Three months ago, the Rangers were in the midst of a rebuild. The 2018-2019 season was almost over and there was not one person in hockey who called the team’s on-ice performance a success. But then the Rangers got lucky and moved up to second in the lottery (i.e., Kaapo Kakko). The rest has not been luck though as General Manager Jeff Gorton traded with Carolina to obtain the rights to defenseman Adam Fox; then John Davidson was named team President; then Gorton pulled off a deal to bring right shot defenseman Jacob Trouba to New York. Oh, just in case that was not enough, the team also brought over prospects Vitali Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin, and Yegor Rykov from Europe–all of whom will compete for NHL roster spots this fall. Then today, the piece de resistance—the Rangers sign the cream of the free agent crop, winger Artemi Panarin, to a seven-year, 81.5 million dollar deal.
In essence, there could be as many as seven players on the 2019-2020 roster that never suited up for the Blueshirts before this season; five of them NHL rookies. The key here though is that four of the “rookies” have been playing against men in Europe for at least one year; so, although they may be rookies by NHL standards, they have experience at a level close to the NHL.
Management still has quite a bit of work to do because, as of this evening, there was less than 9 million dollars in cap space and seven players (as per capfriendly.com), including the aforementioned Trouba, to sign for the coming season. There has been a flurry of talk about who will be traded and who may be bought out, but suffice it to say, the Rangers will look very different this fall than the team that took the ice for the last regular season game in April.
It is still not clear that the team will be good enough to get past the early playoff rounds this coming season—there are still issues on defense and insufficient sandpaper up front—but the fact that they are now considered a playoff team is nothing short of a miracle, brought about in large part by the very clever work of Gorton.
So on a day where everyone is talking about Panarin, let us look at the architect of the rebuild, who definitely deserves kudos. That architect is Gorton, who has been with the Rangers for 12 seasons. First named General Manager on July 1, 2015, he previously served four seasons as Assistant General Manager. Before that, Gorton spent three seasons with the Rangers as Assistant Director, Player Personnel, after serving one season as a Professional Scout. Prior to coming to the Rangers, Gorton spent 15 years in the Bruins organization–first in the public relations department, then as the Director of Scouting Information, before eventually serving as Assistant General Manager for his last 7 years in Boston.
With no disrespect to those that came before, Gorton has been a genius with this rebuild. Under his guidance, he took a team that was going nowhere quickly and, within a year and a half, made it into a potential contender. Clearly, he has more work to do, but let’s not forget the accomplishments of Gorton in getting this far.