Click here to return to Spector's Soapbox Archives


Recent comments by Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe regarding the NHLPA's position in the upcoming labour negotiations with the NHL raised a firestorm of angry responses from hockey fans.

McCabe told the Toronto Star he and his fellow players were willing to "sit out the rest of our lives" if the league insisted on imposing a hard salary cap upon the players association.

He accused the league of imposing a system "where we can't direct our marketplace", suggesting that would make a mockery of free agency. McCabe also claimed he and his peers weren't just fighting for themselves but also for those players who'll follow them into the league.

McCabe and his peers are in the right on this issue. The league, most specifically, the owners, are once again engaging in hard-ball tactics with the NHLPA. They've obviously learned nothing from the players resolve in the 1992 player strike and the 1995 lockout that brought about the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Many of the owners, led by Chicago's Bill Wirtz and Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, obviously not only wish to restrict player salaries, but also crush the NHLPA.

The owners are the ones who've created this current mess the league faces. Their predecessors were the ones who for decades ensured NHL players were among the lowest paid pro athletes in North America. They're the ones who conspired to siphon surpluses away from their pension funds, leaving many of the game's greats with nothing but a mere pittance for their accomplishments.

They're the ones who cried wolf about financial losses in 1992 when the players went out on strike. How does a league go from making over $60 million in profit in 1989, as then-league president John Ziegler bragged in a speech to the Empire Club in Toronto, to losing $11 million in 1992? Either they're incredibly incompetent or they're a pack of liars.

They're the ones who locked out the players in 1995, rather than try to bargain in good faith. They're also the ones who extracted what they wanted in the current collective bargaining agreement. They're the ones who got the players to concede to a rookie salary cap, to salary arbitration, and to the most restrictive free agent system in pro sports.

And they're the ones primarily responsible for outrageous bonus clauses that sneak around the rookie salary cap, for creating the poisonous atmosphere in salary arbitration that both sides now try to avoid, and for the stunning rise in player salaries over the past ten years.

Unfortunately, that's not the message getting through to hockey fans.

McCabe's comments sparked anger from NHL hockey fans, who spewed their venom on message boards, chat rooms, e-mails and letters to the editor, decrying what they considered the "greed" of the NHL players and how it was killing the game and how it was all the players fault that the league was in the mess it's in today.

To be fair, the players and their agents deserve their share of the blame.

They're the ones who stage holdouts on teams, particularly the struggling small market clubs, if they don't get offered what they consider "fair market value" for their services. They often point to a player of equal talent getting overpaid by a bungling GM on another club and justify asking for the same money because the other club set the market value.

They're the ones who almost always depart their clubs via unrestricted free agency, sadly bemoaning having to leave a team and a city that was so good to them over the years but wouldn't or couldn't afford to pay them, then in the same breath talk about how excited they are about their "fresh start" in the city willing to overpay for their services.

They're the ones who repay their fans loyalty and devotion by spurning them for another club almost solely because that other club is willing to fork over a ridiculous amount of money for them.

All justified, but it's also only what the average hockey fan sees. And that's why, as the players gear up to go to labour war yet again with their bosses, they're losing the PR war to the owners and the league.

It's easy to understand why. At the heart of the matter is what the players are earning.

Nobody begrudges the players wish for their fair share of the revenue pie. But what pisses off hockey fans is the fact that many of these players are already pulling in millions of dollars in individual salaries, yet are always heard to be complaining about not earning their market value.

McCabe recently posted comments on Joe Tasca's hockey blog where in defending his statements he suggested that we hockey fans would also be upset if our respective bosses were to cut our wages.

Point taken, however, the overwhelming majority of hockey fans take a lifetime to make what an NHL hockey player makes on average in one year ($1.8 million US). Hockey fans cannot relate to that being applied to NHL players.

The majority of hockey fans earn between $25, 000 - $90,000 annually before taxes. So if we were told to take a wage cut, yeah, we'd be very upset. Most of us are barely getting by on what we make. NHL hockey players, on the other hand, should be having no problems with a bank account full of millions.

If you're making over $3.85 million as McCabe is making this season, for doing something that most of us can only dream of doing, it's difficult for hockey fans to sympathize. There's a big difference between asking a professional athlete earning $3.85 million to take a cut in pay and asking an average hockey fan earning $38,500 a year to do the same.

If a hockey player takes a ten percent pay cut, he's obviously not going to be worried about feeding his family or saving up to send his kids to university. If you ask an average hockey fan to take a ten percent pay cut, the results could be disastrous.

If the players are to win the hearts and minds of the fans, they can't go about doing it by attempting to compare their plight with that of what the fans might face in the real world.

A different tack is required by the players, one that focusses the spotlight squarely on the owners, most of whom avoid it like the plague, content to having the players become the whipping boys.

First, the players must continue to press the NHL to open it's books. Not just those of a few teams, but all the teams. Allow them all to be opened and checked independently. That's what the LA Kings did after a fan, Phillip Propper, openly challenged their contention of financial losses on the website LetsgoKings.com. Propper, who according to the book "Money Players" works as an equity analyst and portfolio manager, discovered the Kings losses were not only justified, but also stood to be worse in the coming years if the NHL didn't get it's financial house in order.

If all or most NHL teams are losing money as their owners claim to be, then they should have no problem opening their books to prove it. After all, it would take away the basis for the players refusal to accept a salary cap if it were proven that most clubs were losing money. If the owners truly have nothing to hide, they should be willing to open their books for an independent audit.

Next, the NHLPA needs to keep driving home the point that it was the owners, not the players, who brought many of the key stipulations in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that are currently considered contentious.

As author Bruce Dowbiggin noted in his excellent book, "Money Players", it was the owners who got the NHLPA to concede on issues like the rookie cap (with no free agency or arbitration in that player's first three season). It was the owners who insisted upon and got an age limit of 32 for unrestricted free agency (later lowered to 31 in 1999). It was the owners who got the level of restricted free agency we see today, whereby any team signing away a RFA from his original club would be forced to part with five first round draft picks as compensation, plus allowing the original team to match any offer from a competitor thus eliminating a bidding war that would escalate an RFA's salary. The owners also got the right to walk away from an arbitrator's award if they didn't like it.

These are some of the issues the owners have been using to club the players over the head with, yet it's the owners who won those issues and then sought to twist or bend them to suit their own needs.

The players also need to get the point across that it's ultimately the owners who are paying the salaries, particularly those of unrestricted free agents.

A good case in point is Bobby Holik, whose signing by the New York Rangers is covered in "Money Players".

Holik insisted on getting a contract worth $9 million per season. Yes, it was an extravagent demand by a player and his agent, but what's overlooked is the fact that the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Holik's former club the Devils got into a bidding war for his services.

Rather than laugh off Holik's salary demands and tell him to come back when he was willing to be more reasonable, all three teams fell over each other trying to land him. The Leafs and Devils offered up $8 mil per season before the Rangers got him by agreeing to his demand for $9 mil per season.

Did Holik and his agent hold a gun to the collective heads of Glen Sather, Pat Quinn and Lou Lamoriello? Of course not. They floated a figure and those three, rather than telling Holik to take a hike, were willing to pony up exactly what he wanted, because they wanted him that badly. Holik knew there would be teams crazy enough to overpay him.

Ah, but if those three clubs had rejected Holik's demand, somebody else would've snapped him up, right?

So what? Whomever did would've been just as guilty as the Rangers, Leafs and Devils in overpaying essentially a two-way checking forward. And there's no guarantee Holik would've helped that club anymore than he's helped the sad-sack Rangers since coming to Broadway in 2002.

Most importantly, the NHLPA must continue demonstrating their willingness to be reasonable with the owners. Their proposal last fall to the owners, centered around a willingness to accept a five percent paycut across the board, received about a day's notice in the press and promptly sank from sight.

Here's what the NHLPA offered the owners, as reported by Larry Brooks of the New York Post," a five-percent giveback to the league on the full value of all existing contracts; changes to the Entry Level System both in terms of a cap and percentage of the cap that can be paid in signing bonus; a revenue-share system from on a pool collected from an aggregate of payroll luxury tax, regular-season and playoff gate taxes and revenue tax that would be distributed to clubs meeting qualifying criteria, including attendance performance." Furthermore, the NHLPA was willing to address such issues as salary arbitration and qualifying offers.

To simplify the proposal further, the players are willing to give back nearly $65 million in payroll every season. They're willing to address the problems with bonus clauses circumventing the rookie salary cap. They're willing to address revenue sharing to assist smaller market clubs to better compete with their big market peers, and they're willing to consider changes to salary arbitration and how much a team must spend to qualify their restricted free agents.

Does that sound like a greedy bunch of players? But nobody is taking the owners to task for their refusal to negotiate and for their insistence on a hard cap or nothing. The players must continue to push that proposal in the press on a daily basis to prove to the fans they're trying all they can to reach an accommodation.

Most importantly, the players simply cannot come out with terse statements like those of McCabe's. The worst thing the NHLPA can do is act as though they're willing to kill the league if they can't get what they want. McCabe may not have intended his remarks to sound like that, but that's what has contributed to the perception of "greedy, selfish players".

These are the messages the players association must get out on a daily basis if they're to win fan support in this upcoming labour war. For now, they've failed to do so, as the angry outburst regarding McCabe's comments made clear.

They risk further vilification by the fans, which will push them further into the owners camp, and also risks undoing some of the advances they fought so hard to win in 1992 and 1995.

Beating the owners won't mean a thing if it comes at the expense of the fans support. Pyrrhic victories are always more costly to the victor.


The National Hockey League has recently come up with a set of proposed rule changes to improve the quality of the game and increase scoring.

Forgive me if I don't prostrate myself before the general managers in reverence to their divine plans.

The media and the fans, be they in chat rooms, message boards, hockey blogs, letters to the editor or on personal websites like my own, have been screeching for some time for the NHL's supposed braintrust to take some real action to bring back the excitement that has been sorely lacking from the product for the past several years.

And every year, we either got a token rule change ( the "crease rule", moving the nets out from the boards, the almost annual "crackdowns on obstruction") or had our concerns blithely dismissed by these supposed gurus who proclaimed "there is nothing wrong with our game".

Yet now, with fan support continuing to decline, some franchises struggling to stay afloat, dwindling TV ratings in the United States and only months before the possibility of a bitter and protracted labour war, the GMs and the Commisioner airily announce a series of changes to improve the product.

The timing of this is curious, given the problems the league is facing. If the whole purpose of the proposed changes is to improve the entertainment value and bring back the fans, why weren't these changes announced much sooner?

The obvious suggestion is Bettman and his gang are a bunch of idiots, but there's a more plausibe reason.

Put simply, the National Hockey League has too many teams carrying too few talent. Many of those teams were against making serious changes to the game because they feared their clubs would struggle against more talented, superior opposition.

That's why we've been stuck with the plodding defensive trapping system that has sucked the life out of the game and sent fans off to find other venues of excitement.

But now, with the aforementioned labour woes lurking on the horizon, a TV deal with a major US network about to expire and more fans spurning the game than ever, the league is belatedly hoping to convince fans and ABC television they're serious about breathing life back into their dull-as-dishwater product.

So what great changes do we have in store?

"Goalies can no longer handle the puck behind the back-end red-line (behind the net)"

Goalies have come a long way from the days when Jacques Plante and Billy Smith and Ron Hextall were the few brave enough to venture from their crease to handle the puck.

But honestly, the only time most of today's netminders play the puck behind the net is to either stop it for one of their defencemen to pick it up and play it, or to try to chip it up the boards to a fellow teammate.

Goalies have been doing that for years, even back in the free-wheeling 1980s, and it didn't affect offence or limit the excitement back then. And back then, that's all most of them used to do. You rarely saw them pick an opening to clear it out of their zone like New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.

This rule change may increase the number of "dump-and-chase" plays, but it doesn't mean we're going to see a huge boost in scoring chances.

"The width of goalie pads will be reduced to 10 inches from the current limit of 12 inches".

OK, not a bad suggestion. Goalie pad are far too bulky and as commentator and former NHL goaltender John Davidson has noted, their size today has more to do with blocking shots than in protecting the goaltender's legs.

But the NHL braintrust failed to limit the size of the goaltenders gear above the waist.

What good is it to scale back the pads when the goalies upper body equipment will continue to draw unflattering comparisons to the Michelin Man?

I'm not suggesting that goaltenders should go back to wearing the archaic equipment of twenty years ago, but I am saying that the technology is available today to amply protect the goalies without increasing the bulk of their equipment, particularly their shoulder and belly pads and their blockers.

Sorry, NHL GMs, but that's only a half-measure. Given how better conditioned goalies are today, you're not likely to see much of an increase in goal production by simply scaling back the pad size a couple of inches.

"The nets being brought back to 10 feet from the back boards from the current 13 feet."

This is the NHL's admission that they screwed up when they moved the nets out from it's former 10 feet from the back boards to it's current 13 feet back in 1999.

The logic behind this idea had been that it would allow more room for forwards to create offensive chances behind the net. After all, the greatest offensive player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, did most of his damage from behind the net.

Problem is, there was only one Gretzky. Most NHL forwards lack the skills to even come close to the Great One in that regard.

Instead, moving the net out increased the room for defencemen to work behind the net, and yes, even for goalies too, although that still doesn't change my opinion that the league is mistaken in it's ruling about goalies not being able to play the puck beind the net.

If you move the nets back to their original ten feet, the goalies will have less room to play the puck, and therefore may be less daring to do so.

But hey! At least they're correcting a mistake they made five years ago.

"The tag-up offsides will be brought back."

The league believes this might lead to less whistles and thus less stoppages of play.

But as more than one of my readers pointed out, why bring about a rule that rewards dump-ins if the purpose is to generate more offence?

"The AHL will be asked to try out three points being awarded for a victory in regulation time with the NHL possibly going to that format in 2005-06 if it works well in the minors; that would also include two points for an overtime win; it may also include two points for a penalty shootout win."

Gee, here's a thought, why not two points for a win and no points at all if you lose in overtime? And if you're still tied after that, then just give the two teams a point and be done with it.

Honestly, folks, this is were I think the NHL braintrust suffers a collective braincramp!

Hey, you wanna have four-on-four OT for five minutes to settle a tie game? Great. The concept has been popular with fans and I'll give the league credit for going to that format. Some nights, it's the most excitement you'll see after watching a droning three periods of hook 'n hold!

But I've never liked the current system whereby a team still gets a point if they lose in overtime. And quite frankly, I think the whole "controversy" over too many tie games was blown way out of proportion in the first place.

It's a very simple concept. The team who wins in OT gets the two points, and the team that loses gets nothing. How tough is this to grasp!

"The AHL will also be asked to try out the so-called ``fat lines'' of both blue-lines and the centre red-line next season. But they will be 24 inches instead of the 36 inches tried out this year in the AHL. They're currently 12 inches wide in the NHL."

Why not do what the IIHF has done for years and just eliminate the red line? Why tamper with the size of the bluelines when just removing one line would suffice?

The center red line was put in place in the early 1940s by the NHL due to the fact many of it's best players were overseas fighting in World War II. The idea was that, because of the absence of the better players, those few that remained would take advantage of the lesser talent and might run up the scoring. Gee, imagine that, a hockey league with too much offence!

Anyway, it was a rule that was meant to be a temporary wartime measure which, like income tax, has stuck around ever since.

We can't get rid of income tax, but the league could remove that meddlesome line and in turn open up the neutral zone.

Oh, but we can't have that, Bettman said when the subject was broached following the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Why, you'd see lesser teams lining up at the blueline and negating scoring chances by preventing an opposing team from carrying the puck into their zone, just like Team Germany and Team Belarus did.

Funny, but I don't recall either of those clubs going on to win anything in the Olympics, other than pulling off a couple of fluky victories.

Would it hurt to try the concept? Would it hurt to quit tampering with the size of bluelines and just eliminate the red line? Sometimes the best plans are the simplest ones. What harm would it cause? Could it possibly make the game any duller than it is already? What's the harm in trying?

To me, it's very simple how to improve the game and bring back the excitement.

One, strict limitations on the size of goaltenders equipment, for the reasons I've noted above. But I wouldn't restrict them from wandering from their net to play the puck. I would, however, let it be known that if they leave the crease, they're fair game. Indeed, that's the way the game used to be played. The goalies who did wander years ago and took their lumps did so without bitching for they understood the rules and took their knocks accordingly.

Two, eliminate the centre red line. Let those lesser teams try lining up at the blueline. As the 2002 Winter Olympics proved, that tactic would have limited success, particularly against teams with more talented rosters.

Three, call the game by the damn rules! Crack down, once and for all, on the obstruction fouls of hooking and holding. Crack down on the highsticking and slashing. CALL THE GAME THE WAY IT USED TO BE CALLED!

Just look at tapes of games from ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. There was a lot less of that crap going on back then and the game was much better and more exciting.

And if the players bitch about it, tell 'em to just shut up and go play the game, since that's what they're getting paid the big bucks to do. And if they don't like that, tell 'em they can always go find somewhere else to ply their craft. You won't hear much beaking off after that.

The players aren't dumb. They know only too well what the rules of the game are. The only reason they bitched over previous crackdowns on obstruction was they knew eventually the league would cave, particularly if their management also joined in the whinefest. If they know the league intends to call the game by the book and not put up with any yapping off, they'll comply.

But of course I don't expect the National Hockey League to adopt any of these issues. After all, they're very smart hockey men, and until this season, why, there was nothing wrong with our game, nothing wrong at all, no sir, it's the best game in the world and the fans love our style of game.

We hockey fans do love the game, but we don't love what the NHL product has become. And I hate to break it to the league's pointy-heads, but there won't be any significant improvement until they stop tinkering around with stupid ideas and start using common sense.


It's been well over a week since financier Arthur Levitt released the results of his year-long, "independent" study of the National Hockey League's finances. It's taken me this long to comment on it because my rage over the results had me writing nothing but expletives in the days following the release of the study.

Levitt's report claimed the NHL posted losses last season of $273 million, with only 11 of it's 30 teams posting a profit. Of those eleven, "only two saw profits of over $10 million US, with four in the $5-9.9 million range, and five with just under $5 million in the black."

Of the 19 who posted losses, "four suffered operating losses of over $30 million US, two were in the $20-29.9 million range, six were between $10-19.9 million, another six suffered losses of $5-9.9 million, and once took losses of less than $5 million."

The NHL has claimed 76 percent of total revenues went to the players, compared to 64 percent in the NFL and 63 percent in the MLB and 58 percent for the NBA.

He claimed if he were a banker he wouldn't underwrite any venture or invest a dollar of his own money into a business he claims appears to be "heading south". Levitt claimed the league was on a "treadmill to obscurity" if it continued on it's present path.

To which I respond, tell me something I didn't already know!

I've railed for years on this site about the financial mismanagement going on in the National Hockey League. As far back as 1999, I noted the NHL claimed 20 of their then-27 teams were losing money, of which fifteen of those teams were based in the United States.

I haven't been the only one, as hockey reporters and fans with hockey websites and blogs claimed the league couldn't allow this trend to continue and had to get their financial house in order. However, for the next five seasons many NHL clubs continued to spend irresponsibly, with combined payrolls rising with each passing season.

The NHL had a good chance five years ago to rein in rising player salaries, but did nothing about it.

And naturally, they're quick to blame the players.

I found the timing of both the study (commissioned for the 2002-03 season) and the release of it's findings (scant months before the end of the current CBA) odd. Does it strike anyone other than me and a few sportswriters as more than a coincidence this comes out when it does, with a labour war looming in September?

Regardless of whether or not Mr. Levitt's report is an accurate reflection of the league's finances, the timing of it's commissioning and release makes this appear as just another weapon the NHL hierarchy hopes to wield in their upcoming labour war with the NHLPA.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called the release of these findings "very sobering" and claimed they buttressed his contention for a salary cap.

Gee, Gary, where was this sobering concern five years? Mr. Bettman has regaled us since 1999 with his annual state of the NHL reports that always played up the supposed popularity of the sport whilst paying lip services to the real financial problems facing the league.

Bettman didn't really start expressing concern about salaries until last season, when the Senators and Sabres went bankrupt primarily because of the follies of their respective ownerships, making a lame attempt to use their plights as justification that salaries were out of control. He stepped up his concern last June and has spoken of little else since.

Bettman could've had the opportunity to bring about real change in the CBA years ago, but he and the owners pushed ahead the end date of the current deal in part because they didn't want messy labour talks to coincide with preparations for the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.

But if Bettman were really concerned about rising salaries, he should've begun his assault five years ago, when only 7 of his then-27 teams were making money. He should've kept up the assault year after year, and brought all the owners, not just the small-market money-losers, online with calls to bring salaries under control. He should've commissioned these studies every year in cooperation with the NHLPA, so that the league could be seen as attempting to work out it's financial problems with its players.

And most importantly, Bettman should've spoken out more against the big-money follies of big markets clubs like New York, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto and Philadelphia.

But we scarcely heard anything about the league's finances from the commissioner since the first warning cry was raised in 1999.

NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow was quick to slam the report, claiming of the four NHL clubs whose finances he had access to, the PA was able to find $52 million in unreported hockey-related revenues and benefits. He also pointed out that he wasn't given access to the rest of the teams in the manner than Levitt was. Goodenow also questioned the validity of a report commissioned by the league, particularly one that draws comparisons to the NFL and NBA since those leagues are run differently from the NHL.

Goodenow touts, correctly, that the players continue to believe in the current market system, whereby the owners decide what the players will be paid.

It's easy to be cynical and claim that naturally the players don't want the current system to change because they've never had it so good, but Goodenow hits the nail on the head when he points out the owners decide what the players make.

And that, folks, is the basis for the financial problems facing the National Hockey League today.

It was the owners who managed to get a rookie salary cap, the right to walk away from arbitration awards and the most restrictive free agency in professional sports in the current CBA.

Yet, thanks to the greed and mismanagement of many owners and their general managers, they've abused the very safeguards they put into the CBA to keep player salaries down, which has resulted in the 212 percent rise in salaries in ten years to the current average salary of nearly $1.9 million.

Granted, it is a two-way street here and the players themselves aren't totally blameless. Through their agents, the players have been able to put the squeeze on the owners through holdouts and unrestricted free agency.

Still, if the owners and the GMs were more willing to abid by the current CBA, the players would've found holdouts to be less lucrative and free agency less profitable.

And don't forget, the players made a pitch to the owners last fall, whereby they indicated they were willing to accept a five percent paycut (which works out to be nearly $65 million US) for next season, plus they'll accept a crackdown on rookie bonus clauses and are willing to discuss changes to salary arbitration and explore with the owners the possibility of setting up some form of revenue-sharing.

But the owners, attempting to play hardball with the players and bring them to heel, dismissed the offer out of hand and insisted on a hard salary cap or nothing.

In the end, it's the owners who bear the brunt of the responsibility for the financial mess the NHL claims to be in. But instead of being forthright with the players and agreeing to open their books to prove things are as bad as they claim, their refusal to do so only convinces the players that they have something to hide.

As for Levitt's comments about the league being on a treadmill to obscurity, too late, Mr Levitt, they've been there for years!

The on-ice product has been watered down by expansion and uncalled obstruction. Arenas are less full as fans disgusted by the poor quality of the game and the rising ticket costs stay away. Announced attendences are often lower because seats are sold to corporations who hand out tickets to employees who simply aren't interested. TV ratings have plummeted and ABC and ESPN have cut the number of NHL games they cover from over 120 to barely 80. Factor in the fiscal mismanagement that's being going on for several years, and it's clear the NHL is a sports league in big trouble.

But make no mistake, the blame is not to be placed squarely on the shoulders of "greedy players", but rather on those of greedy and incompetent owners and general managers.

They've created the mess and now are trying to shift the blame onto the players to make them the scapegoats.

A pity the players can't save the owners from themselves!


"GLEN SATHER STEPS DOWN AS RANGERS HEAD COACH", screamed the headlines this past week. To which I ask, how does this make the Rangers a better hockey team?

Honestly, how does Sather's stepping down as coach change anything?

He's still the general manager, which he's been since the summer of 2000. His replacement, Tom Renney, has the daunting task of getting this expensive group of individuals to play like a teams, something Ron Low and Bryan Trottier...and Sather... before him failed to do.

The Rangers are still the same laughingstock, the same shining example of fiscal irresponsibility, and they're going to miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

Where's the change here?

The only team they can get up for is this season is their cross-town rivals from Long Island, whom they swept in their regular season matchup.

Of course, we won't mention how the cross-river rivals from New Jersey, the defending Stanley Cup champion Devils, whup their sorry overpaid arses on a regular basis.

I found Sather's petulant whining in the press over how harshly he's been treated by the press, particularly the Canadian media, to be rather galling. He accused his critics of "character assassination" because things hadn't gone as he'd planned.

Well, if the plan was to make the Rangers a bigger joke than they were in Neil Smith's final years, mission accomplished!

Sather built this club and deserves full blame for the running joke that it has turned into.

The champion of the small market Canadian teams in the late-90s lost his touch once he landed in New York and was granted access to the seemingly endless supply of Cablevision cash.

He was the white knight who was going to turn the Rangers around after Neil Smith's mismanagement, only to make the exact same blunders as his predecessor.

Like Smith before him, Sather kept going after expensive free agents, rather than employing the considerable skill that built the Oilers into a near-dynasty in the 1980s and then kept them competitive on a shoestring budget in the late-90s.

That was what everyone expected of Sather when he took over the Blueshirts. It was believed he'd have the best of both worlds, being able to bring in good young talent and having the money to keep them, which he didn't have in his last years with the Oilers.

If and when Sather finally gets his walking papers from the Rangers, will he claim that, like Neil Smith before him, ownership forced him to go after players he didn't want to pursue? After all, he hinted at it in a recent interview following his decision to step down as coach.

If that's the case, then Glen Sather left his backbone in Edmonton.

There are still defenders of Sather amongst the press and the Rangers fanbase, eager to trot out excuses for the Blueshirts inability to become a playoff club despite carrying one of the largest payrolls in the NHL.

The primary excuse is injuries to key players hurt the Rangers during his tenure, which therefore weren't his fault and couldn't be held against him.

But since Sather took over, he added more and more star talent that with each passing year failed to improve the Rangers.

The Rangers began this season with name players such as Alexei Kovalev, Bobby Holik, Petr Nedved, Brian Leetch, Eric Lindros, Mark Messier, Anson Carter and Tom Poti on the roster. They had seasoned veterans in Mike Dunham, Darius Kasparaitis, Greg de Vries, Matthew Barnaby, Chris Simon and Vladimir Malakhov. Here was depth that, on paper, should've made the Rangers one of the top clubs in the NHL.

They dealt away Carter for Jaromir Jagr in January when they were still within striking range of the playoffs, but the move failed to improve them and they plunged in the standings and all but out of playoff contention a month after the Jagr acquisition.

At some point, you stop pointing to injuries as an excuse. The LA Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs have been hammered by injuries this season but they're still playoff teams, still playing hard and for the most part playing well.

Even the Montreal Canadiens, who lost their best defenceman and a possible Norris candidate in Sheldon Souray and reliable two-way forward Jan Bulis to injuries over the past three weeks, bounced back from a four game losing slump to win five of six games in ten days, including a game against the Rangers, in turn significantly improving their chances of nailing down one of the final post-season berths in the East.

It's no mystery why. The Kings, Flyers, Leafs and Canadiens are well-coached and play like teams. They have pride in themselves, their accomplishments and their abilities. What's more, they have pride in their team and the sweaters they wear.

Good teams overcome serious injuries to key players because they play as a team. They don't use it as an excuse to go into the tank. That's part of what a good coach can do.

So forgive me if I'm unimpressed over Sather's desire not to hear the Rangers faithful braying for his head at every single home game.

Sather built this team as a GM but even he, with his Hall of Fame credentials and his four Cup rings as a coach, couldn't get them to play as a team.

His apologists also point out he's doing a wonderful job restocking the farm system with quality young talent.

Fact is, there has always been promising talent in the Rangers system, first under Smith and then under Sather. Only problem is, since their 1994 Stanley Cup win, they either bury that talent behind the overpaid name players or ship it out for quick fix after quick fix.

One example during Sather's tenure was Mike York, who was beloved in New York for his energetic style and the obvious joy he had of being a Ranger. But he was dealt away for Tom Poti, shunned as being too injury prone, his game suddenly found lacking.

Yet York, despite his stature and injuries, played with more energy in each shift than most of those currently in the Rangers lineup. He loved to play, and most importantly, he loved to play in New York.

Kim Johnsson was another casualty, shipped out in the Eric Lindros deal. In Sather's first season, he was the club's second best defenceman behind Brian Leetch. Now, he's a valued addition of the Philadelphia Flyers blueline corps, while the damaged goods that is Lindros probably won't be back next season as a Ranger. That means Sather gave up a quality defenceman for...nothing.

We've heard for years that Jamie Lundmark was going to be a star centre for the Rangers ever since Smith drafted him in 1999. It's five years later and while Lundmark is now a Rangers regular, he's more often than not buried behind the veterans.

I've heard from Rangers fans since the late-90s that their team had all this promising talent in their system, but a quick glance at the Rangers roster shows only Leetch, Dale Purinton, Kovalev, Lundmark, and Fedor Tjutin as products who came up through the Rangers farm system, and of those, only Leetch truly made a name for him wearing Ranger blue. Kovalev did so as a Penguin, while the jury remains out on the other three.

What guarantee does Rangers fans have that Tjutin, Hugh Jessiman, Dominic Moore, Nigel Dawes, Dan Blackburn, and Ivan Baranka will get an opportunity to go on to careers with the Blueshirts? What guarantee do they have that these kids will be around for longer than two or three seasons before they're shipped out for the next veteran quick fix? What guarantee do they have that these kids won't be buried behind the aging, overpaid veterans?

And what guarantee do they have that Sather will leave the free agent market alone and focus on rebuilding the Rangers with youth?

Sather the coach is gone but Sather the GM still remains, and judging by his track record of his tenure, there's little cause for Rangers fans to be optimistic about their future.

One of Sather's few remaining media sycophants suggested those who have been critical of him do so because they're jealous of Sather's success.

The success he had during the 1980s glory years of the Edmonton Oilers are worthy of merit. The train wreck he perpetuated following Neil Smith is not.

I've been accused from some Rangers fans over the past seven years of being jealous of their club. They insinuate that because I'm Canadian I'm jealous of the Blueshirts ability to overpay for the top unrestricted free agents.

Well, kiddies, you've gotta translate all that money into success in order for me to feel any twinge of jealousy over the Rangers free spending ways.

Oh, but Spector, why don't you take the Red Wings, Flyers, Blues, Maple Leafs and Avalanche to task for all the money they've spent over the years on free agency and for trading for expensive players.

I have, many times, but at least those teams also understand that there's more to building a successful club that trading for or signing expensive players. I may not like their free-spending ways for what it's done to player salaries, but I can respect the other methods they used to building their teams.

Most of those teams either drafted or traded for young players who became the foundation of their franchise. That's the difference between the Red Wings and the Rangers.

The only emotions I have for the Rangers is pity for their now long-suffering fans and contempt for their ownership and management for their fiscal irresponsibility.

It's not newsworthy that Glen Sather has stepped down as the Rangers head coach, unless he also steps down as their general manager.

And if Jim Dolan, like Dave Checketts before him, is the real reason why the Rangers are in this mess, then that makes Sather nothing more than a pathetic figurehead, living off his fading reputation.

In which case, I suppose, it really doesn't matter if Sather continues as the Rangers general manager.

They'll remain the most expensive laughingstock in the National Hockey League.