With Taylor Hall off the board and now a member of the Arizona Coyotes, the attention shifts to the New York Rangers and Chris Kreider. In fact, that much was reported on Tuesday evening by TSN’s Darren Dreger. It isn’t a surprise given Kreider’s impending free agency, low cap hit, and package of skills. But what was interesting is that Dreger mentioned that it could be a deal that comes ahead of the February trade deadline.
During the segment, Dreger reiterated the Rangers will do their due diligence in talking to Kreider about an extension. But — if we use history as a guide — it could still be said that if Kreider was in the team’s future plans, he would have been extended this past offseason. This is not to say that we should completely rule out the two sides striking a deal before or after the deadline (assuming he isn’t traded), but I’m not sure if that’s something the team should be doing anyway.
This is a chart of the Rangers and the value they’ve brought the team in terms of Goals Above Replacement. While not a one-size fits all stat that should be used as gospel, it can be informative in combination with other individual stats married up with visual analysis. In this case, Kreider ranks rather poorly here on the whole when he’s typically leading the way.
Nearly half way through the season, Kreider has a line of 8-10-18 in all situations. His 5v5 underlyings aren’t great and include an xGF% of 40.05, a GF% of 54.92, and a CF% of 44.63. He’s also shooting 11.3% on 71 shots, which is 1.7% lower than his career average of 13%. But the point to note here is that Kreider’s actual GF% is outpacing his xGF%, so it isn’t a case where he reasonable should be better than he is.
If we flip the calendar and look at where things stood a year ago today, Kreider had a line of 15-8-23 in all situations, and was third in team scoring. His underlying numbers also included an xGF% of 55.53, a GF% of 54.78, and a CF% of 50.33. The winger’s 15 goals were propelled by a shooting percentage of 16.85%. He ultimately went into the All Star break with 22 goals, and it was the best start to a season of his career. Unfortunately, he would only score six goals in the final 31 games.
Now there are certainly circumstances that explain Kreider’s drop off this year in raw numbers, and part of it results for this year’s team being worse than last year. He isn’t the leading winger anymore, either, nor does it help that David Quinn has played around with a bunch of different line combinations that has disrupted chemistry and familiarity. But the one way we can account for the poorer overall team is seeing how Kreider stacked up last year, and how he’s fared this year relative to his teammates.
Kreider was second through the first 32 games last year with a Rel xGF% of 11.22, second in with a Rel GF% of 11.72, and he led the team with a Rel CF% of +7.16. This year he’s 11th among forwards with an xGF% of-6.45, sixth with a Rel GF% of 6.61, and fifth with a Rel CF% of 1.50. These numbers aren’t bad for the most part, but they are worse than last year, and that’s troubling when you are looking at a player on an expiring contract that’s going to turn 29 in April.
One of the best ways to look at Kreider and how he’s dropped off is looking at what he’s brought to the team in terms of goals above replacement, and this year he’s fallen off a cliff.
This is an area that had been a relative strong suit for Kreider, as he was someone who brought the Rangers significant value over the years. Visually this illustrates Kreider’s decline in value, and here’s a drilled down look in what has been driving his value down starting with his per 60 stats.
Chris Kreider Career Per 60 Stats GAR & WAR
Thus far, he’s seen a dip in even strength offense from last year, although his 2019-20 production is in line with what he did back in the 2016-17 & 2017-18 seasons. As we mentioned earlier, Kreider had an amazing start to 18-19 before falling off a clip. The biggest dips have come in even strength defense and shorthanded defense. Even strength defense has seen a swing of 63 basis points, and shorthanded defense has decline by 55 basis points.
If you look at the GAR (goals above replacement) and WAR (wins above replacement), you will see that Kreider had been consistent in what he’s provided the last four years. This includes a string of 0.59, 0.51, 0.59, and 0.69 goals above replacement per 60, an 0.11, 0.10, 0.12, and 0.13 wins above replacement per 60. The final column stands for standing points above replacement, and once again you will see a noticeable dip relative to the rest of his career.
Overall his decline in play is quite substantial, and if this level of play continues he’ll be on pace for one of his “worst” seasons in recent memory.
Chris Kreider Career Stats GAR & WAR
I think it is fair to say that no one expected Kreider to be worth the 15.8 goals above replacement he was last year, or the 8.9 he was in 2017-18, or the 10.9 he was in 2016-17; but no one expected him to be flat at zero. His career numbers don’t show it in his actual goal or point totals, but over the last few seasons Kreider has been a very good winger.
While his actual box score stats haven’t been top of the charts, Kreider’s been a very good winger. In fact, over the last five seasons he’s posted a GAR of 53.8 which is 36th among all forwards, and 19th among wingers. For context, Taylor Hall during this span posted a GAR of 61.3 which was 26th overall, and 13th among wingers. Mats Zuccarello’s GAR was 61, 28th overall among forward and 18th among wingers.
The point in laying all this out is that it’s very likely that Kreider’s best hockey is behind him, and if the Rangers get a decent offer; they’d be foolish not to take it.
Right now Kreider makes $4.625 million against the salary cap, and it has been a real bargain for the Blueshirts. His new deal will be worth more than that, and the Rangers would in turn be paying more money for a player who is more likely to keep declining as opposed to improving.
It goes without saying that hockey isn’t just measured by stats, and there’s human and hockey elements involved. Kreider is an experience player who has been through numerous playoff battles. By all accounts he’s been a tremendous teammate and ambassador for the team, and when he’s not contributing offensively his speed and physicality makes him a constant threat. Teams value players like Kreider who are able to draw attention and create space for other players. And while all of these are good things, there comes a time to move forward.
I understand the argument others have presented which states that teams such as the Rangers need to have veterans around and players who can teach the kids how to win. It is a sound theory, but the Rangers can’t afford to invest large amount of money when they don’t have a lot to play with.
As of December 17, 2019, the Rangers will have $16,596,867 to fill out nine roster spots, and have pending free agents that include Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast, Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo and Alexandar Georgiev. If Kreider took his existing deal, which he won’t do, that would give the Rangers $11,971,867 to spend, and that’s not going to be enough. There’s even less money when you factor in players currently in Hartford, and players the team may want to bring in the improve the roster.
The bottom line is that Kreider’s been a tremendous piece for the team, but when teams start inquiring about him it would make sense for Jeff Gorton to take the best deal he can and move forward. If he gets close to the “first and a mid-level prospect” price that Dreger reported, moving him is a no brainer. This is because return for Kreider is likely to have more impact on the franchise and their future aspirations than Kreider himself would.
If and when Kreider is dealt, it will be imperative to find a younger player like him, because while the organization has a number of skilled forwards, having straight away north-south players like Kreider are important. And who knows, maybe there’s a chance that Kreider returns in free agency after being traded.
Who’s to say the Rangers trade Kreider, and open up additional cap space conducting other business at the trade deadline. Maybe the Boxford, MA native realizes he had a good thing going in New York and tries to come back on an affordable ticket for short term. I don’t think that would happen given what wingers such as James van Riemsdyk and Max Pacioretty have been able to pull in recent years, but never say never.
Imaging the New York Rangers without Kreider is tough to picture, because he’s been a big part of the team’s success and identity over the years. But wasn’t the same just said of Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello?
If Kreider was showing more this year, and was just a smidgen younger, there could be realistic arguments to be made for keeping him. But that isn’t the case. Therefore, it makes sense to strike while the iron is hot, and maybe there’s a team out there who wants to sign Kreider long term, and will pay a good price to bring him into the fold now.