Among the biggest mistakes Glen Sather has made in his tenure as general manager of the New York Rangers were signing Wade Redden, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to enormous contracts that permanently skewed the league’s salary structure and giving Sean Avery a second chance in Manhattan.

He shouldn’t make another by hiring Mark Messier as the next coach of the Rangers.

Sather has long been regarded as one of the great minds in hockey, in the same rarified air as Scotty Bowman and Sam Pollock. Sather assembled an Edmonton Oilers dynasty that won five Stanley Cups in the 1980s and remained competitive through the dark 1990s when a financial imbalance made it impossible to compete against deep-pocketed big-market teams.

But since joining the Rangers as the team’s GM and president in 2000, he’s lost his hockey mind. He’s badly overpaid for marquee free agents, who subsequently had to be bought out or traded for rolls of tape. He’s gone through a kaleidoscope of coaches, from the quiet and measured Tom Renney to John Tortorella, whose Manhattan tenure concluded last week in a violent, profane explosion of self-righteous incompetence.

And now, word has it that Sather is considering his long-time protege and former captain as the next coach of the Rangers. Bad idea.

There’s no questioning Messier’s leadership qualities – well, a lot of it is melancholic hype, but he did carry the Oilers to a Cup in 1990 when they weren’t supposed to win, and he carried the Rangers in 1994 when they weren’t supposed to win, either. So there’s that.

And, having been on Sather’s right arm for the past four years as his special assistant, Messier has had a rare front-row seat to the administrative side of pro hockey in the Big Apple.

But coaching in today’s NHL requires more than a square jaw and the ability to toss out inspirational speeches. And as Wayne Gretzky, Denis Savard, Ed Olyczk and Terry O’Reilly can attest, being a great player doesn’t mean you can automatically be a great coach without years of cutting your teeth behind a bench.

Today’s NHL is a systems-dominated sport, and coaches with air-tight schemes are the most successful. Darryl Sutter transformed the L.A. Kings from a soft, high-scoring team into the pounding, gritty club that won last year’s Stanley Cup. Ken Hitchcock turned the underachieving St. Louis Blues into a contender just a single practice after taking over from Davis Payne. And Dave Tippett could be the most sought-after coach should he not resign with the Phoenix Coyotes, a team he made a contender despite there being no owner, no fans and no hope in the desert. Even Randy Carlyle used his experience with the Anaheim Ducks to turn the talent-light Toronto Maple Leafs into a playoff team.

Messier is a larger-than-life New York hero whose name would look great on a marquee, but he’s an intellectual child compared to most coaches in the game today. Messier’s coaching experience consists only of short stints for Team Canada in the Deutschland Cup and the Spengler Cup, in which Canada finished third and second, respectively.

Even formerly great coaches can’t cut it in today’s NHL. Barry Melrose lasted 16 terrible games as Tampa’s coach after being out of the game since 1995. Mike Keenan’s head games lasted two disappointing years in Calgary before he was unceremoniously rousted. Pat Quinn fumbled through one terrible season with Edmonton.

And now Sather thinks Messier’s 20-plus years as an elite player translates into a simple transition to a bench boss capable of out-coaching guys who have spent decades perfecting their craft?

No chance.

But then again, making big mistakes is nothing new for Slats.

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