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Jeff Gorton Should Take All The Time He Needs With Chris Kreider

Will a strategic move at the deadline help the Rangers further their rebuild?

New York Rangers v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s the final weekend before the NHL trade deadline and the New York Rangers still have everyone guessing as to what will happen with forward Chris Kreider.

Last year at this time, fan favorite Mats Zuccarello was traded to the Dallas Stars. Just two days later, Kevin Hayes was traded to the Winnipeg Jets. Both trades were significant losses to the Rangers, but also demonstrate why moving Kreider — even at the last minute of the deadline — would be a strategic deal to further this rebuild.

Arizona Coyotes v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

At the time of Zuccarello’s trade, the nine year veteran had put up 37 points in the 46 regular season games as a Blueshirt. He was second in power play points, third in assists, and third in power play goals.

In exchange for Zuccarello, the Rangers received a conditional second round selection in the 2019 NHL Draft and a conditional third round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. In the regular season, he added three points in two regular season games before breaking his arm, although he did have a great playoff run posting 11 points in 13 games. In the offseason, he signed with the Minnesota Wild so neither condition of the draft picks were fulfilled to elevate them.

Meanwhile, Hayes was in his fifth year with the Rangers since signing with them out of Boston College. In the 51 regular season games he played before being dealt, Hayes was third in scoring with 14 goals and 28 assists.

The Hayes trade to the Jets led the Rangers to acquire Brendan Lemieux and two draft picks — a first round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a conditional fourth round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The first round draft pick was traded back to the Jets when the Rangers picked up Jacob Trouba from them. Lemieux has established himself as an aggressive offensive player who’s on pace to have a career year in scoring, although he’s also picked up 93 penalty minutes thus far, which leads the team. Trouba has found his place in the lineup as well, playing alongside friend Brady Skjei on the top pair, and recorded 24 points so far this season.

Like Zuccarello, Hayes did not extend where he was traded, instead signing with the Philadelphia Flyers in the offseason.

Winnipeg Jets v New York Rangers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Kreider is currently fourth in scoring on the Rangers (45) and third in goals (24). Over the last two months, he’s been on fire — and he continued that hot play in the Rangers’ last game, when he recorded three points against the Chicago Blackhawks. While his focus has been on playing and not trade rumors or deadlines, Kreider has increased his value as a player.

So where do Zuccarello, Hayes, and Kreider fit into all of this? All three were longtime Blueshirts whose trade fates weren’t revealed until right before the trade deadline. Just like Zuccarello and Hayes, Kreider will become an unrestricted free agent in July, which is why he could be moved if he isn’t extended before the deadline. With a current $4.625 AAV, his next contract will be much more significant, so the Rangers may not have the cap space to work that in and maintain flexibility moving forward. Even on the lower end, such as a contract in the four-year, $26 million range, there would have to be a few transactions to alleviate the pressure of limited cap space.

Moving Kreider seems like the most logical move from a financial standpoint — it’s even more logical if the Rangers believe they can get an even better return on Kreider than they did on Hayes.

The top rental forward is getting serious looks from the Boston Bruins, the New York Islanders, the Colorado Avalanche, the St. Louis Blues, and the Washington Capitals. During Wednesday’s game, Bob McKenzie stated that the Rangers think that in return for Kreider, they can receive a first round draft pick, a top prospect, an additional third element, and possibly a conditional pick. One of those five teams may be willing to give general Jeff Gorton exactly that if they believe Kreider will be a good fit for their organization and help better their chances for the Stanley Cup.

For this rebuilding team, the return on Kreider, especially if it’s in the range McKenzie reported, could be strategically beneficial long-term. The Rangers are currently seventh in the Metropolitan Division, which is the standing they ended last season in. But with only 23 regular season games left, the league’s youngest team is displaying the potential to complete the season with a better record and to be a playoff team in the near future.

In order to do that and keep progressing, they have to stay on their rebuilding path, which likely results in selling high on Kreider — even if it means waiting until the final moments before the deadline.