August 12, 2020

Jeff Gorton is building a great legacy with the New York Rangers

JD, Gorton, and Quinn share a laugh (Getty Images)

On May 29th, 2015, the New York Rangers are shut out on home ice in game 7. It was a heartbreaking loss in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A gut-wrenching 2-0 loss, after falling to the Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

Then on July 1st, 2015, Glen Sather stepped down from his dual role of general manager and team president. He wisely promoted assistant GM, Jeff Gorton to take the reigns full time. Thus far, it is turning out to be the best darn move in the entire rebuild.

Jeff Gorton, Rangers GM beginnings

Gorton had several immediate difficult decisions to make as he assumed his new role as the eleventh GM in franchise history. Facts are that Sather left Gorton a hundcuffed situation. The new GM inherited some big contracts on declining players with no chips to trade.

Rangers Jeff Gorton
Gordie Clark (l), JT Miller (c) and Jeff Gorton (r) (Getty Images)

Sather also moved away one first round draft pick after another trying, but failing to bring a Stanley Cup winner to the Big Apple. What he left his successor can only be compared to a college freshman’s empty dorm room refrigerator.

Gorton, a Massachusetts native, decided to give his aging, veteran team another kick at the can the following season. The Rangers meek and feckless four-games-to-one series loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2016 NHL playoffs was all the proof Gorton needed. He knew dismantling the current group of talented and likable Blueshirts for future assets was the best course of action to take.

The Rangers Rebuild Begins

Piece by piece, Gorton jettisoned the stalwarts that were responsible for giving the Garden Faithful a plethora of exciting, tear-jerking, long-lasting memories. The likes of Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Carl Hagelin, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and JT Miller were given their walking papers via a trade or buy out.

By purging the roster of the above fan-favorites, Gorton was amassing an impressive arsenal of talented neophytes and high draft picks. The now legendary letter sent by Ranger management to the most loyal and devoted fans in hockey in February of 2018 signaled that. While we were sad to see such wonderful players and people go, the franchise was going to be headed in a vastly different direction,

My friends, you’d have to go back more than half-a-century to find the last time the Rangers tried to build a contending team around a nucleus of young, home grown talent. Not since Emile “The Cat” Francis, in the late 1960’s have we seen a Ranger head honcho steer the organization in this kind of direction.

Some call the Ranger squads of the early 1970’s the best NHL team never to win a Stanley Cup. Rod Gilbert, Eddie Giacomin, Bard Park and Jean Ratelle came so close to capturing that sparkling silver chalice on several occasions but could not get over the hump.

For better or for worse, the Ranger franchise’s modus opernadi, since their inception to the NHL in 1926, was to covet thy neighbor’s best players. They would try to build a winner by simply collecting mercenaries and hope they’d gel into a champion. As Rangerstown is well aware, that futile strategy has worked just one time in the last 80 years.

Executing his vision for the Rangers

Rangers Jeff Gorton
John Davidson and Jeff Gorton at draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Jeff Gorton decided that hurling a certain type of substance against the wall and hoping it sticks was not the direction he envisioned for the hockey team entrusted into his care. Instead, the 52 year old did the unthinkable in the New York market. He said to his championship-starved fan base that there will be a fair amount of pain and frustration over the next few years. But, brighter days and greener pastures were on the horizon.

Now, about two and a half years after “the letter”, the New York Rangers are light years ahead of schedule. After a successful 2019 NHL Lottery in which they were awarded the second overall pick and drafted the Finnish man-child Kaapo Kakko, they also won the 2020 NHL Lottery. For the first time since 1965, they will select first and will almost assuredly draft the dynamic, fierce, and NHL ready force that is Alexis Lafrenière.

What Gorton has done in his five plus years as Rangers general manager is nothing short of astonishing. His accomplishments are omnipresent. His horse trading skills and nerves of steel have his franchise set up to be an elite team for the next several years. Dare I even mention the D word, folks? Will these New York Rangers actually become a dynasty? Only time will be answer to answer that question.

One thing we do know for sure is this, it has taken over 50 years but the organization known for tossing its unlimited resources at perennial All Stars and future hall-of-famers on the back 9 of their careers is over. Jeff Gorton is finally doing it the right way and the Garden Faithful will be the beneficiaries of his talents and vision.

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