New York Rangers’ James Dolan: One of the NHL’s better owners

Believe it or not, the New York Rangers’ James Dolan is among the NHL’s better owners.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the late 1990s, you know that New York Rangers’ owner James Dolan’s constant meddling has turned the New York Knickerbockers into a perennial laughingstock, so much so that marquee free agents pay him not to sign them.

Okay, the latter’s not true, but the laughingstock label is accurate. Ask Kevin Durant. Or Charles Oakley. Or Spike Lee. Or the fan banned from attending Knicks games at MSG merely for telling Dolan to sell the team.

Or check the record. Over the past seven seasons, the Knicks haven’t finished higher than ninth in the fifteen-team Eastern Conference and twice finished dead last. And from 2004-05 through 2009-10, New York finished last once, fourteenth twice, and twelfth two times.

It’s still hard to believe the billionaire owner actually banned a paying customer for stating his opinion. If anything, that fan deserves credit for saying it to Dolan’s face instead of hiding behind a keyboard and spewing venom under an anonymous handle.

Fans of Dolan’s hockey team, the New York Rangers, know some of the pain Knicks’ fans are going through.

The Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons despite having among the top-three payrolls (if not the highest) in the NHL. At the time, the Blueshirts dangled blanks checks before seemingly every free agent, regardless of age, productivity, or whether he filled a need.

However, following a players’ lockout in 2004-05 and the implementation of a salary cap that resulted, Dolan has let Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton do their thing.

Cynics will say “that’s because Dolan doesn’t know sh*t about hockey,” and “he doesn’t give a rat’s a*s about hockey like he does basketball.” Regardless, Dolan hasn’t meddled with the Rangers and that’s good for the team and its fans.

We all know of Glen Sather’s exceptional work as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, and Jeff Gorton’s accomplishments as assistant GM of the Boston Bruins before arriving in New York eleven years ago. Their work for the Rangers speaks for itself, with Sather’s best coming in the salary cap era.

Thankfully for Rangers’ fans, it appears Gorton will be able to continue shaping the Rangers as Dolan has maintained a hands-off existence.

Frankly, hockey operations staff and fans of other NHL teams would love an owner like Dolan, who mostly stays out of the way, allows his hockey people to call the shots, and pours money and resources into the Rangers as much as he does his first love, the Knicks.

One such organization and fanbase is located approximately 375 miles and seven hours northwest of Madison Square Garden, where owners Terry and Kim Pegula have systematically dragged the Buffalo Sabres into the league’s abyss.

Upon taking ownership of the Sabres in 2011, Terry Pegula announced: “Starting today, there will be no financial mandates on the Buffalo Sabres hockey department.”

Flash forward to 2020: The Sabres missed the playoffs for the ninth straight season and haven’t finished with a winning record since 2011-12.

Worse, the Buffalo News this week reported the team fired GM Jason Botterill just three weeks after Kim Pegula told the Associated Press that he was staying.

Also wiped out were:

  • Botterill’s assistants, Randy Sexton and Jason Greenley
  • the entire coaching staff of Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester
  • the director and assistant director of amateur scouting
  • ten amateur scouts
  • three development coaches
  • pro scout John Van Boxmeer, a former NHL defenseman who played 294 of his 588 career games and recorded 215 of his 358 points for the Sabres.

If you’re counting, that’s twenty-two people who lost their jobs. In one week.

According to the Buffalo News, the Sabres are down to a staff of fifteen — including just four amateur scouts and two pro scouts. And they apparently are in no hurry to hire assistants for newly appointed GM Kevyn Adams.

Meanwhile, Adams is a former NHL center of ten seasons but has no pro hockey management experience whatsoever. He was promoted after working for the Pegulas for the past nine years as director of the youth academy at Buffalo’s Harborcenter.

No matter, the Pegulas had no problem letting Adams do their dirty work by having him inform fellow employees that their services were no longer required.

If nothing else, Dolan hasn’t messed with the Rangers’ top hockey executives.

Stability, in addition to his willingness to spend to the cap’s ceiling, reflects well on Dolan the hockey owner.

Say what you will about Dolan’s meddling as Knicks’ owner. Call him out for issuing delayed statements regarding the racial slurs that targeted prospect K’Andre Miller during a team-sponsored Zoom meeting and after George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

But don’t call him a meddlesome NHL owner. And don’t call him cheap, either.

We’re talking about a guy in Dolan who shelled out $51.5 million for Scott Gomez and another $35.25 mill for Chris Drury in the same summer, as well as $81.5 mill for Artemi Panarin last July and $45.5 mill to extend Chris Kreider last March.

Those are just two examples of Dolan’s willingness to pour as much cash and resources into his hockey team as he does his Knicks, his true love.

Think fans of the Montreal Canadiens would appreciate an owner like Dolan?

The Canadiens couldn’t even reel in Sebastian Aho last summer as the Carolina Hurricanes’ matched Montreal’s offer sheet of five years, $42.27 million — an offer that in some circles north of the border was considered nothing more than “window dressing.”

Sure the Canadiens gave goalie Carey Price an eight-year, $84-million contract in July 2017. And yes, they did the Rangers a huge favor by taking on Gomez’s salary and giving them Ryan McDonagh to boot.

But what other impact free agents have they signed?

The team is owned by Geoff Molson, who is president of the CH Groupe that oversees the Canadiens and their AHL affiliate in Laval, among other entities. He’s also vice-chairman of the Molson Coors Company and a board member of Molson Coors Canada Inc.

One would think he’d be swimming in cash. But during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday Molson said the CH Groupe has not brought in money since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (as if his company was the only with cash-flow problems).

“We were rolling along at 100 miles an hour and suddenly everything was at zero,” Molson said.

We haven’t seen massive cuts to the Rangers’ hockey ops or heard complaints about revenue from James Dolan — one of the NHL’s better owners.