Glen Sather

Everybody knows who Glen Sather is. He is the mastermind behind perhaps the greatest team in the history of the National Hockey League. He is considered one of the greatest coaches and general managers in the modern era of the NHL. He is also an astute businessman, and a self made millionaire outside of hockey.

But did you know he used to play hockey too? He wasn't exactly a great hockey player, but got into 658 NHL games and scored 80 goals and 193 points. The man who had the brains to acquire and teach names like Wayne Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog, Kevin Lowe - the list is seemingly endless - was pretty much a third or fourth line plumber for nine NHL seasons. Of all the great players Sather has coached in Edmonton, Sather the player could best be compared to a Dave Hunter or a Kelly Buchberger - a useful, heart-and-soul grinder.

Born in High River, Alberta, Glen first became prominent in hockey in junior hockey when he played, somewhat ironically, in the city of Edmonton with the Oil Kings. Those Oil Kings were a power house in junior hockey. They played in 7 consecutive Memorial Cups from 1959 to 1966 - but only came away with the big prize in 1963 and 1966. Sather arrived in 1961-62 and departed after the 1963-64 season, so obviously he was part of the 1963 championship. That 1963 team coached by Buster Brayshaw had learned the lessons of the 3 previous Oil Kings teams that fell just short. They brought what was described as "the eastern style of play" in order to be successful against the eastern representatives from Niagara Falls. Some other members of that Oil Kings championship team include Pat Quinn, Bert Marshall and Roger Bourbonnais

After junior hockey, Sather graduated to the Central Professional Hockey League for three seasons before the Boston Bruins finally gave him a shot in 1967-68. He played well in a 4th line left wing role. He worked hard in a typical Boston Bruin fashion and became a favorite of the "gallery gods" - the nosebleed section of the old Boston Garden. He scored 8 goals and 12 assists in 65 games.

Sather also became a favorite of coach Harry Sinden.

"He's a handy guy to have around. If anyone gets hurt he can player either wing and he's always hustling. He's a good man on the ice killing penalties. It's true you can't call him a goal scorer but he is strong on defence," said Sinden in an interview with The Hockey News back in 1968.

Sather played a second full season for the Bruins in 1968-69, scoring 4 goals and 11 assists before the Pittsburgh Penguins selected the winger in the Intra-League draft on June 11, 1969. It was both good and bad for Sather. Good because in Pittsburgh he had a chance to further his career but bad because the Bruins went on to win 2 of the next 3 Stanley Cup championships, something that Sather would have loved to experienced as a player.

"Slats" played 1 and 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh before he was traded to the NY Rangers in exchange for Syl Apps Jr. Syl Jr. was a pretty good skill player, so the fact that he was traded in return for Slats suggests Slats comparative value even if it was a different style

Sather enjoyed his longest tenure in New York, spending parts of 4 seasons with the Rangers. He of course provided his rugged brand of hockey but other than an 11 goal, 26 point 1972-73 campaign provided little in terms of offense.

Ironically, Sather was traded to St. Louis following his best year as a Ranger, just 2 games into the 1973-74 season, Sather enjoyed his best season offensively. He scored 15 goals and 44 points in 69 games.

Despite his strong season, Sather was once again on the move in the summer of 1974, this time to Montreal where he played one season. He was traded to Minnesota for the 1975-76 season, his last in the NHL.

In 1976-77 the Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association acquired Sather, perhaps the most important acquisition in Oiler history, including the day they got Gretzky. Sather filled in for one season as a hard nosed left winger before he became the coach the following season.

In his first full year as a professional coach in 1977-78 he guided the Oilers to the playoffs where they lost to the eventual Avco Cup finalist New England Whalers.

Sather played an instrumental role in the purchasing of 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky from the Indianapolis Racers. That year Edmonton finished atop the WHA regular-season standings before losing the Avco Cup finals to the Winnipeg Jets. Following the 1978-79 season, Edmonton, Quebec, Winnipeg and Hartford all joined the NHL.

Under Sather's tutelage, the Oilers became the highest scoring offensive machine in history. By 1980 he was named as the Oilers general manager as well. Already with the game's budding superstar in Wayne Gretzky, Sather had an eye for some incredible raw talent. In his first entry draft Sather chose Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Andy Moog. The following year he added first-round draft pick Grant Fuhr. Youngsters Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson also blossomed all at the same time.

Sather guided the Oilers to their 1st Stanley Cup just 5 years after joining the league and basically starting from scratch. Before you know it the Oilers became a dynasty, winning 5 Stanley Cups over the following 7 years.

Sather's coaching record is remarkable. In 842 regular season games he guided the Oilers to a 464-268-110 record. That's a .616 winning percentage! Yet somehow the Oilers were even better in the playoffs under Sather. The Oilers upped their winning percentage to .705 thanks to 89 wins in 127 games with Sather behind the bench.

Sather's status as one of hockey's top executives was heavily reinforced when he guided Team Canada to the 1984 Canada Cup championship. Later he provided experience with Team Canada's management team at the 1987 Canada Cup and served in the same capacity for the NHL during the 1987 Rendez-Vous exhibition series versus the Soviet All-Stars. He was also instrumental in the 1991 Canada Cup and 1996 World Cup Team Canada teams. He also played a role in the 1998 Olympic team.

Sather had to dismantle his own dynasty as the Edmonton Oilers simply couldn't financially afford to keep the team together. Player salaries were just beginning to skyrocket and Oilers owner Peter Pocklington couldn't afford to compete. Eventually all of the big names from the dynasty days were traded. Sather skillfully stocked up on prospects and kept the Oilers competitive. However salaries kept getting higher and higher while the Canadian dollar plummeted, making it all but impossible for Canadian teams to compete financially in the NHL. The Oilers though young and talented were too cash strapped to go the the next level.

Sather remained with the Oilers until 1999 as he served most of the 90's decade strictly as general manager and president of the Oilers. After an ownership change cramped Sather's style, Glen surprisingly left the city he practically owned. He went from small budget Edmonton to the deep pockets of the New York Rangers.

Sather's place in hockey history was forever immortalized in 1997 when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder. Sather joked that he should be in the Hall as a player, not a coach. Now you know Sather was a useful player before becoming one of the all time great coaches and general managers in the history of the National Hockey League.


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