That Chris Kreider could finish the 2019-2020 season on a team besides the Rangers should not come as a surprise to anyone. Even the biggest optimist entering the season would not consider the Rangers anywhere close to contending, and a slow start to the season puts the team at the lower bound of expectations.
The team’s future at wing is very healthy with Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, Pavel Buchnevich, and Vitali Kravtsov under control. For a rebuilding organization to dish out a premium, long-term contract that begins when Kreider turns 29 years old would be at best a luxury and at worst total malpractice.
So yes, the Boston-native’s departure from Broadway prior to February 24th’s trading deadline is highly possible, if not inevitable. Interestingly, though, it appears that a Kreider trade could even happen sooner rather than later.
This is not to say that a swap is impending or anywhere close, but the oven seems to preheating sooner than anticipated. On Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman made note of how an injury that will likely keep Vladimir Tarasenko out for most of the regular season could impact the lukewarm defending Cup champs and opines about whether they might want to make an in-season addition to alleviate that loss.
While Friedman is merely conducting a thought exercise and not actually reporting a rumor, Friedman’s speculation is usually guided by informed background knowledge. He typically goes out of his way to make it clear when his armchair GMing is based on nothing but a fantasy in his head.
TSN’s Frank Seravalli made a more assertive statement about Kreider’s availability on Thursday, ranking him as the top player on his trade board that “always seeks to blend a player’s prominence with his likelihood of a trade.”
Seravalli claims that “[i]t might not be all that premature to fire up the Chris Kreider chatter. Could Kreider’s speed, skill and contract help a team like the St. Louis Blues on the wing with Vladimir Tarasenko out for five months?”
President John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton aren’t going to trade Kreider right now just for the sake of trading him. There’s no apparent pressing need to cut ties, and Kreider’s on-ice abilities and general presence still hold value even to a rebuilding team like the Rangers. A 27th-overall pick and C-level prospect will be available for the taking in February. There’s little reason to settle for that kind of return so early in the season.
However, there are multiple justifications for jumpstarting trade negotiations. For one, teams may be willing to pay more to acquire Kreider if they’re getting him for 55 regular season games rather than just 20.
That could hold true for a team with an immediate hole to fill, such as the aforementioned Blues, or a team like Dallas that may be anxious about a subpar start to the season and wants to inject some life. Plus, with plenty of time for discussions, if Kreider and his new team can find common ground on the parameters of a new contract, then it will only increase his value further. See the Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty trades to Vegas last season.
There is also incentive for the Rangers to upstream the market, so to speak. The Devils are going to hold out as long as they can to convince Taylor Hall to sign an extension, but if and when the Devils make him available to other teams, the Rangers will be immediately and severely undermined. That’s without considering who else might become available in the meantime.
Right now, though, Kreider would be by far the best player on the market. The Rangers hold most of the leverage, and it offers an opportunity to get great value now rather than risk being left at the altar in February.
Finally, everyone at all levels of the organization is surely sick of trudging through seasons while the Sword of Damocles hangs over notable, long-tenured players indefinitely. Yes, this is a business, and Kreider is the consummate professional. He’s still human, and the elephant in the room will create an aura of tension, awkwardness, and uncertainty that will spread to everyone. Those feelings will only intensify as we get closer to the deadline.
It’s not ideal for players like Pavel Buchnevich, Tony DeAngelo, and Filip Chytil are internalizing this as the norm. It was a necessary evil the previous two seasons, and the organization will deal with it once more if they have to. But, if Gorton and JD can help it, they’d probably love to rip the band-aid off now and move forward rather than endure a third-straight season of drawn-out goodbyes.
Barring sudden, dramatic escalations in negotiations, it doesn’t appear that the Rangers will be closing in on a trade in the immediate future. Still, the first few wisps of smoke are emerging, and the indications are that the Rangers are at least open to entertaining offers for Kreider and would plausibly consider moving him early in the season.