BUFFALO — Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton didn’t swing a major trade this weekend at the NHL draft, but the door remains wide open for deals and signing top free agents.
“We’re still in a lot of conversations to try and make our team better, and that’s our priority,” Gorton said Saturday at First Niagara Center. “We’re listening to everything; we’re close on a few things, but it just didn’t materialize today . . . We tried to do some things, but we’re not going to be forced into a deal that doesn’t make sense.’’
With the draft in the rearview mirror, teams on Saturday were allowed to begin talking to players who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1, such as Lightning star forward Steven Stamkos and the Islanders’ Matt Martin. Gorton declined to say whom the Rangers spoke with.
“We have a few guys that we’re trying to reach out to right now,” Gorton said in his first public remarks since the trade deadline in March. “It’s fair to say that we’re keeping our options open, whether it’s the top free agents, whether it’s role players, we’re talking to them all because things can happen quick, so we’re just trying to be ready. It’s not going to help me to tell you what we’re targeting.”
Asked about the state of the team, which was eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Gorton said: “We have things to do to get us where we want to be.”
Now in his second full season as general manager, Gorton said he has reached out to the team’s restricted free agents — Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Dylan McIlrath — and will begin further discussions now.
“We’ve talked to them, a couple of them more than once,” he said. “I told them we didn’t know where the cap was, we had to get through the draft, now we’ll have some harder conversations. I have an idea what it’s going to be for these guys. We like our RFAs for sure.’’
And Gorton said he wouldn’t be restricted in his deals because of next summer’s expansion draft, which will stock the Las Vegas team.
“We’re going to lose lose one player, so I don’t think we can disrupt what we’re doing, make a bunch of trades to satisfy all of these requirements. We’ve gone through all the scenarios; each move we make, we’ll pay attention to it, but I can’t see us making a move all the time just because of the expansion draft.”
Notes & quotes: During his briefing, Gorton announced that the Rangers acquired Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden, 29, for one of the Blueshirts’ two fourth-round selections in 2017. “He got better every year, he’s well-rounded, can kill penalties, play both sides, good depth, we’ll see where he fits in,” said Gorton. Holden, a lefty who is 6-4 and 220 pounds, was 6-16-22 in 82 games for the Avalanche . . . Naming a replacement for assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, who left to be the head coach of the AHL Charlotte Checkers, “isn’t imminent,” Gorton said. “It’ll probably take another week or so.” . . . Gorton’s assessment of the six draft picks, which began in the third round? “I can’t stand here and say we’re going to have a player who’s going to play for us next year.”