bobby Holik made the obvious but damning statement: "I believe, fundamentally, we are the worst team in the National Hockey League."

Mind you, this is a team filled with veterans. Even if you manage to ignore the salaries, just the combined years of experience should make it embarrassing that the club could play so poorly.

Including Monday's 5-2 rebound against the Florida Panthers, the Rangers are 30-31-11-6 since Sather took over, not a whole lot of success for all those dollars spent. Even worse, the Rangers are only 16-12-5-6 at Madison Square Garden, an above-.500 points percentage (.551), but they've won less than half their games at home.

This June will mark the 10-year anniversary since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup on June 14, 1994. Time has marched on to the point where several of those Rangers are serving or have served as NHL coaches or general managers (Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe, Greg Gilbert, Ed Olczyk). It's been a generation of players since Mark Messier hijacked the team from both Mike Keenan and Neil Smith to win that Cup.

Now, Messier is at the end of his second term of duty with the club, destined to end his career in a graveyard filled with stacks of wasted money.

Even worse, a franchise that is integral to the NHL's success has become a model for its ills.

Jagr is the latest of Sather's high-risk, high-reward acquisitions, which include Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Alexei Kovalev, Messier, Anson Carter and Tom Poti, just to name a few.

For whatever reason, the Rangers don't seem to believe the NHL will undergo some sort of salary revision. Perhaps they think there will be a special Rangers clause that allows them to spend as much money as they want, but everybody else is under the impression that some sort of judgment day is at hand, and salaries will be curbed by some sort of luxury tax.

With Jagr, the Rangers have 14 players signed through 2004-05, and are committed to over $70 million in salary. That's more than double what many believe will be the salary cap. It's also about $25 million more than any other club has committed.

Yet Sather's shopping sprees would be understandable if they were successful. Instead, they seem to fall apart.

One argument is that it is difficult to play in New York because it's the media capital of the U.S. Well, that's a load of garbage. In fact, one of the weaknesses might be the relative obscurity in which the Rangers compete in New York, and the resulting lack of accountability.

Although the team is covered diligently by its beat writers, there is little attention paid to the team or the sport by mainstream columnists and powerful talk show hosts. When it comes to the Rangers, most of the New York media operates under the Big Bang Theory -- they cover the team when there's a Big Boon or a Big Bust. Other than that, players can play poorly and then just disappear into the obscurity that hockey is afforded outside of the Garden or practice facility.

That is not the case with the Edmonton Oilers, Sather's former club. Sather must know that the seats he occupies as coach and GM would be a lot hotter if he was doing this kind of job with this kind of payroll in Edmonton, rather than New York.

The saddest part of the Rangers demise involves a savvy and loyal base of fans. When it comes to the Yankees, the fans, like George Steinbrenner, have no problem paying to win every year. But Rangers fans knew very quickly after 1994 that to win again the team would need to replenish with youth. As a result, what should have been euphoria when the team made trades to get players such as Lindros, Kovalev and Jagr was instead distrust.

In a rare reversal, the fans are smarter than management, and have been for a long time. The fans were willing to be patient, build the right way and keep the seats filled. Yet management under Sather grabbed for the quick fix. Thus, headlines about the Rangers nabbing another star player are met with the same reaction to ones about Jennifer Lopez getting engaged.

On a larger landscape, the Rangers have also become a solid argument against a salary cap in the NHL. They are the shining example that spending money does not win. They are certainly not alone. The Flyers under GM Bob Clarke spend blindly, but have a blind spot in goal, and the woes in Dallas are magnified by the money spent on free agents. However, it is very clear that the Rangers are the paramount argument against a cap. Better yet, the Rangers should be all the evidence any owner needs of how not to conduct his business.

Of course, this bleak picture could all change dramatically if Jagr once again turns into the best player in the world, Sather starts mixing and matching better line combinations, Mike Dunham comes back and stops the puck, the Rangers make the playoffs, and, once there, crush teams with their power play.

It could happen, right?

Meanwhile, further up the standings ...
Beat a team you lead by two points and you lead them by four. Lose to them and you're tied. Hence, the all-important four-point game.

There was no better example of capitalizing on one than last Saturday night's victory by the New York Islanders over the Atlanta Thrashers. The Isles went into Atlanta with a two-point lead over the Thrashers for the eighth playoff spot in the East. They came away with a 3-0 shutout victory by goalie Rick DiPietro and a four-point cushion.

It was an important victory on a couple of levels. First and foremost, the Islanders solidified their hold on a playoff spot. Second, it was a sign of DiPietro's continued improvement. He showed a healthy dose of confidence with an assist and a couple of shots at an empty-net goal. Third, the Isles have stayed the course while being hammered by key injuries to Alexei Yashin (arm surgery) and Mark Parrish (ankle), both of whom are likely out until early March.

Coincidentally, the win came on the night when most of New York's hockey eyes were on the Rangers in Ottawa. Didn't that work out well.

Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN. Click here to send Al a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.