Does Trading Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Or Kevin Hayes Make Sense?

The Rangers are selling, which we know for a fact now, but there’s a difference between selling and SELLING!!!!

Right now the usual suspects are expected out the door. Rick Nash, Nick Holden and Michael Grabner being the easiest upcoming-UFAs to identify here. There are some mystery players, too. Will the Rangers unload Ryan McDonagh or Mats Zuccarello? Does David Deshairnais warrant a mid-range draft pick for center depth? We’re already seeing teams start making themselves known when it comes to interest in them:

I was expecting teams to kick tires on those players; what I wasn’t expecting was for the Rangers to hang a “seriously we’re open for business on everyone” sign out their front window, and teams to come rushing up for some of the more precious cargo. Yesterday, while discussing the Rangers current status, Darren Dreger reported that teams were interested in the availability of J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider. Which begs the question: Is it a smart business decision to move on from guys like Miller, Kreider, or even Kevin Hayes?

Miller, in particular, is an interesting case. At 24 he’s the youngest of the three named above, and seems to have the skillset almost every GM in the league salivates over without having to do too much digging (I’ll get into this with Hayes later). From Tom (in our private Blueshirt Banter chat) on Miller:

Miller’s last four seasons: 276 GP 66-91-157 (0.57 P/GP) 56 even strength goals. P/GP has went from .40 to .52 to .68 to .65 this year. I think teams look at that and see an opportunity. Last three years shooting 16.3, 16.7, 15.2 respectively and averaging 15:02, 16:22, 16:39.

Miller won’t be 25 until near the end of the season, and an acquiring team would get him for a full playoff run and then own his rights as an RFA. In a more successfully oriented offensive system, it’s not a stretch to see Miller be that 60+ point player next year. As it is, Miller put up 43 points as a 22-year-old, 56 points as a 23-year-old, and is on pace to put up 53 points this year. There’s an enormous amount of value in Miller both on the ice and off of it (even though he’s coming off a bridge deal, an acquiring team can still haggle with him as an RFA).

And again, Miller is just 24. He already has an established track record of being a 50+ point guy, and he’s also has 40 NHL playoff games of experience under his belt. He hits, is a bigger body, can score, and works the puck well when given the opportunity on the man advantage. There are defensive flaws to his game, but nothing that isn’t compensated by his ability on offense. The Rangers have a hell of a player in Miller.

Knowing that, and knowing Jeff Gorton doesn’t have to trade him, I would think Miller holds more value than both Hayes and Kreider — despite all three being in that same boat of not having to get moved. He’s young enough that he won’t age out of his prime if it takes the Rangers two or three years to get back to the playoffs, and he’s a young guy who can help younger guys learn.

That said, trades are about timing. If a team is willing to give up a haul for Miller, it makes sense to move off him — especially with an enormous contract coming this summer because the Rangers illogically bridged him two years ago to keep Dan Girardi around. As much as I say Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich are untouchable, there’s really no untouchable player — anyone can be had for the right price. In Miller’s case, that would be an NHL-productive prospect, a 1st round pick, and another high-end element. Depending on the prospect, that other element could be another 1st round pick or maybe as low as a 3rd, but it would have to be substantial.

Kreider is much of the same, but is a bit of a different case. With speed and skating abilities you cannot teach, size and strength you cannot learn, Kreider is everything a power forward in the NHL is meant to be. While he’s older than Miller (Kreider won’t be 27 until the end of April) he has something his counterpart does not: A long term deal already signed and sealed. Kreider is inked to an extremely reasonable four-year deal worth $4.625-million per year, and that term has two years left on it after this season is over. He’s an established 20-goal, 45+ point guy, who neared 30 goals last year, and could easily be a 30-goal, 60-point player. This year he was on pace for 25 goals and 50 points before he was hurt (more on that in a moment). At his age, his 77 games of playoff experience is substantial, as is his ability to take over a game even when he’s not scoring.

The rub on Kreider right now is the injury. There isn’t expected to be any long-term effects to his play on the ice, so long as the procedure done to lessen the pressure on his veins does the job it is supposed to do. That said, blood clots are both scary and unpredictable, and I understand a team being hesitant to trade the farm for someone who hasn’t played since a major injury like that. Steven Stamkos has come back none the worse for wear but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any concern expected around the league.

Taking all that into account, though, players like Kreider (both at this point in his career and at his contract) do not become available very often. Isn’t it worth the risk to strike while the Rangers are selling to get a guy you’d otherwise have no shot at? Someone who can make you much better right now, and still be young enough to play through his prime for you while you gun for the Cup?

In my head, Kreider is worth as much as Miller is, and maybe more, if for no other reason than his contract.

And finally, Hayes. While there’s been no official smoke about teams kicking the tires on Hayes, I’d be shocked if it wasn’t happening behind the scenes. The problem with Hayes, though, is his numbers aren’t good enough to justify just how good he is. Hayes is a premier primary point generator, even though he’s been shackled into a two-way role that doesn’t really fit him the past two years relentlessly. His splits will show you a 40-50-point player, who can score goals and be a big body. He’s played in 34 playoff games, won’t be 26 until long after the season is over. He, too, needs a contract at the end of the year, but his current usage has watered down his offensive production enough that he won’t cost as much as Miller, even though I think Hayes is the superior player.

And there’s your problem. General managers aren’t going to do a deep dive on a player to increase what they have to give up to get them. If a GM is savvy enough to look at Hayes’ underlying numbers are realize he’s a stud, they’re going to point to his sub-40-point pace this season and low ball the Rangers. For that reason, and that reason alone, I don’t think Hayes is someone the Rangers should even be taking offers on, because the deal you’re going to need to get for it to be worth it isn’t coming.

The Rangers have an opportunity here to do something relatively unprecedented: which is totally starting over. Aside from the Marc Staal albatross contract, and the current Brendan Smith AHL contract, the Rangers have no bad deals on the books. They have a slew of big decisions to make that can turn into bad deals (Grabner, McDonagh, Jimmy Vesey are the main concerns here) but nothing on the books. The Rangers moving on from younger established players might not be ideal, but in the case of Kreider — who would age out of his prime if it took three years to make the playoffs again -- the timing might be right. Even if it’s an emotionally awful decision to make.

If teams are willing to unload top-end prospects, picks, and ready-to-make-the-jump players for more established guys right now, and it makes sense, then the Rangers need to pull the trigger. It doesn’t always have to be about money — which might be a driving force behind Miller’s potential availability — but you can logically have it be a part of the deal. Where you can’t have money be the driving force is when it’s the only motive behind a move -- as we saw with Derek Stepan where he was seemingly traded for cap space, with Antti Raanta thrown in.

As hard as it may be, moving on from one of the above named trio (and really one of Miller/Kreider with the Hayes landscape) might make sense. Miller/Kreider and McDonagh are the guys who would bring back ready-NHL talent. Couple two of those trades with what the team should get back for Nash, Grabner, and Holden and you’re talking about not just a total-reset, but a young team that can be dominant for years to come.

That’s the goal of all this, right?