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Sather's off-season a balancing act

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Complete Draft Coverage

Prospects Camp Opens Monday

By Jim Cerny,

The National Hockey League has officially closed the book on its 2009-10 campaign, and has already begun looking ahead to its next season. A new schedule was announced on Tuesday; the draft will be held this weekend; and free agency gets under way on July 1.

Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather will be taking part in his 32nd consecutive NHL Entry Draft this weekend in Los Angeles.
The Rangers are more than ready to turn the page to 2010-11.

Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather and his staff arrived in Los Angeles, the site of this year’s NHL Entry Draft, on Tuesday for their final off-season preparations, a game plan the organization has been working on since being eliminated from playoff contention in a shootout on the final day of the regular season.

“I think the guys are going to come back a lot hungrier next year,” Sather said of his team. “But we’ve got spots that are available. If you look at the organization we’ve got ourselves into a position where we have a lot of young people coming that are going to challenge for jobs.”

That is the challenge Sather faces this off-season in trying to gently restructure the Rangers and continue to integrate the young prospects the organization is developing onto the NHL roster. The organization wants to give youngsters a chance to make an impact at the NHL level, while at the same time realizing that adding a key veteran or two could also be imperative to provide leadership and help the team return to the postseason.

“If you are going to give certain kids the opportunity, then they have to play,” explained Sather. “But they have to be ready to play.  You can’t force it and put them on the team before they have earned the opportunity.”

Sather’s preference, as stated on Tuesday, is to sign his own restricted free agents before delving into unrestricted free agency. Unlike recent years -- when the Rangers made big splashes on July 1, including last year’s signing of star winger Marian Gaborik -- Sather instead expects to closely monitor the market for unrestricted free agents while trying to get his own players signed.

This strategy will help Sather and his staff gauge the market value for unrestricted free agents and will also give the Rangers a better idea of how much salary cap space will be available for those other players they have interest in.

“It’s like a house of cards, someone makes a deal then someone else makes a deal, so it’s kind of hard to predict what’s going to happen (with free agency),” said Sather. “You have to look at the market and see who’s got the money, who’s got the (salary cap) space. And you see teams making some big trades the past few days that takes some of them out of the free agent market. But you know there are going to be some players out there that we’ll have the chance to sign.”

Of course, Sather never has been shy about making trades, either. So that is another avenue he has been exploring quite a bit already this off-season. And he expects talks to heat up even more this week since every general manager will be in the same city for several days.

One of Glen Sather's roles at the draft is to talk to other general managers, such as Calgary's Darryl Sutter, about possible trades involving draft picks.
Although he may not have interest in trading any of these players, Sather is happy to know that teams have been repeatedly trying to pry away his best young prospects. If different teams all have interest in the same young Rangers, then it’s clear that the Blueshirts have something special going on with their youngsters.

“I think our scouting staff has done a great job, the last three years have been real positive,” noted Sather. “(Other teams) keep asking about the same group of guys. You know you’ve got some (good) players when people are asking for them all the time and trying to trade quality players for these kids.”

The Rangers will look to add to their impressive group of prospects this weekend at the Staples Center when the NHL holds its annual draft. The Blueshirts have five total picks, including the 10th overall selection in the first round on Friday.

Sather defers to Gordie Clark, the Rangers Director, Player Personnel, when it comes to the draft. Saying that he “trusts his staff”, Sather presides over the draft day table, but allows Clark to make the decision as to who will be drafted by the Rangers.

“They’ve seen these players, and they have years of experience watching these kids play, probably 20-30 times each kid before he’s drafted, so they have a real good handle on it,” Sather said of Clark and the organization’s amateur scouting department. “My role is to monitor what is going on, see who’s available and if we can make a deal to move up or down in the draft or trade a draft pick for a player that can play right now.”

Part of what Sather is entrusting Clark with is finding young players whose character and leadership prominently stand out. That goes for free agents that may sign with the Rangers, as well. Character, leadership, and other intangibles are vital ingredients for all future Rangers.

“I think we have found through experience that not everyone can play in New York City,” Sather said. “You have to find people that are dedicated and have the strength of character to succeed in New York. Hockey is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. And it takes a lot of work to be successful.”
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