Vitali Kravtsov’s KHL season is over following Traktor’s 4-3 loss to Avtomobilist on Monday which resulted in a 4-0 series sweep in the first round of the KHL playoffs. The result is not particularly surprising given that Avtomobilist were the top seed in the KHL’s Eastern Conference, though it is an appropriate ending to Traktor’s underwhelming season.
The Rangers and Kravtsov now have to decide what they want to do. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the two parties will agree to an NHL contract ahead of the 2019-2020 season, but could the gifted Russian make the move to North America for the remainder of this NHL season?
It’s a strong possibility. Though both sides have been publicly non-committing, the tea leaves point towards a marriage sooner rather than later. Russian journalist Igor Eronko, who writes for Sports Express, has been adamant throughout the season that Kravtsov would be joining the Rangers “when Traktor’s season is over.” In Jeff Gorton’s post-trade deadline press call, Gorton said:
“I think we’d like to get him over here as soon as we can if everything works out. We’ll see what happens.”
Gorton did also allude to the fact that the situation is not fully in the Rangers’ hands. KHL contracts run through April 30th, and so Traktor will have to agree to terminate his contract, thereby allowing the move. That should not be a major obstacle, and in fact Traktor similarly allowed for Evgeny Kuznetsov to sign in Washington in March of 2014.
Whatever decision the Rangers make will have to be carefully considered, as there are both benefits and consequences to signing him for the remainder of this season.
The reasons to bring Kravtsov to New York and integrate him ASAP are numerous. For one, it expedites the process of making him comfortable in his new surroundings. on. He’ll have multiple weeks to get to know his new teammates and develop some familiarity both on and off the ice. He’d also have multiple weeks to work with the coaching staff. He’ll learn the tactics. He’ll understand what head coach David Quinn expects of his forwards. He’ll get one-on-one time with the skills coaches. He’d get into some NHL games and gain perspective on what the game looks like at the top level. Because these games aren’t of much consequence to the Rangers in terms of the standings, Kravtsov would be able to jump into a competitive environment without his growing pains costing the team in a meaningful way.
This would prepare him for next September’s training camp. He’ll already have gone through much of the learning process and experienced the off-ice adjustment and will be able to focus solely on playing hockey. The coaching staff will also be able to pay him far more attention now than they will in September, when there will be 50 other players in camp.
I’m sure the Rangers’ marketing department wouldn’t complain about Kravtsov providing some intrigue for the games remaining on the 18-19 schedule, either.
That being said, the Rangers need to understand the implications of such a move.
First, as per Article 9.1 (d) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Kravtsov will burn a year of his entry-level contract if he signs for the 2018-2019 season. Because he turns 20 years old on December 23rd of 2019, he is not eligible for a contract slide. In effect, Kravtsov would become a restricted free agent in 2021. Should he sign a contract that begins in the summer instead, then his RFA status would get pushed back to 2022. The Rangers will certainly be a cap-conscious team once again by 2021, and so that extra year of a sub-$1 million cap hit would sure be helpful.
There are also expansion draft implications with Seattle entering the league in 2021. Players with “two years or less” of what the CBA considers “pro experience” will be automatically exempt from the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft.
This is where it gets a bit tricky. Because Kravtsov was 19 years old on December 31st, 2018, the league considers him to be a 19-year-old for the length of the 2018-2019 NHL season. As Ryan Biech of The Athletic Vancouver astutely noted, the relevant CBA article is 13.4, which states:
“....the four (4) year exemption for a 19 year old skater shall both be reduced to three (3) years commencing the first season that the 18 or 19 year old skater plays in eleven (11) NHL Games or more.”
In essence, Vitali Kravtsov would be exempt from the 2021 expansion draft even if he were to sign an NHL contract for 2018-2019 so long as he played fewer than 11 professional (NHL or AHL) games this season. If he were to play 11 or more, then it would count as a “professional season” and the Rangers would be forced to use one of their seven protection slots allocated to forwards on Kravtsov.
There is, in theory, another option for the Rangers. They could send him to Hartford on an Amateur Tryout Agreement. This could offer a middle ground which lets Kravtsov adjust to North America without him actually signing an NHL contract for 18-19. It’s not clear whether either the Rangers or Kravtsov have any interest in such an arrangement.
The Rangers to sort out the logistics with Traktor before they are able to sign Kravtsov and even then might opt to defer to the 2019-2020 season. Chances are, however, that 2018 ninth-overall pick will be skating with the Rangers at some point in the team’s final 17 games.