Glen Sather was already a Hall of Famer before he arrived in New York as a 56-year-old on June 1, 2000, building and coaching the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s to four Stanley Cups and adding one more solely as an executive in 1989-90, two years after ownership forced the trade of Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles.
The cigar-chomping Sather is an iconic figure in NHL history, an undisputed giant of the game. His Rangers legacy is complicated.
For there is an unmistakable void in Sather's 19-year run with the Blueshirts, the first 15 of which were spent as both president and general manager before he ceded the GM title to Jeff Gorton, with a 90-game stint as coach across the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons sprinkled in.
Though he orchestrated one of the most memorable runs in franchise history during which the Rangers went to the playoffs 11 out of 12 years, the 75-year-old will step down as president and into an advisory role, as the club announced Thursday, without a Stanley Cup.
He almost pulled it off, nearly made it twice in a lifetime for the Rangers 20 years after they captured the hearts of the entire town by winning it all in 1994, but they fell agonizingly short against the Kings in the 2014 Cup Final in a five-game series which saw the Blueshirts lose Game 1 in overtime and two others in double-overtime.
The next season the Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy and hosted Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final at the Garden, their third conference final appearance in four seasons, but they were shut out by Tampa Bay.
After a 2016-17 season in which the Blueshirts outperformed expectations and reached the second round before they beat themselves in a series against Ottawa, Sather and Co. recognized the need for change and set the wheels in motion for a rebuild.
"I truly believe the team is headed in the right direction and think the future is bright," Sather said in a press release. "I look forward to transitioning to a different role and continuing to play a part in building the next Rangers Stanley Cup contender."
A reconstruction was Sather's task when he took over the reins in 2000, when then-president of MSG Dave Checketts said, "We don't want to win the Cup in a flash. We want to build a dynasty."
Sather's quest got off to a rocky start. He came to Broadway when the Rangers had just missed the playoffs for the third straight year, and they failed to make the playoffs over Sather's first four years as acquisitions like Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros couldn't help the Blueshirts break through.
But following the 2004-05 NHL lockout which resulted in the institution of a hard salary cap, the Rangers returned to the playoffs in 2005-06, the beginning of the run of 11 postseason appearances in 12 years jump-started by a still-elite Jaromir Jagr and the franchise-altering emergence of rookie Henrik Lundqvist.
Sather took risks, some failing worse than others, such as the dual signings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury in 2007. He had no qualms about trading first-round picks while in win-now mode, the Blueshirts going without a first-round selection from 2013 through 2016.
Before he made a habit out of trading future assets, he selected some building blocks in the draft like Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, followed by Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller and Brady Skjei. And there were the signings of Dan Girardi and Mats Zuccarello, both of whom were undrafted.
Sather brought a consistently competitive team back to the Garden, winning 11 playoff rounds during that 12-year stretch. The difficulty of that kind of sustained excellence can't be overstated.
It also goes to show how difficult it is to win it all. If you define success by constant playoff appearances and putting a team in position to win, Sather's Rangers tenure was unquestionably successful, a feeling held by owner James Dolan. If your definition of success is based purely on winning championships, then Sather failed.
"Since he first joined the Rangers 19 years ago, Glen Sather has been singularly focused on delivering our fans a team that can consistently compete for the Stanley Cup," Dolan said in the release. "In doing so, Glen has become one of the most successful executives in Rangers history, and his current strategy has set the team on the right path to achieve our ultimate goal. Glen and I will work closely together to identify his successor. We thank Glen for his dedication to the Rangers, and to all of hockey, and look forward to his continued contributions to our team in his advisory role."
Time will tell how Sather stepping away impacts the front office and its approach while it rebuilds the roster. What is certain is Sather has been and will continue to be a polarizing figure among Rangers fans. He went for it, unapologetically, because he was brought in to build a winner, and he was going to do it his way. He'll forever be etched in hockey lore, remaining true to himself long after he won his five Cups with Edmonton. Like him or not, that is something to be admired.