There's no denying the New York Rangers have been one of the NHL's better teams in the past couple years. Indeed, any organization that's made it to three of the past four conference finals and one Stanley Cup Final, and that finished this past season with the best regular-season record of any franchise is an organization that's not anywhere close to a shambles.
However, once again, the blueprint for success created by Rangers president-GM Glen Sather has failed in its ultimate goal, and once again, the Blueshirts' future has been mortgaged heavily in the pursuit of familiar marquee names that haven't delivered a championship.
And that itch Sather is compelled to scratch – that persistent urge to peel off pieces of the future in exchange for the services of veteran stars from other teams – is the reason why he must step down as GM and give the reins over to assistant Jeff Gorton as soon as possible.
Sather will be 72 years old at the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign. His longtime colleague in New Jersey, Lou Lamoriello, just stepped down as Devils GM at the same age. But Lamoriello has done something in the Manhattan region Sather has not – and that's win a championship. For all the team's playoff appearances since the 2004-05 lost season, the fact remains Sather has been operating the Rangers for a decade-and-a-half without a Cup to show for it. This is not a league in which close-but-no-cigar (or in Sather's case, close-but-no-as-well-as-a-cigar) is earns you tenure. And this goes double in New York City, where results are supposed to be of paramount importance.
Results clearly matter for GMs in places like Pittsburgh and Boston. Ray Shero won a Cup with the Penguins and was gone five years after that. Peter Chiarelli won a Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and was relieved of his duties four years later. Yet the choice of whether or not to step down is being left to Sather himself this summer? Is that the capital his years with the Oilers in the 1980s has bought him? And why is that fair to Rangers fans?
Sather's more recent penchant for trading first round picks – the Blueshirts haven't had one since 2012, and won't again until the 2017 draft – isn't in and of itself the last straw for the camel's back. The evidence against his continued stewardship has accumulated in the form of the constant parade of familiar names over the years he's acquired en route to being regarded as the biggest gamer in the NHL trade market: Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, Martin St-Louis, Keith Yandle, Derek Morris, Nikolai Zherdev, Sean Avery, Jaromir Jagr, Anson Carter, Alexei Kovalev, Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros are just some of the notables who made headlines when Sather brought them in, but who could not deliver a Cup to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 1994.
At some point, you have to hold accountable the person who keeps the personnel carousel spinning, don't you?
The light at the end of the tunnel is the Rangers have in Gorton an extremely well-regarded assistant. In fact, if you talk to certain NHL agents off the record, they'll tell you they believe Gorton is doing so much of the heavy lifting, Sather is essentially the Blueshirts' spotter at this stage. He can still be that to a degree if he steps down as GM, retains the team's presidency and allows Gorton to take over and implement his own vision. There's a very solid base of young players upon which a potential champion can be built, but Gorton has to be given full license to build it his way.
And the franchise no longer can afford to have Sather making deals for the here and now. The fact is, the league's best teams rarely trade their first pick at all, let alone four years in a row. The Chicago Blackhawks have had a first-rounder every season since 1996. The L.A. Kings did trade their first-round picks in 2011 and 2013, but never in consecutive years, and they've always had at least one first-round pick since 1999.
You can ask the question, "Would we be having this conversation if the Rangers won one more game last year, or one more Game 7 this year?" I think it's still well within the boundaries of fairness to say yes, we would. But that's living in a hypothetical. The results say Sather has failed in his quest to reproduce his Oilers magic for 15 years now, and hamstrung them in an area few GMs dare to hamstring any longer.
The choice shouldn't be up to him, really. It's time to go. It was time a good while ago. Sather was absolutely right to deny other teams permission to hire Gorton as their new GM this summer, and he'd be equally wrong to deny the Rangers the chance to do the same.