Watching a New York Rangers rebuild is like watching someone learning how to drive. You know at some point there's going to be an aggressive acceleration, and you're just hoping it's not before they figured out how to work the steering wheel.
Hence, the departure of general manager Jeff Gorton this week, for apparently results-oriented reasons, should have Rangers fans shook.
The current rebuild began on Feb. 8, 2018. Long before the Rangers were famous for letters in which they demanded firings from the NHL's Department of Player Safety, they were famous for a letter that foreshadowed a different kind of pain.
Signed by general manager Jeff Gorton and senior adviser Glen Sather, it was an admission that familiar names would be shipped out of town during a prolonged rebuild. "Our promise to you is that our plans will be guided by our singular commitment: ensuring we are building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender," it said. "We will keep you informed as this process takes shape."
This week, the process took the shape of a boot to Gorton's backside, as he was informed that his services were no longer needed. He and team president John Davidson were fired -- sorry, "left the organization," according to the official release -- by owner James Dolan, as associate general manager Chris Drury took over both positions.
"I think we were all surprised. I know I certainly was. And in talking to the players, I know they were too," coach David Quinn said.
Join the club, sir. The entire hockey world was surprised.
Gorton helped the Rangers amass one of the top-ranked prospect pools in the NHL. No doubt, hitting on a pair of lottery picks like Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière bolsters that group significantly. But he also drafted center Filip Chytil and defenseman K'Andre Miller, along with a collection of solid young players on the way.
Did he benefit because Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox all wanted to play on Broadway? Absolutely. But he's also the guy who stole Mika Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard and a seventh-rounder; the guy who snagged Ryan Lindgren in the Rick Nash trade with Boston; and the guy who turned Ryan Spooner, also acquired in the Nash trade, into Ryan Strome.
The Rangers haven't made the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2017, but you could feel they were getting there. Even the most optimistic of fans didn't think it was going to happen in the 2021 season, in an East Division where you could have penciled in the top four teams in the preseason and felt pretty confident about it.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell James Dolan that.