Officially speaking, Jeff Gorton never got to be the full-time general manager of the Boston Bruins. In hindsight, the current Montreal Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations probably deserved the title, especially looking back at his best moves in the role on an interim basis.
Gorton took over for Mike O’Connell, who had been fired late in the 2005-06 season. Gorton only lasted until after the start of free agency, so just shy of four months. Even so, Gorton helped set the team up incredibly well for its 2011 Stanley Cup.
If Gorton’s successes with the New York Rangers later on in his managerial career weren’t enough to convince Habs fans as to the legitimacy of his credentials, his Bruins tenure probably should, small sample size or not. Here are his top moves:
5. Gorton Drafts Phil Kessel
Yes, Phil Kessel was a high pick, at No. 5 overall in 2006. Yes, it’s theoretically hard to screw up those selections. Yet, after Marc Bergevin was let go (with assistant GM Trevor Timmins), Canadiens owner Geoff Molson made it clear part of the reason was how none of the Habs’ three top-10 picks during his tenure were still with the team.
Ultimately, Kessel proved to be the best selection for that point in the draft. He was picked after Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and Nicklas Backstrom, but before Derick Brassard and Kyle Okposo. For added context, Peter Mueller, James Sheppard and Michael Frolik rounded out the Top 10.
Sure, Kessel didn’t stick with the Bruins either, but he did turn into a huge asset, getting the Bruins two first-round draft picks (Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton) and a second (Jared Knight), years later.
4. Gorton Signs Zdeno Chara
Put simply, Gorton hit his sole free agency at the helm of the Bruins out of the park, making Zdeno Chara is marquee signing.
Gorton got the big man, who would jump right into the captaincy, under contract for $37.5 million over five seasons. He actually stayed with the Bruins well past that initial deal, up until 2020 (14 seasons in total), proof as to how well the relationship worked out.
True, the move was technically Peter Chiarelli’s, who was in the process of leaving the Ottawa Senators (alongside Chara) as assistant GM to take on the full-time GM position with the Bruins. That’s why the move is so low on this list. However, officially speaking, Gorton was behind the signing.
If the association between Chiarelli and Chara taints the signing too much for you though, you can always consider the Marc Savard deal from that free-agency period instead. Savard signed for $20 million over four years, becoming an integral part of the Bruins’ offense for a half-decade, even inking an extension midway through his initial term with the Bruins. Of course, Savard tragically had to step away from the game in 2011 due to post-concussion syndrome. Still, indisputably speaking, the initial signing worked out incredibly well for the Bruins.
3. Gorton Drafts Milan Lucic
Gorton effectively made one misstep that 2006 NHL Entry Draft, taking defenseman Yuri Alexandrov, who never played an NHL game, at No. 37. Of course, there weren’t any other legitimate NHL players taken in the immediate vicinity of Alexandrov, unless you count a slew of four straight starting at No. 44 (Nikolay Kulemin, Jeff Petry, Jhonas Enroth and Shawn Matthias). In any case, Gorton more than made up for it, by taking Milan Lucic at No. 50.
For some additional context, the Montreal Canadiens took Ben Maxwell at No. 49. Love him or, as Habs fans typically do, hate him, Lucic developed into not only the most impactful player taken the remainder of that second round, but an impactful NHLer in general, at least for his entire eight-year Bruins career.
2. Gorton Upgrades His Goaltending with Rask
Clearly that 2006 Draft was a huge success for Gorton and the Bruins. Specifically, June 24, 2006 was a big day. That day, Gorton traded ex-Calder Memorial Trophy-winner Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the rights to goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask, who had just been drafted the previous season. Rask obviously went on to win the 2014 Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie.
Raycroft had fallen off somewhat statistically after his 2004 Calder. Following the 2004-05 lockout season, Raycroft went 8-19-2 with a 3.71 goals-against average and .879 save percentage. He ended up getting outplayed by and losing starts to teammate Tim Thomas (who of course would win two Vezinas himself). So, it wasn’t so much of a risk to trade him for a goaltending prospect. It made a lot of sense in some respects.
From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, it also kind of did, in the sense that Rask was an uncertainty. Raycroft was just one season (but two years) removed from a 29-18-9 season, in which he earned a 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage. Maybe a worthwhile risk, then? Especially considering their void at the position after the Leafs opted not to renew the option on an aging Ed Belfour’s contract.
To Raycroft’s credit, he did set a Leafs franchise record with 37 wins his first season there. However, he did so while sporting a 2.99 GAA and .894 save percentage. He was out of the organization by 2008, while Rask obviously enjoyed a great deal more longevity as a member of the Bruins.
More impressively however? That trade wasn’t the only one Gorton made that day that worked out incredibly well.
1. Gorton Gets Brad Marchand
On the surface, it’s your typical draft-day trade. Gorton traded up to Round 3, by giving the New York Islanders Pick Nos. 98 and 126. Neither of those picks (James DeLory, Shane Sims) panned out, but the one the Bruins got in exchange? No. 71? It sure did in the form of Brad Marchand.
Now, it’s not like O’Connell had a horrible drafting record or anything. However, Gorton just did that much better in a singular season, securing the rights to Marchand. Over the course of his career, Marchand has obviously transformed from a simple so-called shift disturber to a point-per-game threat and arguable Hart Memorial Trophy-caliber player. He obviously deserves some of the credit, but so does Gorton.
Further proof? There was literally a handful of players left at that point went on to enjoy notable NHL careers (All-Star selection or 500/400 games for skaters/ goalies): Derek Dorsett (No. 189), Leo Komarov (No. 180), Mathieu Perreault (No. 177), Andrew MacDonald (No. 160), James Reimer (No. 99) and Cal Clutterbuck (No. 72).
In fact, if Gorton had instead taken Clutterbuck, who got drafted literally right after Marchand, it’s perhaps a move that could just as easily have made this list too. Gorton ultimately got the far superior player.
Yes, it’s one draft. Yes, it’s a small sample size regarding Gorton’s overall drafting ability. Yes, he was only interim GM at the time. However, it’s safe to say he made the absolute most of the opportunity in the role (even if Chiarelli took over soon thereafter).
Of course, Marchand, along with Lucic and Chara (especially after the Pacioretty incident) make up a trifecta of players on this list Habs fans have grown to hate over the years. Ironically, they’re players that show Habs fans could realistically grow to love Gorton. All it means is Gorton did his job, considering the nature of the rivalry. The Habs and their fans should be glad he’s now working for them, albeit in a slightly different capacity. In effect, he got the promotion he probably should have gotten with the Bruins.
Latest News & Highlights
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.