When I was in school I took a course pass fail. This turned out to be a good idea, because it was an incredibly demanding Latin American history course, and I was totally out of my depth, having just transferred from a fairly big state university where everything was large lectures to a small liberal arts school where classes were much more intimate, but I digress.
At the end of the semester I needed an extension on the final paper, and because of that I didn’t get the final word on whether I passed or failed when I was supposed to – I got an incomplete. If you can’t see where I’m going with this one already, just pretend that Jeff Gorton was me in Latin American History, and that his final evaluation is pending the completion of his work. That’s right, he’s getting an incomplete this semester.
There’s two ways you could really tackle this I think, and both lend themselves to this conclusion pretty well.
The first is that he hasn’t fired AV, he hasn’t called up Chytil or Andersson (the latter call up remains a possibility, according to the New York Post, although it would have to be after the end of Frolunda’s season I imagine) or one of the defensive prospects cooking over in Hartford, he hasn’t challenged AV to change up his system, he hasn’t forced AV to make the right lineup choices, etc etc. All of this is perfectly natural to think or feel, and I’d be willing to bet that most people are on board with at least one of those modifications.
To put it bluntly, Jeff Gorton simply hasn’t done the obvious, easy things he could do to turn this season around, but it’s still worth noting that these things are all a matter of personal preference. Maybe, on the other hand, you don’t think he should fire AV, you’d rather Chytil/Andersson/Pionk/whomever stay developing with their respective teams, you think the systems fine, and so on. This would be in contradiction with lots of available evidence, but reasonable people can always disagree and this is only sports after all, not a matter of life and death.
There’s another way though in which Jeff Gorton’s work remains unfinished, and it involves taking a step back and looking at the forest, not the trees. This summer, Gorton initiated what he termed a “rebuild on the fly” when he traded Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for the 7th overall pick, with which he chose Lias Andersson, and Anthony DeAngelo. He took a calculated risk in choosing Filip Chytil, a young, high upside player who could make an impact if not this year then the next. He bought out Dan Girardi, signed Kevin Shattenkirk, and apparently made it clear that Marc Staal would be fighting for a spot in the lineup – nothing would be given out for free in this new iteration of the New York Rangers. It was the retool we had all been hoping for last season, and finally we got it. What’s the problem then?
Well, unfortunately, the rebuild on the fly, retool, reconfiguration, whatever you want to call it, did not rocket the Rangers back to legitimate contender status. This team remains a mess on a lot of levels, and at the heart of it is its lack of identity. What kind of game do they want to play? Do they see themselves as contenders? Are they going to sell at the deadline, especially given the expiring contracts of Grabner, Nash, and Nick Holden? A lot of people would prefer they do, but again, that’s a matter of preference. What’s not really a matter of opinion, something we can all likely agree upon, is the fact that this team simply doesn’t know what it’s doing from top to bottom. Someone has got to step in and make an executive decision about the direction of this team, and that someone is Jeff Gorton.
For that reason I’m giving him an incomplete. He needs to either finish what he started this summer and make some tough decisions, or push forward as the Rangers have made a habit of doing these past several seasons and go all in. Again, most of us probably prefer one of these paths to the other, but still, all a matter up for debate. What’s not really up for debate is this team’s utter lack of identity, the cold hard fact that the Rangers are heading towards mediocrity (whether you’re looking at the underlying stats or just the standings, it’s pretty clear what’s going on) and another year of Henrik Lundqvist’s waning career wasted.
No one wants to see that year wasted in vain – whether it’s by refocusing on next year or putting our best foot forward this year. Gorton needs to come out with a strong thesis, backed up by good supporting evidence, and turn that final paper in. We’ve all given him an extension long enough; the deadline is approaching, and somebody should get to work on that paper.