Are the Montreal Canadiens set for another reset? How about a rebuild?
Let’s call it a renaissance.
Owner Geoff Molson gave general manager Marc Bergevin and assistant general manager Trevor Timmins their marching orders earlier today. Putting a bow on the worst start in franchise history that had fans clamouring for any kind of change.
The Bergevin era will be dissected to death in the coming days. In fact, it’s already started.
So let’s look ahead to the difficult task to come and the man who will be at the helm of it all.
Enter former Boston Bruins assistant GM and New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton. Molson announced that Gorton has taken over as VP of hockey operations. He’ll likely preside over a top to bottom evaluation of the organization and have an active role in picking the next general manager of the team.
Before examining exactly what Gorton could do with the current Montreal Canadiens roster, let’s look at the job he did in Boston and New York.
It does appear as though Molson may have hit a home run with this appointment.
Just ask Rangers fan Keith Olbermann.
Lucky them. https://t.co/KKTvfMzwL7
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) November 28, 2021
Gorton didn’t enjoy a long tenure as the shot caller with the Boston Bruins. He was promoted from assistant GM to interim general manager in 2006 after Mike O’Connell was fired.
But his work was so successful he honestly deserves to have his name on the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup.
His first move was grand larceny. Gorton acquired Tuuka Rask from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Andrew Raycroft. Enough said. It’s a trade that lives in infamy in the minds of Leafs fans. Rask would have set up Toronto’s goaltending position for more than a decade. Instead, the Bruins reaped the rewards of Gorton’s shrewd move. Rask won the Vezina trophy in 2013 and is Boston’s all-time leader in postseason wins.
His next two moves may just go against him in the mind of Montreal Canadiens fans however.
First, Gorton and the Bruins drafted Milan Lucic in the second round, 50th overall. While the big winger has been used as a punchline since leaving Boston, his value to the Bruins the first eight years of his career is hard to ignore. Lucic set the tone for Boston to return to the big, bad Bruins of old and was a significant part of their run to the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Later in that same draft, Gorton also did something that Bergevin rarely did at the draft: he traded up for a player he liked.
Gorton traded a fourth and a fifth round pick to the New York Islanders for a third round pick. With the 71st selection, the Bruins selected Brad Marchand.
That’s right. The little ball of hate himself.
If Rask was grand larceny then Marchand was the Lufthansa heist. The rest, as they say, is history. He’s become one of the best left wingers in hockey. A Stanley Cup champion in 2011, a five-time All-Star, an Olympic gold-medalist, a World Cup of hockey winner to go along with several individual Bruins records and the title of the NHL’s pest-in-chief.
Just a few weeks later, Gorton continued his summer of masterful work. He signed Zdeno Chara as an unrestricted free agent. Chara became a six-time All-Star, the captain of the Bruins, a Norris trophy winner in 2009 and a Stanley Cup champ in 2011.
Rask, Marchand, Chara and Lucic. All in the span of a couple of months. Peter Chiarelli might have earned the plaudits for building the Bruins into a winner. After all Gorton was fired after serving as his assistant GM for one season in 2007. But it’s hard to argue that Gorton built the spine of the Boston team that won the Cup four years after his departure.
To the dismay of Montreal Canadiens fans everywhere.
Gorton didn’t stay unemployed for long. He was scooped up soon afterwards by the New York Rangers as a professional scout. After eight years in the Blueshirts organization where he rose from scout to assistant director of player personnel to assistant general manager, he succeeded Glen Sather as Rangers general manager in 2015.
Within his first year as New York GM, Gorton was back to his thieving best. He acquired Mika Zibanejad and a second round pick from Ottawa for Derick Brassard and a seventh round pick. Zibanejad has developed into the Rangers number once centreman and has been a near point-a-game player his last three seasons in New York.
In 2017, Gorton got out from under Derek Stepan’s $6.5 million dollar contract by dealing him and goaltender Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes. Defenceman Anthony Deangelo and a first round pick went the other way. Deangelo’s off-ice issues have been well-documented and Gorton himself placed Deangelo on waivers after a reported physical altercation between he and goaltender Alexander Gerogiev. But on the ice he blossomed, putting up 92 points in 167 games including 53 points in 68 games in 2019-20.
In early February 2018, Gorton and the Rangers released a statement to their fans indicating that they were embarking upon a rebuild. A few weeks later he traded Rick Nash to the Bruins for Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Ryan Lindgren and first and seventh round picks. Lindgren is a top-four defenceman for New York, playing next to Adam Fox on the team’s top pairing. Nine months later, Spooner was flipped for Ryan Strome. Strome has emerged as the Rangers second line centreman for the past couple of seasons.
A day later, Gorton traded former Montreal Canadiens first-round pick Ryan McDonaugh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for another big haul. New York received Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek and first and second round draft picks. Howden is a depth centreman for the Rangers while the first-rounder turned into Nils Lundkvist who currently plays on New York’s bottom pairing and is a budding prospect of note.
At the 2018 draft, the Blueshirts used their bevy of picks and swapped first round picks with the Senators to move up to 22nd overall in the first round. New York drafted defenceman K’Andre Miller. He currently plays in the Rangers top four next to Jacob Trouba and looks like a future pillar for New York on the back end.
At the 2019 trade deadline, Gorton traded Mats Zuccarello to the Wild for conditional second and third round picks. He also moved centreman Kevin Hayes for Brendan Lemieux and first and fourth round picks.
The next portion of Gorton’s tenure with the Rangers is hard to judge. He added some game-changing pieces to his team that fast-tracked New York’s rebuild. But all of the players he acquired made it clear that the Big Apple was their preferred destination. So take these moves with a grain of salt.
Perhaps Gorton is a terrific salesman. Or maybe the pull of New York City was enough for these players.
In April 2019, Gorton acquired 2020 Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes for a pair of second round draft picks.
On July 1st, New York signed Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million dollar contract. The Russian was a Hart trophy finalist his first season in New York.
A couple weeks later, he dipped into his plethora of picks. Gorton brought in Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets for Neal Pionk and the Jets first rounder he received in the Hayes deal.
He continued to wheel and deal in 2020 by trading Brady Skjei to the Carolina Hurricanes for a first-round pick. He then moved up in the draft again, swapping first rounders with Calgary to select defenceman Braden Schneider 19th overall.
Oh yeah, and in between they drafted some kid named Alexis Lafreniere first overall.
Not too shabby.
With their coffers filled with young talent, the Rangers were ranked fourth overall in the Athletic’s pre-season prospect rankings. With all of those youngsters including ninth overall pick in 2018 Vitali Kravtsov, it’s obvious that in four seasons Gorton accomplished exactly what he set out to do in New York. Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Miller, Lundkvist and Filip Chytil are all contributing at the NHL level today. The Rangers are currently third in the Metropolitan division with the league’s youngest roster.
What do all these moves mean from Boston to New York? Gorton clearly has an eye for talent, that much is clear. His dismissal from the Rangers didn’t seem to have anything to do with his job performance, no matter what owner James Dolan says. Gorton and president John Davidson were both fired after New York issued a strongly worded statement condemning the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for their failure to discipline Capitals forward Tom Wilson after he injured Artemi Panarin.
He is also someone who appears capable of laying out a plan and adapting it to the progression of the club on the ice. Will he call for a rebuild like he did in New York? Will he re-tool on the fly like he did in half a season with the Bruins? Who knows.
But the evidence suggests that Gorton is one of the brighter minds in hockey based on his track record of success.
That’s all Montreal Canadiens fans want. A smart hockey man with a clear plan to improve the future prospects of the club.
Who cares that he’s from Massachusetts. As long as he learns to say ca sent la coupe!