This is now the second part of a multi-post discussion about the decisions of General Manager Glen Sather. Sather has come under some real heat lately, as the Rangers are in what appears to be a free fall, and have no cap room to make any adjustments. The highest paid players on the Rangers have been, to be delicate, disappointing. Sather’s strength during his tenure with the Rangers has been his ability to make trades, but this does not overshadow his weakness of evaluating the market and making the best decision for the team. In this series, I will analyze where Sather went wrong, and where he lost the fans.
It was the summer of 2007, and the Rangers were facing a dilemma. Michael Nylander, coming off a good Ranger career, was going to be let go. The Rangers had a gaping hole at center that season, and this departure was going to create an even larger hole. There were many prime centers hitting free agency, including Danny Briere, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Ranger fans were assuming that Glen Sather was going to land one of these centers.
Late in the afternoon on July 1, Ranger fans were stunned by the news they received. In a matter of minutes, the Rangers had signed both Drury and Gomez to monster contracts. Many were thrilled, as the problem down the middle had supposedly been solved. The Rangers committed over $14.5 million in salary cap space to the two centers. The problem was that both were second line centers who parlayed one good year into mega bucks.
To say that Gomez and Drury were/have been disappointments in the Big Apple wouldn’t be stretching the truth much. Both centers struggled in their first year on Broadway, and neither put up the numbers that fans were hoping for. Drury (+4.2 GVT in 2008-2009) has struggled mightily in his two-plus seasons on Broadway, and hasn’t been able to match the performance he put up in Buffalo that earned him his $7 million a year salary.
Gomez, slated to be the top center, never found chemistry with Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka, and while many attributed this to a difference in playing style, those opinions were quickly silenced by how quickly rookie center Brandon Dubinsky clicked with the Czechs. Gomez improved the following year, but underperformed considerably, especially considering his $7.5 million cap hit (a -14.3 GVS, good for 10th worst in the league).
Hindsight is always 20/20. But this one is too glaring to miss. The Rangers would have been better off signing just one of the centers, letting Dubinsky develop as a 2nd/3rd line center, and using Matt Cullen, as a significantly cheaper option, as the other center, and to play the point on the powerplay. Cullen was the type of player the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 Rangers were lacking, a cheap, quick 2nd/3rd line center that can play the point on the powerplay. Would it have solved all the problems? Of course not, but I’d rather have a cheap option fail to an extent than an expensive option fail miserably.
Don’t misunderstand, the Rangers needed to sign one of those players, not both. Say all you want about the size of the Drury deal (the only relevant one now), but that contract value was set when Daniel Briere signed with Philly for more money. The problem was signing both to these overvalued contracts, and eating up significant cap room that hurt them at both the trade deadline and in subsequent offseasons.
Luckily for Sather, he was able to rectify this mistake by dealing Gomez in the 2009 offseason, making room for Marian Gaborik, and acquiring Ryan McDonagh in the process. This is a very rare occurrence in the NHL, and Sather is lucky that he was able to not only dump Gomez, but get a great return in the deal.