Hope can be a hell of a drug. Reality after the initial hope is often a hell of a crash. To avoid one, you need to swap the order. Look at the likely reality first, then look at the hope. Decisions that comes from that line of thought often protect themselves.
That logic can be used for a lot of decisions, in both life and sports. In this context we’re going to start talking about Chris Kreider, but there are more examples than I can count otherwise. The Milan Lucic contract, the Taylor Hall trade, the Ryan Spooner trade — wait, why are all of these focused around the recently fired Peter Chiarelli??
Back to the New York Rangers; in an article about Kreider, Larry Brooks speculated it should take “only a perfect deal” to move him out of New York, and then went on to say that a six-year extension worth $6-million per year would be “the cost of doing business.”
I have my own speculation about Kreider’s open-market value being far higher than that (due to the free agency inflation rate). A six year, $36 million extension feels like something of a hometown discount if your Kreider’s agent, particularly when looking at the term. Kreider likely knows his next contract is going to be his last, and he could beg the Rangers to offer the max eight years only they can offer. He’d likely be offered seven years from a number of teams on the open market. Dollars aside, the Rangers can’t go near the max for Kreider, and to me they shouldn’t even get close.
Let me pause things here for a moment. There is not a bigger fan of Christopher Kreider than me. I banged the drum on this website for Kreider during the John Tortorella days of healthy scratches and four minutes of ice time daily. I started a #InevergaveuponKreider hashtag when he started coming into his own because it felt like everyone wanted him kicked out the door when he didn’t immediately make his mark in the league as a 30-goal scorer. I gushed about his four-year contract extension, and have fought over the fact that he brings so much more than his streaking offense that has yet to see him score 30 goals. I am thrilled he’s on pace for a career high in points and goals, and happier than I can you tell that he is finding himself. For a guy who does everything right on the ice and off of it, he deserves all the success he can find.
The idea that Kreider is only going to get better with his next contract is hope.
This is reality: Kreider will be 29 when he signs his next contract extension, at the above speculated deal of six years that puts him at 35 years of age when the contract would come to an end. He’s a player who relies on his first step and speed to generate offense, and it’s his wheels that gets him back into play when things don’t go right in the offensive end. He’s big and tough, throws his weight around, and exists as a stone wall in front of the net — where even more physicality comes with the territory.
How many big players who rely on speed sustain their mid-20’s success as they approach 30? How many of them sustain their success as they cross the threshold into their 30’s? How many of them don’t see a massive drop-off around that age? An age where Kreider would still have four or even five years left on the extension (again, assuming we’re going six years).
That said, here and now, at 27, Kreider is a massive play driver for the Rangers, even today when the team is collectively drowning in that regard. His speed helps him create offense you don’t get out of normal players, and his net-front skillset probably adds offense to his game even if his speed does deteriorate. And there’s the hope and the risk. Can Kreider still be a 20-goal guy if he loses that fabled first step he has? Can he still do all the things he does when he’s a little older, slower, and more banged up?
The point is a six-year contract for Kreider would be a risk. With the rising cap, and the inflation of the open market however, that’s probably going to end up being the going rate of a 25-goal scorer who brings all of the things Kreider that brings to the table. The Rangers do have oodles of cap space, but that doesn’t mean it should just be spent willy nilly. I already spoke about how Kreider (or anyone, really) isn’t in a position to be allowed to walk for nothing, but it’s also worth noting that he has value to the team in the here and now and should have in the future too — even if I think he has more value as a trade piece.
To that point: Gorton needs to at least see what would be possible to bring back in a trade. Kreider’s remaining year opens up a plethora of suitors that might not be looking for a rental. Is Colorado — a team already checking the Rangers out — willing to look at Kreider because they need help beyond their top line and get next year as well if things sour this year? Does Edmonton — even without Chiarelli — think Kreider is worth a haul because it might do the same? Kreider might make a few bubble teams think about the cost to get him with the safety net of another year. Contenders should, theoretically, be all over Kreider since his services extend to a second year of a playoff run.
The Keith Yandle return (a 1st round pick, A-level prospect, and a young “may need a change of scenery” player) is a good comparable. Even though Anthony Duclair never exploded in the way we expected, at the time of the deal he was on par with Pavel Buchnevich as the team’s most coveted prospect. If Colorado offers their 1st (not Ottawa’s) and Tyson Jost does that move the needle for Gorton? Would Colorado even consider such a deal? Does Gorton wait until the summer and try to pry a guy like Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg (who will need the cap space next year) using Kreider as the centerpiece?
Avoiding the risks on a Kreider extension does add the risk of losing guys who can, you know, play the game right now and be a veteran presence. That said, veterans who can herd the sheep are often found in the bargain bin in late July or early August if needed, not that the Rangers will. They would still presumably have the likes of Marc Staal, Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast, Ryan Strome, and Kevin Shattenkirk in outright veteran-status. Guys like Brady Skjei, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jimmy Vesey fill in as youth who have been here before. Brett Howden, Filip Chytil, Neal Pionk, and maybe Anthony DeAngelo are the kids who will have a full year under their belt next season. At worst they can bring Matt Beleskey up if they really fear the lack of leadership once the dust settled. That doesn’t even include guys like Vlad Namestnikov and Fredrick Claesson if they’re still here past the deadline.
Losing Kreider’s personality in the room would suck, but it wouldn’t end the world. Neither would keeping him for six years at six million bucks a year. Every move carries risk, which is why Gorton needs to make sure he examines all situations before he moves forward.