Glen Sather is hockey royalty in Edmonton and 24 years ago today, he left the organization.
The native of High River first came to Edmonton in 1961 playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings and returned 15 years later as a player-coach for the Oilers of the WHA. He scored 53 points in 81 games in that 1976-77 season as the Oilers lost in the quarterfinals.
The next year, he took over full time behind the bench and the rest is history. Three years ago, I had a chance to interview Sather and he had an interesting comment about the transition to a full-time coach:
It was sort of a natural evolution. I was fortunate in one sense to play as long as I did in the NHL, there were a lot of good coaches I learned from. I had started to run a hockey school in Banff… [inaudible]… The transition from running the hockey school to running and organizing the Oilers in Edmonton wasn’t such a difficult step for me. I didn’t find it that complicated, I tried to treat all the players as individuals as well as a group. You get to know each player and treat them as a solid person and that’s what I tried to do.
After the first year, the Oilers were absorbed into the NHL in 1979, Sather was promoted to president and general manager as he continued his role behind the bench.
His first draft saw the Oilers take Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson. His second brought in Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, and Andy Moog.
That, along with the purchase of Wayne Gretzky years earlier, built one of the greatest dynasties the National Hockey League had ever seen. He won four cups behind the bench, and another as an executive and was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997 as a builder.
I had asked Sather whether or not he felt it was difficult to have put together such a dynasty in the 80’s:
It was a little different, we didn’t have much money then. The players all grew up together and wanted to stay together. They were a very close, tight-knit unit because when they all came to Edmonton they were young and they really grew up together. With Wayne and Mark and Kevin Lowe, that crew they kept that team together. Wayne was the most important thing to them, they were a very dedicated group of players. They had their goaltender in Grant Fuhr and had solid guys that did their dirty work for us with Semenko and McSorely and Kevin McClelland. There was a lot of great team guys on that team. They all focus on the team and that’s what it takes to win.
His time wasn’t perfect, especially in later years, as the Oilers struggled to develop talent in house. Of the 17 players he took in the first round between 1982 and 2000, only Jeff Beukeboom in 1983, Jason Arnott in 1993 and Ryan Smyth in 1994 were successful with the Oilers. That’s a major gap in drafting that had serious implications on a cash-strapped organization.
Nonetheless, the value he provided the Oilers organization by winning so much is something you could never slight him for.
Sather left the Oilers organization joining the New York Rangers as their president and general manager and stepped down from the GM role in 2015, before leaving as president last in April 2019.
On Twitter: @zjlaing