Jeff Gorton's past has always been shrouded in some form of mystery. Gorton was with the Bruins for 15 years before he joined the New York Rangers. Of those 15 years in Boston he spent the final seven as assistant general manager.
He was an architect of the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup champion team, but how much of an architect remains to be seen. He filled in the gaps between Mike O'Connell and Peter Chiarello, famously pulling off the Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft highway robbery general managers can only dream of doing. He signed Zdeno Chara to a significant contract, and Chara eventually captained the Bruins to that Stanley Cup. He was in charge when the Bruins drafted all of Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand in the 2006 Entry Draft. Gorton was merely the interim GM at the time of all these moves, with his tenure ending after just about three months on the job. It's hard to quantify how much Gorton was responsible for all of those moves, but he surely had some tangible input.
When Gorton did move on, he came to New York as the assistant general manager working under Glen Sather. He did so for four years until he took over full control after Sather stepped down from the role.
His involvement with the Rangers also holds some type of mystery, but Larry Brooks did share this nugget in his story detailing Sather's tenure with the New York Rangers:
Sather made all of the final calls within the operation — the vote could go 7-1 against, and the "one" would carry the day if cast by Sather — so there is little to go by on what to expect from Gorton, who inherits a team that seemingly could go either way, an organization that isn't exactly flowing with NHL-ready prospects, and with extremely limited cap space in which to maneuver.
This has long been speculated, and it's actually a bit of a relief. There is real reason to believe Gorton was, at the very least, involved in all decisions and he's been cited as being a big driving force behind some of the moves the Rangers have made. But there are questionable decisions on this roster that always did cause twinges of unease. Was Gorton for or against those moves? Was he overruled by Sather, or a part of the reason why Sather made them in the first place?
At the draft Gorton used the term "pigeonholed" when talking about some of the contracts on the roster. Keep in mind, those comments were made before Sather officially stepped down, but there have been whispers the two disagreed about certain aspects of the team. Those whispers will either come to light or die out now that Gorton has control and can do what he wants.
We don't know what Jeff Gorton's preferences and philosophies are yet, but we do know what were specifically those of Glen Sather. It is well known in inner circles that Sather insisted upon having an enforcer for his team every year. While Tanner Glass was clearly handpicked by Head Coach Alain Vigneault, it was Sather's insistence on having a fighter that invited Glass' particular signing in the first place. The arguments over whether or not it was Sather or Alain Vigneault who dressed Tanner Glass every night will also be realized. And this should go for any enforcer. Is the token enforcer who struggles in every other aspect something Gorton will equally insist upon? Or will he go in a different direction? Other questions will be answered as well. Who gave Dan Girardi his mammoth contract might not be brought to light but Girardi's role might be clarified in time. The Rangers have been very slow to join the analytics movement. Will Gorton's promotion be a catalyst for change in that regard? Or did Sather value him so highly in part because of how they aligned in a skepticism of analytics? The insistence upon using reclamation projects like Ryan Malone and Roman Hamrlik were Sather-oriented. Will Gorton have different ideas? Perhaps we won't see veterans struggling on the fourth line while prospects in Hartford are begging for an opportunity. Or perhaps Gorton will equally lean on veterans in those depth spots.
Here's something you can bank on: The past three years multiple teams have come calling for Gorton during the offseason for their general manager openings. The Rangers never let anyone come anywhere near him. The Toronto Maple Leafs -- who have become an analytically smart team this past year -- were essentially banging down the Rangers door for him this year. Guys like Gorton don't get that much interest without having some merit behind it. And while we might not be privy to the closed doors talks and information, the other people in that role are. So it speaks volumes about the perceived value for Gorton in the first place.
The final quote in Brooks' story (linked above) gives the most hope on this front:
"We want a skilled team, a highly competitive team," the new general manager said. "If we're in a situation where he have a chance to go for it, we're going to continue to do that.
The moves the Rangers made on July 1st fit this mold. The quiet upgrades for affordable prices fit this mold. Smart, effective work is going to be the best way to move the Rangers forward, especially now that the rest of their division is getting better as well. Skill is usually the smartest bet. Often times it got passed up on for size or toughness under Sather's regime. We'll see if that is the case under Gorton.
Especially because the Rangers have been a contender the last four seasons, Gorton is not going to rush into any big changes to this group. But make no mistake; while Gorton does have his fingerprints on the current roster, it is not specifically "his" team. It's going to take some time, but eventually that is going to change. There won't be a radical turnover as there was in Toronto - because there is no need for one - but over the next 18 months expect to see some decisions that might not have otherwise been made with Sather in charge. For better or worse, this is now Jeff Gorton's team. We'll soon find out what means.
*Adam Herman contributed to this article.*