Sun, Mar 05, 2006 - Page 23 News List

James Dolan says Thomas, as with Sather, needs time

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

While discussing the Knicks during an interview with reporters Wednesday, James L. Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, compared Isiah Thomas with Glen Sather.

"His ability to execute -- that is what makes me keep my faith," Dolan said of Thomas, the Knicks' embattled president who was hired in 2003. "It's the same thing that had me keep faith with Glen Sather."

Dolan's point was that Sather, the president and general manager of the Rangers since June 2000, has finally turned the team around.

When Dolan hired Sather, the Rangers had not qualified for the playoffs since the 1996-97 season. At 36-15-8 and in first place in the Atlantic Division, the Rangers finally appear headed to end that franchise-record streak of missing the postseason.

Thomas and Sather have had similar strategies, acquiring high-priced players without success. Before 2004, Sather signed just about every marquee name: Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, Pavel Bure, Alexei Kovalev. But the team continued to play poorly and Sather was heavily criticized.

In March 2004, however, Sather decided to rebuild the Rangers with a mix of youth and experience.

"There was really a change in philosophy then," Don Maloney, the Rangers' assistant general manager, said Friday in a telephone interview. "And Glen, for all the criticism he's received -- for all that criticism that all of us have received, and deservedly so -- we were fortunate that ownership stuck with us to give us the time to do it right."

The NHL's new salary cap of about US$39 million may have caused Sather to stop his free-spending ways.

Even though Sather, the architect of the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty that won five Stanley Cups from 1984 to 1990, has not presided over a team with a winning record since 1991-1992, his last four Edmonton teams qualified for the playoffs under severe financial constraints.

To his credit, Sather changed his approach with the Rangers well before anyone knew whether there would be a salary cap.

"It finally hit us squarely in the head that this isn't working and that we have to bite the bullet," Maloney said.

Maloney said the lockout, which resulted in the cancellation of last season, helped the development of the prospects Henrik Lundqvist, Petr Prucha and Dominic Moore. Maloney said the Rangers were "paying a ton of attention to chemistry."

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