Jeff Gorton’s Past Points to Bright Future for Canadiens

It has been a very eventful year in Montreal. With the Canadiens making a run to the Stanley Cup Final, the offseason filled with injuries to team captain Shea Weber, star goaltender Carey Price among others. Then the drama at the entry draft with the selection of Logan Mailloux. Then, of course, there is the complete unravelling as the Habs limp to a 6-15-2 start to the season. 

Now, add in the firing of general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin and most of the front office staff, fans can be forgiven for any support fatigue they may endure from all of this. The exasperated fans now are left to wonder what to expect from the newly hired executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton.

Jeff Gorton
BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 25: Now Montreal Canadiens Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, Jeff Gorton during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

As the new sheriff in town fans will begin to wonder what to expect from Gorton as he settles into his new role and begins the day-to-day management of this storied franchise. Part of anticipating what to expect is to look at past actions as they are the best predictor of future actions. So what path could fans expect to see for the Canadiens? Let us look at Gorton’s NHL track record.

Gorton’s Tenure in Boston

Gorton was hired by the Boston Bruins as the Director of Scouting in 1994, by 2006 he had risen to the rank of assistant GM. In between, he oversaw the draft and development of names such as Joe Thornton, Kyle McLaren and Sergei Samsonov. 

On top of his experience in development, in his four months as the interim GM of the Bruins, he laid the foundation for what was to become a Cup champion. He added core pieces in Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand at the draft in 2006. He followed that up by trading for Tukka Rask then signed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard.

Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara Brad Marchand
Former Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara celebrates his with teammate Brad Marchand.

His work was instrumental in not only acquiring but also developing a core of players for Boston that would eventually make them a Stanley Cup contender for several years.

Gorton’s Tenure in New York

Once he left Boston, Gorton took his talents to Madison Square Garden as the Director of Player Personnel for the New York Rangers under the legendary Glen Sather. Once he took over as GM for the Rangers, Gorton began the rebuilding process. He was able to trade for a top-line center in Mika Zibanejad, sell off assets such as Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and others for futures. 

He then went on to focus on developing their youth and identifying a need for puck-moving defenders to modernize the lineup by adding Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox – the 2021 Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenceman – then trading up at the 2018 NHL draft to select K’Andre Miller.

Adam Fox New York Rangers
Adam Fox, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That threesome makes up the backbone of the Rangers defensive core, and likely will for many years to come. The Rangers are also a team that is looked at as being very close to becoming a Cup-contending team if they aren’t already. 

Gorton’s Plan

Having tutored under great GMs like Harry Sinden and Glen Sather, he has been able to learn the type of core group needed to win. Learning work habits and methods to follow that he can apply now.

Related: Canadiens Need to Focus on Youth

Everyone has tendencies that they follow in their decision-making process, Gorton is no different. What he has shown in the past is that he is able to formulate his plan and implement it decisively. He also has the patience to apply a development program for his players to allow them to reach their full potential.

But fans will now ask, what does this mean for the Canadiens with him at the helm. Look at his past actions and you can see what is likely in store for the Habs. A focus on improving the core, developing the youth and improving the draft. Some of that was revealed during team owner Geoff Molson’s press conference on Nov 29.

It is clear, the Canadiens will be sellers this season, making way for the youth to gain experience but also in the hopes of adding more draft picks to be able to build upon the prospect pool. Gorton will undoubtedly spend time assessing that pool to see how best to augment Nick Suzuki at center. Also, to assess the current crop of defencemen fit into the new prototype of defender needed for success, mobile puck-moving defenders, who can generate office via the transition game, but also defend with positioning and puck possession. Also, it was made clear in the press conference that the plan could even involve a full rebuild.

No plan is off the table at this point in time for Gorton. He will assume the day-to-day managerial duties while the search for the new GM is underway, but no matter who is hired, they will work in tandem. 

However, because the new GM is likely to be one with little to no experience it is highly likely that Gorton will be the one leading the way in the decision-making process.

Gorton will have a steep learning curve assessing what he has on hand in the Canadiens system from the NHL level on down. Even if a rebuild is not being dismissed by Molson, it is likely that whatever plan they have will be one that takes the most direct and shortest time frame to get the Canadiens back into the Final but more importantly, to be able to do so as a true contender instead of as a Cinderella team.

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