The good, the bad, and the ugly of Jeff Gorton’s Rangers tenure

mika zibanejad

As part of the ten days of drama, Jeff Gorton was fired as GM of the Rangers last week. He had been GM since Glen Sather stepped down as GM of the Rangers in 2015. Gorton had been with the Rangers since 2007 as a scout. He was a scout for one year, followed by Director of Player Personnel for three years. He was then named Assistant GM in 2011. Jeff Gorton had a nearly six year tenure as GM of the Rangers, where his moves oversaw the fall and rebuild of the New York Rangers.

As an aside, I’m going from the official date of Gorton’s promotion on July 1, 2015. I know it’s a grey area of when he actually took over, but that’s the official date. For Gorton, that means he avoids that Carl Hagelin trade debacle. Good for him. I’m also not including draft picks, since that’s more on the scouts.

The Good

Mika Zibanejad and a 2nd for Derick Brassard

One of the best moves Gorton made with the Rangers was his fleecing of Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers gave up an aging Derick Brassard to get Zibanejad and a 2nd round pick. Yea he lucked into this a bit because Ottawa was just looking to save cash, but still the ability to get a second round pick in it was on Gorton. This was by far his best move, and there aren’t many cases against it.

Zibanejad has been everything expected and then some. It was the rare trade that almost every fan said “wow” in unison and all agreed that Gorton fleeced the Senators here.

Signing Michael Grabner

One thing the Rangers got very good at during Gorton’s tenure was the ability to find bargain bin forward free agents. Michael Grabner was the first of a few that worked out beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. Grabner put up 52 goals in 135 games for the Rangers, before being dealt in the first fire sale for Yegor Rykov and a 2nd round pick.

Grabner was a joy to watch on the ice, and the Rangers arguably got his final good seasons before he fell off a cliff.

The Rick Nash trade

The 2018 trade deadline was the first for the rebuilding Rangers. After the letter, Gorton cleaned house. The big haul came from trading Rick Nash to Boston for Ryan Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, Matt Beleskey, a 1st round pick, and a 7th round pick. Even before the rest of the trade tree was established, this was considered a huge win for Gorton.

Spooner was viewed as a middle-six center who could at least be a viable stopgap, but the prize was the 1st round pick and Lindgren. We’ve seen what Lindgren has become. That first round pick was used, along with the 2nd round pick acquired for Grabner, to trade up for K’Andre Miller. Those two are currently a big part of the future of the Rangers.

Ryan Spooner for Ryan Strome

This trade was laughed off as a trade of Ryan’s when it was made. But wow has this changed over the course of two and a half seasons. Strome came to the Rangers with a hot shooting streak, putting up 18 goals and 33 points in 63 games. He followed that up by meshing with Artemiy Panarin to a career year (18-41-59). But he was a product of Panarin, right? That’s what I thought, at least.

This year Strome completely changed and perhaps had a true breakout season. Driving play without Panarin and completely overhauling his defensive game, Strome was a leader on this young Rangers team. In addition to the scoring line of nearly a point per game (14-35-49 in 56 games), Strome gave candid answers to difficult questions about the team, its direction, the Tom Wilson situation, and the current state of the team.

What a trade this turned out to be.

Signing Artemiy Panarin to an 7 year, $11.6 million

Panarin is Panarin. He’s been worth every penny and then some. The question is whether it’s worth it at the back end of the deal. But for now, he’s been outperforming the contract.

Adam Fox for a pair of 2nd round picks

Does anything else need to be said here?

The Bad

Signing and then buying out Kevin Shattenkirk

This whole sequence of moves by Gorton was just horrible all around for the Rangers. They traded Derek Stepan to free up space to sign Kevin Shattenkirk to a four year, $6.6 million deal. He took a hometown discount to play for his favorite team. The Rangers rewarded him by playing him with Ryan McDonagh for a whole 4 shifts and then punting him to the third pair and PP2.

They then bought him out after two years and a torn MCL to create room for Panarin. The Rangers took a $6 million cap hit this season, effectively punting this year, to make it happen.

This wasn’t necessarily on Gorton’s ability to sign him to a team friendly deal. This was about him being out of sync with Alain Vigneault. Given how the Keith Yandle trade went, he should have known that AV wasn’t going to use him properly. The torn MCL notwithstanding, the deployment from the start was a disconnect with his coach.

Eric Staal for a pair of 2nd round picks and Aleksi Saarela

This was just stupid. I think everyone said “why?” when this trade was made. The Rangers needed help on the blue line, and instead got Eric Staal for an ill advised playoff run on a deeply flawed team. Staal put up a whole six points in 20 games, and none in a five game demolition in the playoffs.

Luckily for the Rangers, Aleksi Saarela turned into nothing. At the time, though, he was one of their higher ranked prospects. Just goes to show you that even high ranked prospects can be busts.

Re-Signing and then trading Vlad Namestnikov

The whole McDonagh trade was a debacle, but this side trade was just laughable. At the time, re-signing Vlad Namestnikov to a two-year, $4 million deal was strange, but the Rangers needed bodies. When they no longer needed bodies, they traded him for Nick Ebert and a 2021 4th round pick. An unceremonious end for a pair of bad trades.

The Ugly

Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller for Namestnikov, Howden, Hajek, a 1st, and a 2nd

This is easily one of the worst moves of the Gorton era with the Rangers. Even at the time of the trade, this smelled like a bad one. One year later, the smell got worse. After watching both Brett Howden and Libor Hajek for three seasons, we can say without a doubt that this was the worst trade of the Jeff Gorton era.

Namestnikov, as mentioned above, was later shipped away for nothing. Howden and Hajek are objectively awful. The fact that Miller had to be “thrown in” so the Rangers could get Hajek just makes things worse.

The only saving grace is the Rangers used the 1st rounder on Nils Lundkvist. This trade is just awful all around.

Ryan Graves for Chris Bigras

Another trade that we all questioned when it was made, dealing Ryan Graves for 70 AHL games of Chris Bigras was stupid. I debated putting this into “The Bad” but the fact that Graves is playing significant and productive minutes for a Stanley Cup contender, while Bigras never played for the Rangers, turned this to the ugly category.

At the time of the trade, the Rangers were playing Rob O’Gara on the blue line. Rob O’Gara. Over Ryan Graves. There’s a lot of blame to go around on this one. The Rangers didn’t see a spot for Graves in the organization, so they wasted him. This was a terrible trade.

The Others

Stepan/Raanta for DeAngelo/7th overall

At first, this trade was pegged as one of a few bad moves by Gorton with the Rangers. They gave up peak value of both Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for a defenseman with off-ice issues and the 7th overall pick. The consensus was that the Rangers should have gotten more.

Lias Andersson was a bust. The Rangers got two useful years out of Tony DeAngelo before he lost his mind. But they got out of the Stepan contract, which gave them the cap room for Shattenkirk, whose buyout paved the way for Panarin. Just weird all around.

Jacob Trouba contract

This is one that I’m neither for nor against. The trade for Jacob Trouba was fine. It’s the contract that draws the ire of many. At $8 million, he’s expected to be a top defenseman on the team. He’s been surpassed by Adam Fox, but not many wouldn’t be.

Trouba’s $8 million deal is probably an overpayment, but it’s not as large of an overpayment as you might think. He’s still productive and, given the right partner/situation, could be close to worth it. In the end, he’s a $5-$6 million defenseman making $8 million.

That said, it’s clear Trouba is viewed as a leader in the locker room. He’s the guy the team rallied around against the Devils. When he got injured, the team crumbled. That last one might be a stretch, but it does at least fit in the timeline of events.

Brady Skjei for a 1st round pick

At the time of the trade, Gorton made the decision to trade the $5 million defenseman so he could take a shot at the $4 million defenseman in Tony DeAngelo. This did not work out the way he had hoped. But clearing $5 million over the next three years does help the Rangers significantly in a flat cap era. They got a 1st rounder for it, which was fantastic.

Skjei was missed in the interim, especially in August 2020 during the “playoffs.” The left side of the blue line was in shambles that season. The Blueshirts recovered quickly with Lindgren’s development into captain material and K’Andre Miller’s strong first year though. At the time, this was a double-edged sword trade.