Despite struggling out of the gates with David Quinn and this young roster, New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton deserves a defense.
It’s safe to say that New York sports fans are not easily satisfied, they expect championships and nothing less. New York Rangers fans are no exception, with the run the team had from 2012 to 2017 they were all expecting a Stanley Cup. But of course, all good things must come to an end and now the front office is looking to rebuild after coming up short.
The Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild that has not gotten off to a pretty start for the 2018-19 season, sitting last in the Metropolitan division at 3-9-1. When a team rebuilds, to many it means that they failed to get the job done. The front office has to break the team apart and start over from scratch.
This is an especially tough decision when considering that Henrik Lundqvist only has a few seasons left in him.
Some notable moves to start the rebuild last year included fan favorites like Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins. Rebuilding could lead to spectacular results in the future, just look what it did for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks, but when fans expect a lot they get impatient.
Most of the criticism falls on the head of general manager Jeff Gorton.
Entering his fourth season as GM, Gorton has made many moves in attempt to better the team. Some of these moves turned out great, some did not turn out well and some are still up in the air. Anytime the Rangers fail, the finger gets pointed his way. Gorton certainly has not been perfect, signing Derek Stepan to $6.5 million annually did not help the Rangers cap situation, but to cast all the Rangers shortcomings on him is not fair.
When Gorton became Rangers GM in 2015 he was not set up for long-term success.
Gorton, in fact, had to work around a lot of expensive contracts left from his predecessor Glen Sather. Such contracts included a $5.5 million cap hit for Dan Girardi, $5.7 million per year to Marc Staal and $8.5 million per season to Henrik Lundqvist. It is tough to make big free agent splashes with giant contracts taking up cap space, something teams like the Edmonton Oilers will find out considering the contracts they gave to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Something else Gorton ultimately had no control of was the injury to Kevin Shattenkirk and the downfall of Brendan Smith. Shattenkirk was arguably the most notable free agent to sign last season. After the Rangers bought out Girardi to clear cap space, they signed the New Rochelle native to a four-year, $6.5 million deal. Shattenkirk has been good when healthy, but he tried to play through an injury that ultimately had him shelved for the remainder of the season.
When the Rangers made the trade with the Detroit Red Wings for Smith it turned out to be a good depth move to make a playoff run. Unfortunately, when Gorton re-signed Smith to $4.3 million annually he was not the same player they initially trade for, forcing the Rangers to bury his contract last year. Maybe Smith can get back on track. He certainly is working to get back to his old ways, but this was a big blow.
When considering what Gorton was given when he first took over and some of the bad luck the Rangers had, it is not fair to cast the failures of this team on him. With what little he has had to work with, he still made some notable moves.
Arguably, the best move Gorton made in his tenure with the Rangers was bringing in Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard. Zibanejad has been productive with 93 points in 138 games in New York, and only being 25-years-old, he still has not reached his peak yet.
The Rangers also landed some good role players for the future in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestikov to start this rebuild. Perhaps to make up for one of his more expensive signings, Gorton also cleared up cap space by trading Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes while drafting Lias Andersson in the process.
As far as how Andersson, Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov turn out, that is still up in the air. But where it looks like Gorton made a huge splash in the prospect pool was drafting K’Andre Miller and landing Ryan Lindgren in the Nash trade with the Bruins. With the defensive struggles the team had the past few years, Gorton made this a priority with these picks among others.
The Rangers are projected to have approximately $21.5 million in cap space come July 1, 2019. Such notable free agents include Artemi Panarin who is believed to want to come to the Rangers. Does Jeff Gorton have some tricks up his sleeve in order to make a splash and silence his critics? Only time will tell.
For now, however, let’s not bury the man completely.