To many, Glen Sather is a general manager that is all too easy to mock and ridicule. Some of that is understandable; the omnipresent cigar, the scowl, the long tenure, and the perceived old school thinking make him an easy guy to take shots at (I would know, I am guilty of doing it myself). But behind the impenetrable veil of secrecy and what I can only assume is a handsome and tasteful mahogany desk, that has a little pit bull bobble head wearing a Rangers jersey, is one of the most interesting general managers in the National Hockey League. We all know that Slats is not afraid to make a big splash in the free agency pool or to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade, even if it means trading away captain Ryan Callahan (and draft picks) for Martin St. Louis. But Glen Sather is a lot more than a general manager who isn't afraid to do what he must to get the player he wants. He also has a long record of giving hockey players second chances.
There are two players in Rangers' training camp right now, both of whom are under contract, that have come to the Rangers looking for a second chance at the NHL. Although very different circumstances have brought Ryan Malone and Matt Lombardi to New York looking to find a home on an NHL roster, they are both veterans looking to prove something to themselves and they are prepared to do it wearing Rangers' blue.
Matthew Lombardi was once a 20 goal scorer in the NHL and put up a 53 point year playing for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-10, but his career took a very dark turn after suffering a concussion in the 2010 preseason while playing for the Nashville Predators. He played just 2 games in the 2010-11 season and, by all accounts, was just not the same player afterwards. But that wasn't the first big shot to the head that Lombardi had taken. In the 2004 Playoffs, "Lombo" took a brutal elbow to the head from the Red Wings' Derian Hatcher and was knocked out for several months. After the concussion in Nashville he became a frequently injured journeyman depth center, playing for the Leafs, Ducks, and Coyotes before he left the NHL for the Swiss League last season.
"Prior to last year, there were a lot of bumps in the road in terms of my health, but that's part of it... I just try not to think and talk about it too much and just move forward." - Matt Lombardi, NYDN
In the Swiss League Lombardi was a standout. He scored 50 points in 46 games and frequently displayed the speed and two-way hockey that at one time made him a valuable commodity in North American hockey. The Rangers and Glen Sather liked what they saw in Lombardi and knew that he was worth a gamble, and so here he is, on a two-year deal worth $1.2 million and competing for a spot on the Rangers bottom six. It's a good thing he's here too, with Derek Stepan suffering an injury in training camp.
Ryan Malone is a very different story. The last time we saw his face was when he was arrested for DUI with cocaine in his possession and his mug shot was all over hockey blogs and twitter. But since that time, and I can't stress this enough, Ryan Malone has done everything he could and should be doing to change his life for the better. He's been apologetic, cooperative with the league, and has expressed how thankful he is for having a second chance, especially as a Blueshirt.
Even tho it was preseason it was nice to get back on the ice. Thanks to everyone for the continued support. Much love #BleedBlue— Ryan Malone (@Bugsy12Malone) September 23, 2014
We all know what Ryan Malone can be, and how valuable a guy with his size and hands can be in front of the net. Glen Sather sees that same potential and knows that having a guy like Malone in the bottom six is a beautiful, valuable thing. If a big forward gets injured, you can move a guy like Malone up into a bigger role without much concern for Malone dragging the line down. Sure, he's slow and his best days are behind him, but having a guy like Malone in a bottom six role might be a key to giving the Rangers the very same depth that made them so successful last season and in the 2014 Playoffs.
There is something encouraging about observing Sather put into practice this second chance philosophy of his. It provides a lot more than just "feel good" stories for fans and the media. It displays outside the box thinking, and in the world of the salary cap, a team can use as much of that as they can get. And who knows, with some of those second chances you might find a valuable player. Glen Sather's second chance philosophy can be observed in the amount of times he has been willing to bring departed Rangers back to the team ("We signed that guy, again?"), signing or trading for injured or high-injury risk players to the Rangers (Eric Lindros and Bryan Berard come to mind), and/or bringing slumping or failing stars to New York to give them a change of scenery and a chance to prove that they still have it. Maybe this philosophy stems from the fact that Sather was a player himself and knows just how important it is for hockey players to play hockey. Maybe he has met enough people in the business world to see that most people deserve second chances. Or, maybe he's just someone who can see the very best in people, and, if it makes sense for the Rangers, he is willing to give guys a chance to prove themselves.
However, this warm and fuzzy virtue of Sather's is not always an uplifting story with exclusively positive results. We've seen plenty of hockey players, including some big names have a lot of trouble in New York. We all know the Kevin Stevens and Theo Fleury stories and the problems players have had off the ice while playing in New York. Now, whether this happens because of personal demons, the pressure of the city, or a combination of both, is up for debate. What we do know is that New York is not for everyone, and, at times, it can be very difficult to play in front of very charismatic and mercurial fans in a city that, unfortunately, never sleeps.
Sometimes Sather extends second chances to people that make even the most compassionate among us wince. Do you remember Billy Tibbetts? I'll go ahead and let you do a Google search and experience all of that for yourself. Thankfully there aren't too many examples like that, but I'd be remiss if I didn't bring it up. Apparently, the second chance philosophy is quite blind about what has happened in your past, all that matters is trying to make you a better man through the game. First round pick of the Blackhawks Kyle Beach with a well documented attitude problem? We can fix that and get the best out of you. Two season long scoring slump for an injury prone star? We'll get that out of your system.
I suppose that when you try and think outside the box and are willing to look at every option you'll occasionally end up making some very ugly mistakes. The danger is that too many of these mistakes can become a trend, and outside the box thinking can quickly turn into searching for answers in unconventional places to try and fix problems that are beyond a rapidly declining Kevin Stevens' ability to fix (I guess that Lemieux guy was pretty good, I guess). Thankfully, we're no longer in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the Rangers are a very different team than they were in those days, the outside the box thinking seems to be limited, mercifully, to the bottom six.
I love the application of this philosophy to depth players. I love the idea of bringing in Matt Lombardi on a cheap contract. What if he gets hurt? What if he sucks?! You put him in the minors or make him your thirteenth forward, and move on. The real question we should be asking ourselves is what if he clicks with the team. We'll have a guy who can absolutely fly, kill penalties, and be a solid role player for pennies on the salary cap. You can't constantly worry about a guy like Lombardi getting hurt just in the same way that he can't worry about it. Should it be thought of during contract talks for players? Absolutely. But if you play like you're afraid to get hurt you're going to end up on your back wondering what just happened to you while the trainer is asking you where the pain is. Lombardi knows it and the fans should know it. Just watch the guy play his game and criticize his game, not his injury history.
Now, it's very easy to be cynical about Ryan Malone and his second chance with the Rangers. It's easy to say things like, "He was given a great gift and he f***ed it all up, I wouldn't have done that!" And yeah, you know, you have a point. But last I checked Ryan Malone was a human being. He's a human being that made a very bad mistake and is now desperately trying to redeem himself by doing what comes naturally to all hockey players; play hockey. In a lot of ways he is just one more guy that has been given a second chance by Glen Sather, but in a lot of ways he is more than that. Malone currently finds himself in a position to make a positive impact on a team that is designed to go back to the playoffs. Is Bugsy a lock to make the team, is Lombardi? No. But both Malone and Lombardi have worked their asses off for this chance. For their second chance. And, in Malone's case, he has a lot to prove to himself, to his fans, and to his family.
Ryan Malone is a human being who screwed up and made a mistake. I know plenty of those and I'm pretty sure that you do too. Let's try and remember that before we end every sentence about Malone with "cocaine" or "DUI" instead of a period. I'm just glad that sometimes this whole Glen Sather giving guys second chances makes opportunities like this possible. At the end of the day both of these guys can help this hockey club. Lombardi deserves this chance and so does Ryan Malone as long as he is doing everything he can to make amends for his mistake and serve as an example to people who have made similar mistakes, I'm happy to have them wearing Rangers' blue.
Let's go Rangers.