By Sean Hartnett
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Wednesday afternoon was a changing of the guard for the New York Rangers.
After serving as the club’s general manager for 15 years, Glen Sather announced he’s stepping down as GM. The baton has now been passed to Jeff Gorton, who joined the Rangers’ front office in 2007 and has served as the club’s assistant general manager since 2011.
“I just felt that it was time to move,” Sather said during Wednesday’s conference call. “The clock ticks to everyone. The managers are all getting younger, not older.”
While Sather retains his role as team president, he has relinquished final say on personnel decisions to Gorton. The stamp on all transactions now belongs to Gorton, though he will have the opportunity to call on Sather as an adviser.
“I would say that there is not a lot changing other than I will have the final decision on players,” Gorton said. “We have a good staff with a lot of good people in place. We have Glen in our corner to bounce things off on what we are thinking, and it’s a benefit to me and everyone here.”
Gorton, 46, has long been one of the league’s most coveted front-office candidates. The Rangers did not grant rival teams permission to speak with Gorton about open GM gigs in recent seasons because he was always lined up to eventually succeed Sather.
“Jeff has been an integral part of our success since joining the Rangers, and he has earned the respect of colleagues throughout the hockey community,” Sather said. “He is well prepared for and extremely deserving of this opportunity.”
Sather, 71, admitted during the conference call that he had been considering stepping down as general manager for “two or three years.” After climbing the front office hierarchy, Gorton has long waited in the wings for the opportunity to take over the reins. He initially joined the Rangers as a professional scout, before serving as assistant director of player personnel prior to being elevated to assistant general manager four years ago.
In his previous role as assistant GM, Gorton oversaw day-to-day work of hockey operations, assisted in negotiating player contracts, and coordinated team research projects. He was responsible for all aspects of hockey administration, including salary structure, representing the club in arbitration cases, interacting with the league regarding player contracts, player movement, and collective bargaining agreement issues.
Gorton was also heavily involved in both professional and amateur scouting. His instrumental role in that department resulted in the Blueshirts assembling a collection of talent that is currently making a big impact on Broadway, players including Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast. The next wave is on its way with 21-year-old defenseman Brady Skjei leading the way. Adam Tambellini, Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Graves and Brandon Halverson are all part of the wave of highly regarded prospects. Additionally, Gorton factored in key trade acquisitions Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Keith Yandle.
Although Thursday will mark Gorton’s first full day as Rangers GM, he previously served as interim Boston Bruins GM from March 27-July 8, 2006. His track record with Boston is proof of his outstanding eye for talent. He presided over duties at the 2006 NHL Draft and was responsible for key decisions at the draft, on the trade market, and in free agency that saw the Bruins land Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. Aside from a departing Kessel and an injured Savard, all the aforementioned players were instrumental in Boston capturing the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. Gorton previously spent 15 years in the Bruins organization, seven as assistant GM.
He is the 11th general manager in Rangers history. When you look around the league, there aren’t many young GMs who can boast the same experience and highly respected track record that Gorton brings to the table.
In addition to Gorton’s promotion, Jim Schoenfeld has been elevated to assistant GM and senior vice president. Schoenfeld previously served as the Rangers’ assistant general manager of player personnel and has served as general manager of the Hartford Wolf Pack for 12 seasons, presiding over all hockey-related matters for the franchise’s AHL affiliate.
NEW GM CONFIDENT ABOUT FREE-AGENT ADDITIONS
Gorton’s first official act as GM was to announce the free-agent signings of veteran wingers Viktor Stalberg and Brian Gibbons, as well as the acquisition of 24-year-old goaltender Magnus Hellberg from the Nashville Predators in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2017 draft.
In his final act as GM, Sather announced the signings of defenseman Raphael Diaz and forwards Jayson Megna and Matt Lindblad. Diaz, 29, was previously a member of the Rangers’ 2014 Eastern Conference championship roster. The smooth-skating, puck-moving Swiss defenseman suited up for four games during last year’s playoffs.
None of these acquisitions would qualify as major splashes. But Gorton is confident the Rangers have improved this offseason, despite Carl Hagelin being dealt to the Anaheim Ducks due to salary cap concerns and dependable defenseman Matt Hunwick signing on with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I would like to think so,” Gorton said. “We have added some pretty good players and depth but to say yes right now is tough. We will know as we move forward and see if we can add players.”
Gorton’s philosophy remains in line with Sather’s aggressive approach. The Rangers have long been a franchise that will pursue skill players and pull off bold, game-changing trades when they feel it can get them one step closer to the Stanley Cup Final.
“We want a skilled team, highly competitive team that I would say, if we are in a situation where we have a chance to go for it, are we going to go for it? Yeah, we are,” Gorton said. “We want to win and we think we have a pretty good team and that is what we are all trying to do. We will draft well and find players and as a group we will continue to go for it.”
Meet the new boss – same as the old boss? That’s not entirely accurate, but Rangers fans should be encouraged by Gorton’s ability to identify talent, and his track record of pulling off major deals that paved the way for the Bruins tasting Stanley Cup success in 2011.
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