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Chris Kreider’s Potential Trade To Colorado Complicates An Already Sticky Situation

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Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In typical fashion, Elliotte Friedman dropped another bomb in his 31 Thoughts Column this week — incidentally his final one of the summer. In it, he said the below about a potential draft day deal between the Rangers and Colorado:

The Avalanche were unwilling to include their 16th pick (Alex Newhook) in last week’s draft for Chris Kreider, so it is unlikely that gets re-visited — especially since he’s up in a year. There was a wild rumour about Jonathan Drouin, who has a long friendship with MacKinnon, but a few different sources poo-poohed that one.

On the surface this might seem like something for the “no big deal” file, but dig a litter deeper and this is a pretty big revelation.

There’s a few factors at play here. The biggest is that the Rangers and Chris Kreider have no had “substantial” talks yet about an extension, and with the Rangers putting a full-court press on Artemi Panarin, it’s not hard to connect the dots that Kreider is on the back burner right now. That’s fine, and can easily be explained away by pointing out that Kreider is not a UFA until next summer and he doesn’t need to be dealt with right now. The second issue is Kreider’s name has shown up in the trade rumors section of almost every single actual insider. Again, that can be played off too as “we’re listening to offers on everything” and “we’re not actively picking up the phone but we can’t not take a call.”

We can debate whether or not it’s smart for Jeff Gorton to be looking to move on from the winger, but this much is certain: the Friedman comment above changes a lot of things about the situation. This is not a rumor, and it’s not some insiderrr on Twitter talking about how a deal was about to go down. This is Elliotte Friedman, maybe the most connected insider in the NHL bar none, saying “the Avalanche were unwilling to include their 16th pick in last year’s draft” which insinuates had they been willing to do so Kreider would be in Denver already.

That’s an enormous, public, reveal when it comes to the notoriously close-to-the-vest Rangers, and one that takes away any of the softening rumors out there about Kreider. There’s no way for the team to claim it’s fake — either publicly or towards Kreider himself — and there’s no way to walk back from a deal being on the table they were ready to pull the trigger on.

On some level, yes, he and his agent had to know the team was taking calls. And, yes, maybe he even allowed himself to realize the Rangers might have been making some of those calls. But an open trade that another team blocked is a different story.

Kreider’s next contract is an enormous matter of debate, especially as the Rangers chase Panarin and need to sign Jacob Trouba to a lengthy extension. The team has a slew of players who are coming off their ELCs, or will in the next two years, and that doesn’t even include players bridged this year that will need bigger payments down the line. The Rangers have the cap space right now to have flexibility, but that changes as we move forward, and the team still has cost-controlled players in the pipeline on their way. It’s clear the team was hoping — as all do — they could grab Kreider at a hometown discount, but it’s hard to imagine that’s the case now — again, my speculation based on how I would feel in the situation.

It’s clear this is more a cap move than anything else, but Kreider is a hell of a presence on the ice and having him out there makes the team much better than without. Sure Panarin would be an upgrade, but he’d also be likely 50-60% more expensive. Both are possible — and to some preferable — but it would require Gorton to address the glut of money-making players who don’t need to be here now (Ryan Strome, Brendan Smith, Jimmy Vesey, Vlad Namestnikov, Marc Staal, and to a lesser extent, Kevin Shattenkirk). Buyouts don’t make a ton of sense either (aside from Strome, who is a pennies on the dollar buyout because of his age) since the biggest cap hit comes when the team would be looking to contend. It’s possible, but far more complicated.

Which brings us back to Kreider and his looming extension. Kreider’s reasonable ask will likely be in the $7-million dollar range Kevin Hayes just got from Philadelphia, and for seven or even the eight-year max. There’s plenty of reasons why the Rangers want to keep that number as small as possible, but why would Kreider — especially now that he knows the team nearly traded him away?

It’s entirely possible I’m blowing Kreider’s emotions out of proportion, and that he understands this is a business and that he was nearly a casualty of it. But it’s also important to note these guys are not animated players in NHL19 who act as robots with very little emotional connections or reactions. Kreider is a human who likes hockey, loves New York, and likely wants to stay at Madison Square Garden for the rest of his career. The Rangers are a team that will have cap issues soon enough if they’re not careful, are pitching the biggest name on the free agency block, and have a glut of young wingers and defenseman who will be playing a bigger role or looking for one soon. On paper Kreider’s potential trade makes sense, but emotionally it’s not easy for a guy who — until Kakko — might have been the most hyped prospect the Rangers have ever had.

These situations are often delicate, and I would bet a lot of money the leak to Friedman came from Colorado and not from New York. How in the loop Kreider was to potential trades is something neither you or I know, but I can’t imagine they’d leave the door of substantial talks open if he thought his future in New York was a pipe dream.

So yes, Kreider is still here right now. And yes, he might not get traded this summer at all. But you better believe he knows he might have been in maroon and white, and I don’t see how that makes the dance with Gorton any smoother.