Montreal Canadiens: Jeff Gorton’s Rangers Looking Unstoppable Right Now

BROSSARD, QC - DECEMBER 03: Montreal Canadiens, Jeff Gorton (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
BROSSARD, QC - DECEMBER 03: Montreal Canadiens, Jeff Gorton (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes is technically the one calling the shots as the Habs enter an important offseason. But he does answer to Jeff Gorton, who is his superior on the chain of command in Canadiens land.

Gorton’s previous job was with the New York Rangers, where he was the team’s general manager. The team he built is on the cusp of making the Stanley Cup Finals after winning Game 2 by a 3-2 score and now lead the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final series.

Gorton was hired as the Rangers general manager on July 1, 2015, taking over from Glen Sather. He would hold that role until May of 2021 when he was fired, though the Rangers appeared to be exiting their rebuild and entering into contender status.

In short order, once the Rangers window on contention appeared to be closing, Gorton orchestrated the trades of Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, JT Miller, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan. Most of them were dealt for picks and prospects and the Rangers stocked up the prospect cupboards looking to rebuild quickly.

Just two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final, it appears today that the rebuild is working quite well. Most of the Rangers key pieces in this playoff run were acquired by Gorton during his six season tenure as the team’s GM.

The Rangers third line has been dubbed the “kid line” as the trio of young forwards were all first round picks made by Gorton. Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko were taken with first and second overall picks and their centre, Filip Chytil was drafted 21st overall in 2017.

K’Andre Miller, who played the third most minutes of any Ranger in the Game 2 win, was drafted 22nd overall in the 2018 NHL Draft by Gorton. He has turned into a pillar of strength for the Rangers on the blue line, giving them a legit top pairing guy on the left side.

The two defenders that play more than him on a regular basis were also both acquired by Gorton. Jacob Trouba was picked up from the Winnipeg Jets for Neal Pionk and a first round pick. Adam Fox was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for a couple of conditional second round picks.

It is true that both defencemen wanted to play in New York, but Gorton made trades that were enough to ensure the great players ended up playing for the Rangers, but weren’t wild overpayments either.

Ryan Lindgren rounds out the top four for the Rangers and he was part of the package acquired in Gorton’s Rick Nash trade with the Boston Bruins. That’s an entire top four of a Stanley Cup contender acquired via trade or late first round draft pick and the oldest one, Trouba, is 27.

The Rangers top forwards are mostly players acquired during Gorton’s stay. Mika Zibanejad was brought in via trade from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard in 2016. Zibanejad was a 6th overall pick by the Sens but hadn’t quite broken out at the time of the trade. He has basically been a point per game centre for each of the past four seasons, and the Rangers got a second round pick in the trade as well.

Gorton didn’t make a lot of big free agent splashes, but he did pay top dollar to bring in Artemi Panarin. Many teams are scared off by the big price tags players get on July 1, but when the right player comes along it makes sense. Panarin was the right player and has 249 points in 186 career games with the Rangers.

He also picked up Ryan Strome from the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Spooner in another one-for-one trade that the Oilers came out on the wrong end of. Strome has been terrific for the Rangers and scored 21 goals and 54 points this season to give the team good depth down the middle.

While Gorton rebuilt most of the roster by trading away Miller, Nash, McDonagh, Zuccarello, Hayes and Stepan, one veteran forward he kept was Chris Kreider. Not only did he keep him around, he signed the American winger to a seven year contract extension with a $6.5 million cap hit.

In the second season of that deal, Kreider just scored 52 goals to lead the team and was third in the entire league in the regular season. He has nine goals this postseason which is also third in the league.

It seems much of the Rangers roster was put together by Gorton in a very short time. He drafted well, picked up the right players via trade when they were available without overpaying, and made that one big splash in free agency when the opportunity was there to do so.

He, along with Kent Hughes, have begun taking apart the Habs veteran components. Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen and Brett Kulak were dealt this season and there promises to be a few more big deals this offseason.

It bodes well for the Montreal Canadiens that the person leading their management team recently built a team that is a couple of wins away from the Stanley Cup Final. There are no guarantees he can get the Canadiens there in a few years, but he clearly has the blueprint of success for an NHL franchise.

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