The Rangers Should Think About Trading Chris Kreider

As time goes on, the potential return the Rangers could receive is more likely to decrease than increase.

Chris Kreider has been a beloved Ranger since joining the team during the 2011-12 playoffs. But almost seven years after that stellar debut — one that saw him tally 5 goals as a “rookie” fresh out of Boston College into the fire of the NHL playoffs — the organization should consider dealing their top line left winger.

I recently wrote about Kevin Hayes, his value to the New York Rangers and what he could command in a trade. While he should be able to net a haul in theory, if the Rangers go down to the wire with Hayes they will be limited in their return because of his contract status. With that in mind, they should be looking at moving players that are signed past this year to increase their returns. One of the most valuable is Kreider, who has one more year left on his contract in addition to the rest of this season.

The Rangers are one of six franchises — Detroit, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Vegas as the other five — without a captain, and Kreider very much seems like the player who would assume that role next. He’s a veteran who came through the system and someone the fan base identifies with. His hustle and work ethic is admirable — among many other things — but there’s a slight hangup. In fact, the reason the Rangers should consider trading Kreider is the same reason why he is not the captain. That reason is his contract that carries a cap hit $4.625 million a season and set to expire on July 1, 2020.

If Kreider had more term, it would have been much easier for Jeff Gorton and David Quinn to make him the focal point of the leadership group, and the player who would lead the Rangers through the rebuild. The Rangers have Kreider on an amazing deal, but he will be 29 years old when he needs a new contract, and it is unlikely he will take a sweetheart deal similar to the one Mats Zuccarello signed at age 27 for just $4.5 million a season.

Granted, there are only a few guarantees in life, so I don’t want to close the door on the thinking that Kreider would be amendable to a sweetheart extension worth $6 to $6.5 million range — a raise of between $1.375 and $1.875 million on his current salary— for four or five years which would take him to age 33 or 34 respectively. Max Pacioretty extended with the Vegas Golden Knights for just four years this offseason, so it’s possible. But the savvy Boston College alum would likely point to James van Riemsdyk’s pact with the Philadelphia Flyers — a five-year deal worth $35 million ($7 million AAV) — from this past July as a starting point in negotiations. There are other deals that Matt Keator — Kreider’s agent (h/t Puck Pedia)— will have in mind, but more on that later. Each of these deals help Kreider and hurt the Rangers, and that’s not even factoring in future performance which can boost his total stats.

Seven million dollars per season seems like a lot of money, but next season that would represent approximately 8.43% of an $83 million salary cap. The cap should continue to rise in the years that follow in anticipation of Seattle entering the league in 2021-22 , so Kreider’s share would become even smaller. Hypothetically speaking, if Kreider signed for $7 million and the salary cap for 2020-21 were $86 million — up $500,000 less than the jump from 2018-19 to 2019-20 — his deal would be worth 8.13% of the cap. At that slice of the cap, it would be slightly lower than David Backes’ deal — $6 million a year or 8.21% of the $73 million salary cap — that was signed with the Boston Bruins before the 2016-17 season. Backes was 32 at the time so a 29-year-old Kreider should certainly be in position to ask for, and receive more. Another interesting contract is Alexandar Radulov’s — $6.25 million a year for four years — which he signed as a UFA at age 31.

Contracts Of Note

These deals highlight cases in which a player was primarily paid for past performance, and a premium because they were a free agent. Based on Kreider’s 5v5 numbers — in addition to his overall numbers — he certainly will ask for a lot of money, and this season’s performance will only add to that number.

Chris Kreider 5v5 Career to Date

This overall view shows some decent results, and this year provides him a vehicle to up his ticket, as the NHL is very much a “what have you done for me lately?” league. He is certainly having a killer year individually, and when compared to his teammates, and that really sets the stage for him, and the Rangers.

Would you be surprised — if Kreider continues his level of play this season — and waits it out to put himself in position to ask for closer to $8 million a season? Long term financial security is important — and although a freak thing — Kreider’s blood clot scare from last season and how short an NHL career can be is something that may weigh on his mind when negotiating his next contract.

The reason I bring up these examples is because as you start writing down the numbers in ink it becomes easier to see a situation where it financially doesn’t make sense for the Rangers. I say this because the Rangers essentially would be investing in an asset, and the return on investment would be negative. By that I mean the Rangers are currently paying Kreider $4.625 million for a certain level of production. Any increase in salary would need to include a proportionate increase in production. It is a hard situation because of how great his contract is, and that makes the gap between harder to cover. This is no fault of his own, but the math means the Rangers would be better off spending their money elsewhere.

But hockey teams don’t always think in these terms, and there’s the chance they try and pay him a more than fair salary in an attempt to limit the years, and cushion for a potential decline. A deal worth $7 million or more for one, two and maybe even three years wouldn’t be an issue. Once you are in year four and beyond, things can get hairy. Especially if the Rangers are planning on using their flexibility to add some elite players via free agency or trade.

Kreider currently is third on the Rangers in points with 23 and first in goals scored with 15. He’s certainly going to surpass the 16 goals he tallied in 58 games last year, and has a career-high goals per game average of 0.45 which is eight points better than his rate of 0.37 from the 2016-17 season in which he tallied 28 goals. Kreider is a very talented offensive player, but there’s reason to believe we may be seeing the best he has to offer this season.

When you look at his overall body of work, you’ll see some top line results that are acceptable at a salary of under $5 million a season.

Chris Kreider All Situations Career to Date

The rate stats I cited 5v5 earlier are solid, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s never scored 30 goals or 60 points. He’s been on pace to do that, and showed ability that he could be that type of player, but he hasn’t actually done it. The fact that he hasn’t hit either milestone may not matter much to a team in free agency, because ultimately they are looking to acquire the best players available to them.

But from the Rangers’ perspective, it’s hard to see him becoming a player who offensively will justify a premium price tag during a contract that will primarily cover his thirties.

The only way for that to happen would be if he ended up with an elite talent to inflate his production, like a move to Edmonton to become Connor McDavid’s running mate could do. In that case he would be an absolute machine — possibly similar to Petr Nedved going from the 1994-95 Rangers to the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins or Michael Nylander joining Jaromir Jagr in 2005-06 — but unfortunately I don’t see a move to Western Canada in the cards for Kreider. Maybe that could happen if Cam Talbot stays around, because Kreider’s love for Cam is well documented. ;)

On a more serious note, I fully realize that it hurts to think about dealing Kreider, and it is a very emotional thing. When you think of players, you think of the moments they were apart of.

Heck, it was that way with moving Derek Stepan — “Off the tie up it is Fehr, but it came back to Yandle. Drive by Girardi and a save, rebound... score!!!!!! Stepan! In overtime! The Rangers move on to Tampa.” — and Ryan McDonagh.

Speaking of McDonagh, I wrote a story in March on how the Rangers traded him at the right time. I revisited that story, and boy are a lot of parallels between his situation and Kreider’s.

You can argue the merits of trading him now rather than later, say at the draft, but given the situation I feel that the team would have received less for him in June. The first reason being that McDonagh would have been a one-year rental, not a playoffs and plus-one; secondly the Rangers would be operating from a position of less leverage

The Rangers can’t afford to be emotional and nostalgic, because they can set back their rebuild if they commit funds to a player who is unlikely to maintain or improve upon their current level of play. Just think back to 2014 — what if the Rangers decided to commit to Ryan Callahan’s ask of over $6 million in cap space?

A $7 million salary — or more — is a realistic one for Kreider, and something that just doesn’t make sense for the Rangers. Make no mistake, if a team was willing to pay Backes $6 million or Milan Lucic $6 million a season, there is going to be a team that will pay that or more to Kreider. If teams are going to pay that in free agency, you can be damn sure a team will look to add him on a trial basis via trade first to maximize potential value. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that. I am a big proponent of players going out and nabbing as much bread as they can, especially with the potential for another lockout looming.

Ideally speaking, the Rangers should sell high on Kreider just like they did with Derick Brassard. Brassard, at age 28, tallied 27 goals and 58 points in the 2015-16 season which was on the back of a 2014-15 season which saw him tally 60 points. Moving him at his highest potential value got the Rangers Mika Zibanejad, and the trade was a masterstroke for general manager Jeff Gorton. Brassard’s killed it in his last season on Broadway and has been in decline since that point.

The team doesn’t need to follow the same exact blueprint by taking a veteran winger and dealing him for a young winger, but there is certainly value to be had by trading a player who can be around for two playoff runs at a cost of $2.3125 million if the Rangers were to retain half his salary. Kreider has a modified no-trade clause in which he provides a list of 11 teams he will not be traded to per Cap Friendly. It’s safe to say that of the 19 teams he’d be willing to go to, almost all of them would welcome the opportunity to add him as such a low cost. If made available, Kreider would be one of the hottest commodities as his cost to performance ratio would have to be one of the more attractive in the league.

My Blueshirt Banter colleague Phil Kocher wrote a tremendous piece last month on why the Rangers should re-think trading Kreider, but the more I have thought about it, I disagree. Phil made an excellent case, but I think a situation that would make sense for the Rangers and Kreider no longer exists. Some of that has to do with his sensational play, and the impact that play will have on his next salary. Unless Kreider is extremely happy in New York and aims to take two short deals back to back as opposed to one long one; he isn’t long for Broadway.

For the Rangers to truly become a cup contender they need the right combination of players. Some of you probably read that sentence and said “no shit.” By that I mean this; you are going to have your veterans to “shepherd”  the kids in addition to your superstar players. Veterans can help, but their salary needs to be commensurate with their ability and production. Jesper Fast — $1.85 million against the cap, although his contract expires at the same time as Kreider — is a perfect example of the type of veteran I am talking about.

The Rangers have many important decisions to make deciding what to do as they enter the next stage of the rebuild. Kreider could be one of the players the organization wants to keep around, and they may be looking for a way to sign him. He is in many ways on the borderline of stay and go, but he will be of more value to the team via trade, and him having that extra year on his deal is the kicker. The Rangers are sitting on an amazing asset, and it would a shame if they were to pass on moving it now only to decide six months from now that it no longer makes sense to keep him.

Kreider’s value is directly influenced by his contract. His production matters, but teams are going to pay more for him before or at the deadline than they will at the draft, next season, or next year’s deadline. As I mentioned earlier, the same was true of Ryan McDonagh. In some ways the clock is ticking, because if they do plan on keeping him, they need to make some other decisions to figure out how the overall salary cap is going to work if they are going to pursue marquee free agents such as Artemi Panarin.  When the Rangers released their letter to the fans, it covered a lot of ground. Here is one section that bears repeating.

As we approach the trade deadline later this month and into the summer, we will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy. Our promise to you is that our plans will be guided by our singular commitment: ensuring we are building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.

Kreider very much embodies a familiar player that the organization and fans alike care for and respect. For that very reason, the Rangers must make the very tough, but ultimately forward thinking decision to explore trade options for him.

Data via Corsica and Cap Friendly unless otherwise noted.