NEW YORK -- It was hard to tell what was more surprising at the New York Rangers' practice: Glen Sather's guarantee they'd make the playoffs or that he was best suited to lead them there.
Sather, the team's president and general manager, added head coach to his responsibilities Thursday, one day after he fired rookie Bryan Trottier 54 games into the season.
Trottier lost his job because the Rangers are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 28 games remaining. Despite that, Sather said he intends to lead the Rangers to the postseason for the first time since 1997.
''We're making the playoffs,'' Sather said at practice before Thursday night's game against the Colorado Avalanche.
The 60-year-old Sather coached Edmonton to four Stanley Cups in the 1980s, but he hasn't been behind the bench since 1994.
Sather has a difficult coaching job ahead, and the Rangers might have to make good on his prediction and get to the playoffs to save his GM job.
''If we fail, which I'm not thinking about, then I'm going to take the brunt of it,'' he said.
He is the third GM to take over for a fired NHL coach this season. Sather said he doesn't hold the position on an interim basis, and what happens beyond this season will be decided later.
''The future is right now,'' he said. ''I'm willing to accept the risk.''
When the players arrived at practice Thursday morning, they expected to hear that assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld was taking over.
''I can't believe that Glen Sather is coaching the New York Rangers,'' captain Mark Messier said. ''I can't believe we're in this situation again, and it's hard to believe that he's in the situation to be coaching. But we are where we are, and he feels responsible and, at this point, probably doesn't want to turn it over.''
Sather discussed the position with Schoenfeld on Wednesday night and asked him what he felt should be done.
''Glen said 'If you don't do it, I'm going to have to do it,''' Schoenfeld said. ''I really think I made the right choice.''
When Schoenfeld was asked questions about Trottier shortly before the game, he answered one but appeared close to tears during a second response and abruptly ended his remarks.
In the morning, Schoenfeld was on the ice along with fellow assistants Terry O'Reilly and Ted Green. Schoenfeld gathered the team around a drawing board and briefly addressed the players -- looking like he was the new man in charge.
''I think Glen is the right guy to do the job,'' Schoenfeld said. ''He has great command of the dressing room and, obviously, has great command of the game.''
When the players started skating again a minute later, Sather stepped onto the ice and the announcement was made that he was taking over.
''He's the boss of the team,'' goalie Mike Dunham said. ''We have to go out there and play. We have to answer to him.''
Messier and Wayne Gretzky, were the cornerstones of the Oilers teams that won four championships in five years with Sather as coach. After Gretzky was traded and Sather relinquished his coaching duties to focus on being GM, he and Messier won another Cup in 1990.
''Glen is a leader, he always has been,'' Messier said. ''I know he feels responsible for the situation that we're in and he feels, perhaps, he can do something about it.''
Messier will have to wait until after this weekend's All-Star break to play for Sather again. The 42-year-old center was sidelined Thursday by a sore upper left arm.
Sather didn't need any more time to determine that Trottier wasn't the man who could change the losing atmosphere. Despite the league's highest payroll that is over $70 million, the Rangers were just 21-26-6-1.
''This may not work for me; either; they might tune me out as well. But I don't think so,'' Sather said. ''I may be a little more pushy than I have to be, but I'm going to be.
''They don't have an excuse now. It's put up or shut up.''
Sather led the Oilers from the 1979-80 season until the 1988-89 campaign. He also coached the club in 1993-94 and compiled a mark of 464-268-110, which puts him in the Top 10 in coaching victories.
Sather became the Oilers' GM in 1979 and built a dynasty.
''He automatically brings that respect because of what he's done in that past,'' Messier said. ''But he still has to come in and earn the respect of the players that are here. Some of these guys were barely born when he won his first Cup.''
Trottier won four Stanley Cups during his Hall of Fame playing career with the New York Islanders, but his highlight with the Rangers was merely a three-game winning streak. He became the seventh coach to lose his job this season.
''I've been in this business my whole life,'' Sather said. ''I see myself as a guy that knows the coaching role, I know these players, I know the personnel, I know the league. I think I can do it.''
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