The New York Rangers announced they fired team president John Davidson and general manager (GM) Jeff Gorton on Wednesday. The firing of both comes as a shock to many since the Rangers have improved over the past few years.
Former NHL player and long-time Rangers’ assistant general manager Chris Drury will replace both Davidson and Gorton. With the Rangers firing their GM, the Vancouver Canucks have an opportunity to add someone with a great track record and crown Gorton their new general manager.
Time to Move on From Benning
Jim Benning has been the Canucks’ GM since 2014, and the club has struggled to become a competitive team since. The Canucks have made the postseason twice in Benning’s seven years as GM, despite his attempts at icing a competitive team almost every year. He recently stated the team will be ready to compete in two seasons, which will be his ninth season with the team.
“Our core players, they still need to mature a little bit yet. I think in two years time, I think we’re gonna be real competitive and have a chance to compete for the Cup. But we have to keep building, keep adding players to our group and our young core players have to continue to grow and get better.”Benning said this season.
In 2016, Benning said the team would be ready in two years, but in 2018 the Canucks were still drafting in the top 10. In two years, the Canucks will have most of their bad contracts coming off the books leading to some extra cap space, which is risky considering Benning’s track record with overpaying free agents.
His tenure has seen the club run into cap problems and poor asset management. It was evident how poorly the salary cap has been managed in Benning’s time with the Canucks in the 2020 offseason when they lost four unrestricted free agents. The free agents lost included Tyler Toffoli, who would have provided the team with top-line scoring as he has 28 goals this season, tied for the fourth-most in the league. Most of their cap issues are due to poor contracts Benning has signed in his time with the team. Loui Eriksson’s six-year, $36 million contract has hurt the team, so have the contracts given to Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Brandon Sutter. Trading away young prospects and players such as Gustav Forsling, Jared McCann, and Adam Gaudette but not getting equal or better assets in return is an example of the team’s poor asset management.
Although Benning has done great in the draft, his job is more than just that. The Canucks need a GM who will manage their cap while keeping the future in mind.
Gorton’s Impact on Boston
Gorton previously was an assistant GM with the Boston Bruins for seven years before becoming the team’s interim GM in 2006. In his four months as the team’s general manager, he made multiple moves that set up the team for the next 10+ years. First, at the 2006 NHL Draft, as he selected Phil Kessel (fifth overall), Milan Lucic (50th overall) and Brad Marchand (71st overall). Then, he acquired key pieces, including trading Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Tukka Rask and signing future captain Zdeno Chara and forward Marc Savard.
Gorton’s work in Boston helped the franchise build a competitive team in the coming years and improve the future. Lucic, Marchand, Rask and Chara all played important parts in the team’s success in the last decade, which included three Stanley Cup Final appearances. He re-assumed his position as the team’s assistant GM when Peter Chiarelli was named the team’s new GM but was fired a year after.
Gorton’s Rebuild With the Rangers
Gorton joined the Rangers as a scout after being fired in Boston and spent 14 years with the organization. He was the team’s GM the last six seasons before being relieved on Wednesday. During his time with the team, he helped set up the pieces for the team’s rebuild, which they announced in 2018.
Before announcing the rebuild, Gorton and the rest of the Ranger’s front office did a great job of acquiring pieces that would help ease the process. They made a homerun deal when they added Mika Zibenajad and a 2018 second-round pick from the Ottawa Senators for center Derick Brassard and a seventh-round pick in 2018. Since joining the Rangers, the Swede has taken a big step in his development, scoring 134 goals and 281 points in 320 games, which includes 93 goals and 197 points in 192 games in the last three seasons.
Since announcing the team’s intentions of rebuilding in 2018, they added Adam Fox and Ryan Strome through trades and signed a superstar in Artemi Panarin. The three and Zibenajad are the top four in team scoring for the club this season. All four players are important as they allow the young players the Rangers have added through the draft, such as Kaapo Kaako, Alexis Lafreniere, and Filip Chytill continue to develop while the team is competitive. Additionally, the team doesn’t have multiple bottom-six forwards with overpaid contracts, which has led to them paying their top players a fair amount while not being in a cap crunch.
Since 2018, the Rangers have gradually improved. In 2018-19, they posted a .476 point percentage (PTS%) and followed it up with a .564 PTS% in 2019-20, and finally, this season, they had a PTS% of .547 while playing in the toughest division in the league. Their improvements are why most were shocked the franchise let go of Gorton and Davidson.
Gorton Can Help Canucks in Next Chapter
With some overpaid contracts coming off the shelves for the Canucks in the next few seasons, allowing Benning to deal with the extra cap space is risky. What Benning has already done with the cap space in previous years has been disappointing. Therefore, the Canucks should bring in Gorton to surround the team’s core players with other pieces, who will help the team be competitive year in and year out while not hurting the club.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.