What was first reported in the New York Post earlier this month, is now confirmed. Kevin Klein is retiring from the NHL. The most likely path for the 32-year-old defenseman moving forward appears to be a career in Europe.
Klein spent the first chapter of his NHL career in the Predators organization until being traded to the New York Rangers. In the midst of his five-year, $14.5 million contract, he was sent to New York in exchange for defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Klein and his $2.9 million cap hit were a welcome addition to the Rangers, as the right-handed defenseman exceeded expectations early on.
In his first full season in New York (2014-15), Klein set a career high of 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists). His clutch play resulted in four game-winning goals that year as well. The following season, he matched those 26 points (and four game-winning goals), and continued to be a key piece for the Rangers.
Klein’s unexpected offensive prowess had a lot to do with an unsustainably high shooting percentage, he was bound to regress. Unfortunately for the Rangers, that drop came during the 2016-17 season. Klein proved to be just one more problem on New York’s blue line.
Klein appeared in 60 regular season games this season and scored 14 points (three goals, 11 assists). He missed the first three games of the season with back spasms and returned to play on the second pairing with Marc Staal. When that pair’s play resulted in a number of goals against, Nick Holden replaced Klein. Klein, held back by injuries, never returned to a regular role in the top four.
Before the trade deadline, the Rangers acquired defenseman Brendan Smith. While Smith is left-handed, he demonstrated his ability to play on the right side – which further diminished Klein’s role. He was a healthy scratch for all but one of the Rangers 2017 Playoff games.
Klein retiring gives the Rangers $2.9 million in cap relief. But it also creates another hole for Jeff Gorton to fill in the offseason.
Although Klein’s final run with the Rangers was disappointing, his time in New York featured a several highlights. He provided the Rangers with much-needed stability on the right side in his first two seasons in New York, played with a physical edge and exuded a team-first mentality.