As we wrap up report card season, we conquer the last one in Jeff Gorton. Gorton and the Rangers announced the rebuild before the 2018 trade deadline and then promptly sold off a ton of expiring assets. With the rebuild in full swing, Gorton entered his first offseason with the sole purpose of restocking the cupboard with youth and picks.
I was struggling with where to begin Gorton’s grading scope. In the end, I decided that the full scope of Gorton’s report card will begin as soon as last year’s season ended, and will go through the writing of this post. It’s not an exact science, but it covers everything from the first offseason through the first full season under a rebuild.
2018 Pre-Draft Offseason
The big thing here is the firing of Alain Vigneault, Darryl Willians, and Scott Arniel. This was likely in the cards for a while, since AV was let go before the paint was even dry on the 2017-2018 season. However Lindy Ruff still remained. AV was replaced six weeks later by David Quinn.
Gorton also signed a pair of undrafted free agents in Michael Lindqvist and Ville Meskanen. The coaching change was the most critical piece of the rebuild to date, and by not going with another spoke on the head coaching wheel, Gorton showed willingness to try something new.
However Ruff still remains.
2018 Draft and Free Agency
The Rangers look to have hit homeruns with Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, and Nils Lundkvist in the first round. Kravtsov was initially hated as a pick because Oliver Wahlstrom was still on the board, but so far this is looking like a great pick. To grab Miller at #22, Gorton gave up the #26 and #48 picks. That’s about market value. The blip here is the 2nd round pick used on a goalie. Nothing against Olof Lindbom, who was slated to go around then anyway, but that one raised eyebrows.
As for free agency, Gorton stayed away from the big fish, choosing to re-sign his own guys and go with depth players.
- Fredrik Claesson – 1 year, $700k
- Cody McLeod – 1 year, – $750k
- Dustin Tokarski
There’s nothing really inherently wrong with these signings. Yea you can be upset about the McLeod signing, but it’s not like it moved the needle. He only cost money.
Gorton then made a very puzzling trade, acquiring Adam McQuaid for Steven Kampfer and 2019 4th and 7th round picks. This one was a puzzling one at best, and a bad move that really didn’t work out at all. The difference between this and McLeod is that McQuaid cost draft picks. But still, it’s a minor blip in the grand scheme of things.
If McLeod and McQuaid are the only qualms with the offseason, then it’s a good offseason.
There was only one major move here, and that was trading Ryan Spooner for Ryan Strome. The salaries offset after some money on Spooner was retained, so that was a non-factor, but this still worked out in spades for Gorton. Spooner was barely even a healthy scratch worthy player, and Gorton got a 25-year-old center/winger who had actual talent. Strome shot through the moon with the Rangers, finishing the season strong and revitalized. Even if he comes crashing down to Earth next season, this is a major win for Gorton.
Gorton also acquired Connor Brickley for Cole Schneider, but that was a minor move.
2019 Trade Deadline
Let’s go through this in bullets to lay it all out:
- McLeod to Nashville for a 2020 7th.
- Marek Mazanec to Vancouver for a 2020 7th.
- Peter Holland to Chicago for Darren Raddysh.
- Mats Zuccarello to Dallas for 2019 2nd (conditional 1st if Dallas gets to the WCF) and 2020 3rd (1st if Zucc re-signs).
- Kevin Hayes to Winnipeg for Brendan Lemieux, 2019 1st, and 2022 4th if Winnipeg wins the Cup.
- Adam McQuaid to Columbus for Julius Bergman, 2019 4th, 2019 7th.
There was nothing to write home about for the deadline. Every player got market value, and in some situations got more than expected (McLeod, Mazanec). There was a lot of blow back from the Zuccarello trade, but that was almost entirely emotional and not rational. His trade was market value, as was Hayes’ trade.
Following the trade deadline, Gorton has been extremely busy. He re-signed Boo Nieves and Steven Fogarty for next season. He signed prospects Kravtsov, Igor Shestyorkin, Yegor Rykov, Joey Keane, and Adam Huska to ELCs. He signed undrafted free agents Jake Elmer and Patrick Newell. But even these signings were overshadowed.
Gorton swung for the fences, relinquishing a 2019 2nd and conditional 2020 2nd (3rd if Fox plays under 30 NHL games next year) for Adam Fox. In doing so, he began the process of following through on his word to accelerate the rebuild. The two picks given up will likely not turn into what Fox is now, and is the cost of doing business in acquiring him for next season instead of the the 2020 offseason.
Gorton also started the makeover in Hartford, firing head coach Keith McCambridge and assistant coach Joe Mormina. They haven’t been replaced, but firing them works for me.
There were two things out of Gorton’s control that we need to make note of, and do not account in Gorton’s overall grade: Winning the draft lottery, and Glen Sather/Jim Schoenfeld stepping down.