The blame for the Bruins’ inability to cash in on the last several years of their star core falls on the front office. Under Don Sweeney, the Bruins have drafted poorly and struggled in free agency, resulting in the top players he inherited as general manager having insufficient returns.
As fate would have it, an executive whose lone draft for the Bruins was historic is between jobs, so should local guy and ex-Rangers GM Jeff Gorton be the Bruins’ top target this offseason?
The Melrose native was Boston’s interim general manager for the 2006 NHL Draft, when the Bruins were transitioning from Mike O’Connell to Peter Chiarelli. He knocked it out of the park, selecting Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Gorton also flipped Andrew Raycroft to the Leafs for Tuukka Rask, making that weekend instrumental in constructing this era of the B’s.
After returning to an assistant GM role and being fired by Chiarelli, Gorton joined the Rangers and took over as GM in the same offseason that the Bruins replaced Chiarelli with Sweeney. Gorton was a highly respected executive and team-builder, but was shockingly fired last month as part of owner James Dolan’s bizarre overreaction to Tom Wilson not being suspended for his actions in a Rangers-Capitals fracas.
Honestly, it’s hard to see Gorton coming back to Boston. They probably don’t want to give him the job he deserves and he’s probably overqualified for what they would be able to offer.
Sweeney is scheduled to meet with the media Tuesday, which suggests the Bruins plan on keeping him around. He’s less than two years removed from being named NHL General Manager of the Year, so a dismissal of him now would be surprising. As such, Gorton would have to serve a different role.
Cam Neely doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so adding Gorton as a vice president might be awkward given that it would slot Gorton in the middle of Boston’s management tandem of Neely (president) and Sweeney (GM).
Assistant general manager would make more sense for Boston’s structure, though there’s obvious reasons to doubt it. For one, Gorton should be able to find a better gig elsewhere, and adding Gorton to the staff would essentially introduce an immediate replacement for Sweeney if the current GM were to ever lose his job. It’s hard to see Sweeney and Neely wanting that.
Gorton never repeated his 2006 draft while in New York, though he’s held up his reputation as a strong drafter. Prior to the 2019-20 season, the Rangers topped The Athletic’s 2019-20 farm system rankings, though part of that was No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko and trade acquisition Adam Fox.
First-rounders K’Andre Miller (2018) and Filip Chytil (2017) have become full-timers for the young Rangers. Right wing Vitali Kravstov (ninth overall in 2018) played 20 games this season and is considered a bright prospect. Alexis Lafrenière headlines New York’s chest of young players, though that was more a product of winning the draft lottery than anything Gorton did. Thanks also to the signing of Artemi Panarin, Gorton left the Rangers in strong position to be competitive in the coming years.
In fairness to Sweeney, his selection of Charlie McAvoy in 2016 is better than anything Gorton did for the Rangers in the draft outside of the top 10. That said, Gorton’s been the better drafter of the two.
The Bruins are certainly at a crossroads. Though it seems like we annually ask whether the Bruins are making their last run with the Bergeron-Rask-Krejci-Marchand core, it’s a legitimate question now. Rask and Krejci are free agents and Bergeron is turning 36 next month. The next phase of the Bruins must be figured out and fast.
Sweeney’s missteps in the draft and free agency (sometimes in conjunction; they had to give up its first-rounder last year to get another club to take David Backes’ contract off their hands) make it unclear whether he’s the man for the job long term. Sweeney has been a fine manager, but there’s nothing scarier to some fans than a GM who might be trying to save their job.
This is going to be a busy offseason for the Bruins. They’ll lose somebody to the expansion draft and will have to figure out what to do with Krejci, Rask and Taylor Hall. Unlike last year, they have a first-round pick.
Every offseason is important, but this one could be pivotal if the Bruins want to add years to their run of being one of the East’s top teams. Gorton coming in to save the farm system would be a godsend, but it’s hard to see there being a fit without a bigger front office shakeup.