Hartnett: Rangers Face Big Choice Over Chris Kreider Future


Chris Kreider provided a not-so-subtle reminder of his value to the Rangers by scoring twice in Tuesday’s 4-1 road victory over the Winnipeg Jets.

As the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline inches closer, Kreider’s play is heating up. The 28-year-old left wing has tallied a point in six of his last seven games, notching six goals and three assists over this stretch.

So much for the theory that Kreider disappears for stretches. Over the last 26 games, he has only gone two consecutive games without recording a point. If you’re a frequent reader of my columns, you’re well-aware of my assessment of Kreider.

His blend of blazing speed, hulking strength, reliable goal-getting and an imposing net-front presence makes him a unique player in this league. Should Kreider reach free agency in the summer, he will surely command a $7 million average-annual value contract.

Last summer, former Ranger Kevin Hayes exceeded the $7 million per year mark in signing for the Philadelphia Flyers. Anders Lee squeezed a $7 million AAV contract from Lou Lamoriello and the Isles. There’s going to be a long line of suitors should Kreider become an unrestricted free agent.

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) pressures San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) during the third period on Dec 12, 2019 at SAP Center in San Jose.Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

One way or another – from the Rangers or through the free-agent lottery, Kreider is going to get paid handsomely.

Bob McKenzie outlined the latest on the Kreider situation during the latest edition of TSN’s "Insider Trading."

“Well, there have been contract negotiations between Matt Keator and Jeff Gorton,” McKenzie said. “Because they’ve had these talks finally and gotten it going, Maybe, there’s a growing sense of optimism that Chris Kreider would come off the trade main board and might sign an extension with the New York Rangers. I think optimism is too strong a word. Is it possible? Sure. But it’s also going to be difficult for the Rangers to meet what Chris Kreider is looking for.

“So, what we’ve got is dual tracks,” McKenzie continued. “We’ve got the contract negotiations going on over here, you’ve got trade talk going on over here and it still could very much go either way. What we do know is that if Chris Kreider stays – then some combination of Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo – restricted free agents would have to go – if not by the deadline, in the offseason.”

If you’re in Gorton’s shoes, the situation isn’t as simple as finding an agreeable comprise that ensures Kreider will remain on Broadway. There’s consequences that come with each option available to Gorton. As McKenzie suggested, signing Kreider would place the Blueshirts in a serious salary cap crunch.

Kreider is yet to rise above the 53-point plateau. He will turn 29 in late April. Could Kreider become a late-bloomer? Will he sustain his production and speed over a seven-year term?

Even should Kreider provide good value for money over his next contract, is it wise for the Rangers to invest a large cap hit in a veteran when the team hasn’t demonstrated evidence of progressing into a playoff contender? Would it be more logical for the Rangers to spin him off at the deadline for assets that can aid the rebuild as they did previously with Mats Zuccarello and Hayes?

Then there’s the domino effect of signing Kreider and how that would affect the futures of DeAngelo, Buchnevich, Strome, Jesper Fast, Brendan Lemieux and others. You can’t keep everyone and the Rangers will still need to shoulder a total of $7,494,444 in dead cap space next season through the buyouts and retained money of Kevin Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner.

So, there’s a lot for Gorton to chew on over the coming weeks. This is by no means a straightforward decision.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey