Former New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton gave his perspective on the now-infamous Tom Wilson incident during a Capitals-Rangers game May 3, the chaotic aftermath in New York and the team’s hope for tougher players on the Cams and Stricks podcast Tuesday.
“I didn't think that night was going to be what it turned into where people are going to lose their jobs,” Gorton said. “And it's going to be forever remembered as what it is.”
The Rangers have had a tumultuous year, with organizational shakeups and big changes to their roster. Gorton was let go as part of those leadership changes.
As a refresher of what happened during that Capitals-Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, here’s a brief summary:
In the second period, a scrum broke out in the crease. Wilson went after Pavel Buchnevich for being too aggressive toward his teammate, Vitek Vanecek. Rangers star Artemi Panarin jumped on the back of Wilson, who then threw the Rangers star to the ice.
The refs sent Wilson to the box for 14 minutes while Panarin went down the tunnel and didn’t return.
The NHL fined Wilson $5,000 for roughing Buchnevich, but not for his actions against Panarin, who was out for the rest of the season. The Rangers tweeted a statement calling it a “horrifying act of violence” and demanding the removal of the head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
The Rangers then fired Gorton and team president John Davidson and the NHL fined the Rangers $250,000 for criticizing the Department of Player Safety.
Two days later, the Rangers played a rematch against the Caps that had six fights and 141 penalty minutes. They fired their head coach David Quinn at the end of the season, and traded for enforcer Ryan Reaves as well as adding Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais and Jarred Tinordi, who are all known for their physical style of play.
When asked about the controversial statement the Rangers released criticizing the NHL directly, Gorton confirmed that it was written by the team’s ownership and its public relations staff without input from any of the team's hockey executives.
“I think that’s fair to say. You might have seen it the first time I did,” Gorton told the podcast hosts.
He said there was a lot of talk that week after the Caps-Rangers rematch about the team being proud of the physical way it responded.
“It’s probably not the way the league wanted it,” Gorton said. “But it was handled the way they needed to handle it.”
However, much like the rest of the world, Gorton did not anticipate that goalmouth scrum turning into a breaking point for the organization.
“I mean, obviously, I lost my job. It probably has to be more than that, I don't really know,” Gorton said. “But you can't tell me [Davidson], who loves toughness, didn't know we weren't tough.
“I could tell you that all the meetings we had, we talked with [former head coach] David Quinn about everybody, about getting tougher all the time here,” Gorton continued. “We also needed some of these young guys who are playing for us to have to deal with adversity, play through some of this stuff, see how they did with it, too.”