Jeff Gorton Can’t Afford to Hurt the Rangers Anymore

For all the criticism levied against Glen Sather during his time as New York’s general manager, one thing he excelled at was making sensible trades. Although he had his fair share of misses, such as the Ryane Clowe acquisition or the Bryan McCabe deal, most of Sather’s high impact moves were good hockey trades. The Pavel Buchnevich trade (see what I did there?) has been a huge success, and the Rangers are set to continue reaping the rewards of it for years to come. Swapping Ryan Callahan and draft picks for Martin St. Louis was a questionable trade, but St. Louis played a major role in the spring of 2014 and helped propel the team to the Prince of Wales Trophy. Sather flipped a disgruntled Marian Gaborik into three key pieces of that 2014 team, one of which was later turned into an asset that helped the team land their most dynamic defenseman since Brian Leetch patrolled Blueshirts’ blue line. Although his moves were a mixed bag overall, Sather’s high impact moves all paid off in one way or another, and his bad moves didn’t drastically hurt the team.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his successor. Since being named the team’s general manager, Jeff Gorton’s track record is one with a lot more bad moves than good ones. The Carl Hagelin trade happened days before Gorton officially took over, but given the circumstances it’s hard to believe that the trade was strictly Glen Sather’s decision.

Giving up any sort of assets in 2016 would have been foolish considering how bad the Rangers were and the looming buzzsaw that was the 15-16 Penguins. In spite of that, Gorton shipped two 2nd round draft picks and highly touted prospect Aleksi Saarela to the Carolina Hurricanes to rent Eric Staal, who was a bust in his 25 games on Broadway as the Rangers got laughed out of the first round by the Penguins. Gorton made an excellent move two summers ago by swapping Derick Brassard and a 7th rounder for Mika Zibanejad and a 2nd rounder, but that stands as his only good trade to date.

The NHL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and Gorton’s most recent trades leave a lot to be desired. The Brendan Smith trade was Eric Staal redux, with the only difference being the team full victim to sunk cost fallacy and hamstrung themselves by handing the gritty defender a $17.4 million contract extension. Most recently, Gorton sold his team’s top line center off for 75 cents on the dollar, as Derek Stepan (along with Antti Raanta) was shipped off to Arizona for Tony DeAngelo and the draft pick that became Lias Andersson. For a win-now team, trading your first line center and not getting any assets that are on the NHL roster four months later is inexcusable.

With the Rangers finishing up a turbulent October where they went 4-7-2, rumblings of a major shakeup are circulating. Firing Alain Vigneault appears to be the easiest response to try and turn the Rangers’ season around, but a coaching change is unlikely to make any worthwhile difference. It could very well leave the Rangers in a worse situation, making a change behind the bench is a risky proposition. Short of a coaching change, there aren’t any prospects in Hartford that could alter the course of New York’s season, so any roster improvements would have to come from outside the organization.

Slowly but surely, the Rangers have undergone an identity change over the last few years. At the conclusion of last season, Stepan and Dan Girardi were team’s longest tenured forward and defenseman respectively. They were both shown the door over the summer, leaving Chris Kreider and Marc Staal as the team’s longest tenured players at each position. That could change sooner rather than later, as Elliotte Friedman suggested that Kreider could be on the move:

The Oilers are in a similar position to the Rangers. Coming off a second round loss in a series they should have won, Edmonton has gotten off to a slow start as well. The Oilers are 3-6-1, good for 30th in the NHL and six points out of a divisional playoff spot. Word has emerged that they aren’t happy with recent acquisition Ryan Strome, and underachieving former 1st overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is perpetually a subject of trade rumors. With an entourage featuring Glen Sather and Jim Schoenfeld making a recent trip to observe the Montreal Canadiens, Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw have been suggested as possible players for New York to bring into the fold.

None of those players are acceptable options to trade for the assets that have been rumored to be possibly shipped out of New York. Chris Kreider is better than any of the individual players linked to the Rangers, and any trade involving a swap would need the  other team adding major assets to ensure it isn’t lopsided against the Rangers. If Jeff Gorton is looking to re-shape the roster for the better, the candidates to move on from are obvious.

Marc Staal is low-hanging fruit, so there’s no need to go in depth on him. Gorton would be wise to move on from his mistake of this past summer by moving on from Brendan Smith. Jimmy Vesey’s trade value is most likely higher than his on-ice value to New York, so he could be a key piece in a deal to land a high impact player. Kevin Hayes is due for a large contract extension this summer, so moving on from him via trade and letting Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson take his minutes could be a prudent move.

Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh are two big names that might not be a part of the future on Broadway so exploring their situations wouldn’t be the worst thing the team could do. However, moving them would signify the beginning of a full blown rebuild, so the team would have to commit to it and avoid straddling the line between contending and tanking.

All of this is to say that Jeff Gorton, the man who has final say over who plays in New York and who rides buses around the Northeast as an AHLer, needs to change his modus operandi. Whatever his thought processes are and how he’s put his ideas into motion hasn’t worked. The roster has gotten worse every year under his watch, and something has to give. A coaching change doesn’t solve any of the real issues plaguing the New York Rangers because their issues start at the top and trickle down.

If Jeff Gorton continues doing damage to his team, they won’t be in a position to recover no matter who the head coach is.