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Chris Kreider… A Keeper?

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The Rangers are on the clock to figure out what’s next with Kreider

New York Rangers v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As the February 24th trade deadline rapidly approaches, so do questions about Chris Kreider’s future in New York, as his four-year, $18.5 million contract signed in 2016 is set to expire.

The New York Rangers have made no indication as to whether or not they will extend the winger who is set to turn 29 in April, or if they will look to trade him. With the team being in the midst of a rebuild, moving Kreider makes sense — just as they’ve moved other pending unrestricted agents in years past. However, because of his skill set, it can also make sense for the team to extend him.

So, let’s explore why retaining Kreider could make sense for the 2019-20 Rangers.

Kreider’s the longest-tenured forward left on the team, and the winger has become a core player as he’s evolved from rookie to veteran. He’s also one of the few remaining players from the 2014 Stanley Cup run.

Although he has gone through goal-less droughts and had a slow start to this season, over the years he’s been relied on to be a force in the neutral zone defensively when he wasn’t contributing in the offensive zone. Kreider’s combination of size, speed, aggressiveness, and ability to create scoring opportunities, make him an asset to the team, and there aren’t many players in the league like him.

Most recently that skill set shined in the Rangers’ win over the New Jersey Devils last week. At 9:47 in the first period, DeAngelo scored a goal with the assist by Kreider.

Up by two goals, a slap pass by DeAngelo out of the defensive zone hit off the end boards and headed towards the Devils’ goal. What might have been an icing for another player turned into a scoring opportunity for Kreider as he used his speed to beat the icing, and he picked up the 300th point of his NHL career. This set play was possible because of the winger’s foot speed, and something he’s used successfully throughout his career.

With any player, especially a veteran, their role on the team is another important consideration when deciding whether or not to keep them around. Through the Rangers’ rebuild, they’ve lost a number of players who composed their ‘leadership group,’ which Kreider has grown to become a part of. His chemistry with his teammates can be seen not only during game play on the ice, but on the bench, when the buzzer goes off, and when the game ends. Having a player like Kreider to help lead the young talent the Rangers have infused onto their roster could help in their development, which ultimately will help their rebuild.

After seven years, 504 games played, 147 goals, and 153 assists, it’s Kreider’s offensive abilities, paired with his physical edge, that could attract teams who are making a playoff run to pick up the phone and inquire about his availability. In return, the Rangers could seek future assets like draft picks or prospects to continue the rebuilding process; or they could make a simple trade for a younger forward, similar to how general manager Jeff Gorton traded center Derick Brassard for a younger, similar player in Mika Zibanejad.

Kreider has a modified no- trade clause, which according to CapFriendly, allows him to submit an 11-team no trade list and have some control over his future. Larry Brooks of the New York Post wrote recently that those potential teams could include those in Canada. With the salary implications of his next contract — likely a sizable raise from his current $4.625 million with term, that will take him into his mid to late 30s — this could be the route Gorton takes.

On the other hand, if the Rangers choose to retain Kreider, it will cost them and require them to make other moves to create cap space to fit his next contract. Trying to make room in the cap for Kreider’s next contract could force the Rangers’ hand on their current three goaltenders situation by trading Alexandar Georgiev, leaving rookie Igor Shesterkin to share the net with Henrik Lundqvist. But with the likely increase in salary incoming for the winger, much more has to be done to fit what Kreider’s next contract deal could be.

When he is on top of his game, Kreider embodies everything that the ideal Ranger player should on and off the ice, making him a leader to a team of young players looking to the future. Stanley Cup winning teams require a balance of players, and there’s value in having someone like Kreider around. And without a clear replacement for him, Gorton should do what he can to keep Kreider in his Broadway Blueshirt because his skills cannot be duplicated, which could end up posing an issue over the next few seasons when they hope to reach their goal of being a serious Cup contender.