New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game One

Retain Or Release: Chris Kreider

It’s fairly amazing to look at how far Chris Kreider has come within the last year. In a somewhat stunning turn of events, he didn’t even make the opening night roster, instead being beat by the likes of J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast. Kreider was in Hartford for the first seven games of the Rangers’ season. His previous season was far from a success either, so contrast that with his impact in the playoffs this season and the result is pretty dramatic.

Now Kreider, is up for a new contract, and it will be interesting to see how the Rangers go about negotiating with the young power forward with star potential. Let’s try to take a look at it.

 

Vitals:

Age: Turned 23 in April.

Previous Contract: Three Years, $800K Cap Hit

Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent

Basics 2013-2014 Stats: 66 Games, 17 Goals, 20 Assists (15 Games, Five Goals, Eight Assists in Playoffs)

Irrelevant Info Pierre McGuire Would Enjoy: Kreider is semi-fluent in Russian.

 

Why You Keep Him:

Well, where do we start? He’s the most successful and most talented player in the organization under the age of 24. He scored 17 goals in what was his true rookie season and in only 66 games. And his scoring production should only get better. Next season he’ll be a year older, undoubtedly on the NHL roster for the long-term, and fully comfortable with not only the NHL in general but also Alain Vigneault’s system. Assuming homeostasis, it’s not unreasonable to see Kreider developing into a 30+ goal scorer. Are the Rangers, who struggle with scoring, in a position to lose a guy like that? In fact, can you remember the last homegrown player to score 30+ goals in a Rangers’ uniform? It was Petr Prucha in 2005-2006. Prior to that, it was Tony Amonte in 1992-1993. Chris Kreider is far and away the team’s best hope for owning a high-end goal scorer without needing to trade big assets or over in the free agent market.

Beyond the goal scoring, Kreider brings plenty to the table. Pretty much the only person in the entire NHL with better wheels might just be Carl Hagelin. Speed itself isn’t good enough, though. Kreider does a tremendous job of utilizing that speed in a number of ways. When combining it with his large frame, he’s like a freight train on the forecheck. He can win pucks back either with his body or by finessing his way to the puck before defenders. Defensively, he again combines the large reach and speed to break up plays.

He’s a tremendous asset on the power play, as well. He was third on the team in PP goals, with six, and was only one behind co-leaders Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot. Despite only playing 66 games. Even aside from the goals, his speed in the neutral zone stretches the opposition and he can screen the goaltender like nobody else on the roster is capable of. It’s only partial coincidence that the Rangers’ power play was absolutely miserable in the playoffs prior to Kreider’s return (7.1%) and rose to mediocre levels once he returned from his broken hand (16.4%). Kreider himself accounted for three of the 10 power play goals the Rangers scored since Game Five against Pittsburgh.

The power forward is a dying breed in the NHL as speed and possession become the name of the game, but Chris Kreider is one of the exceptions. He plays the typical power forward game with his size and net presence, but he also has that speed and finesse ability to really thrive. He was an important player last season in what was technically his rookie season, and he’s only going to get better as he approaches his mid-20s. Kreider is tied for 32nd among all 22-year-old’s in goals-per-game (minimum 40 GP) since the 09-10 season. Ahead of James Van Riemsdyk, who is incredibly similar to Kreider and who just scored his first 30-goal season at 25 on an offensively inept team in Toronto. Players like Kreider do not grow on trees, and he specifically is probably the best winger to come out of the Rangers’ system since Alex Kovalev started his NHL career in 1993. It makes little sense to get rid of him.

 

Why You Lose Him:

Chris Kreider is 23 and has yet to put together a full NHL season. His first “rookie” season was a handful of playoff games. His second season featured him bouncing between the Rangers and AHL every other week and scoring a whole two goals in 23 games. This season was the closest he’s had yet, but still started the season in the AHL and missed more time with that broken hand. While we know what Chris Kreider is physically capable of doing over a full season, he has yet to do it. In some ways, that can be exciting; think of what he’ll do in a full season! It could also be viewed with skepticism, though. Will we ever seen him put it all together for a full season instead of in just some nice stretches? There’s never absolute certainty.

The Rangers were three games away from a Stanley Cup, and the games they did lose against Los Angeles were extremely tight. It could very well be that the Rangers are merely one player away from clearing that hurdle, and if Kreider has to be the player sacrificed to make that happen then it is what it is. We’ve already put Kreider in the same breath as Amonte, and Amonte was similarly collateral damage for the sake of the 1994 Stanley Cup. If there’s a bonafide superstar out there that the Rangers can fit under the cap, then maybe Glen Sather has some thinking to do.

 

Keeping/Replacing Him:

Maybe Winnipeg is overly eager to rid themselves of Evander Kane, who has been in the rumor mill for a while now, and offers him to the Rangers to the Rangers for Kreider. Maybe with the Rangers adding one or two peripheral pieces as well. Is that a swap the Rangers make? I think so. Kane’s got the higher ceiling and has been more consistent at the NHL level. He scored at just about a 30 goal pace in the 11-12 and 12-13 seasons and scored “only” 19 goals in 63 games this season. He’s also younger than Kreider by a few months.  And he plays the power forward role. Or maybe Steve Stamkos or John Tavares or Patrick Kane follows in the footsteps of Martin St. Louis and demands a trade to only the Rangers, and the Rangers move Kreider and other pieces for one of those guys. In that case, who cares about replacing Kreider? The team’s added such an elite player that it doesn’t even matter. Or perhaps some team sends an offer sheet Kreider way for $8.5M annually and the Rangers let him walk and take the four first-round picks as compensation.

The Kane scenario is a longshot but at least remotely plausible. The others are obviously a pipe dream. I did my best to play the role of devil’s advocate and offer up some reasons why Kreider won’t be re-signed, but if I had to bet my life on one free agent getting a new contract, it would be Chris Kreider. It would take something absolutely breathtaking and off-the-radar for him to not be in a Rangers’ sweater next season. Even in the event of an offer sheet, the Rangers will match anything that isn’t absurd. Pragmatically, there’s no replacing Chris Kreider. Jesper Fast has the speed and defensive ability but not the power forward ability. Danny Kristo has good enough wheels and a lethal shot but is not great defensively and also is not a power forward. J.T. Miller can skate like the wind and forecheck as hard as anyone but doesn’t have the hands. There are no fast, high-octane, offensively proficient players under 30 in the free agent market.

The real question is what kind of contract Kreider gets. Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton have been big fans of the two-year bridge contracts for restricted free agents. Dan Girardi, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan are just some of the players who have signed that kind of deal once their entry-level contracts expired. Even Henrik Lundqvist signed a bridge deal of sorts, signing for one year at $4.25M for the 2007-2008 season before getting his long-term extension the following summer.

There have been a few exceptions, however. Marc Staal signed a five-year extension at 23. Ryan McDonagh signed for six years last summer. The idea being that both were exceptional talents that the Rangers didn’t want to screw around with and wanted to get locked up long-term before it could become an issue. The payoff for doing so is having Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh on the roster now for a combined cap hit of $8.675M. Or, well below their market value.

Is Chris Kreider that same kind of young talent? He’s bordering on it. I think the Rangers would love to lock up Kreider for 4-6 years. The problem is making that work while also accounting for the current salary cap crunch. Last season, despite Derek Stepan fighting tooth and nail for a long-term contract, he and the Rangers had to ultimately settle on the bridge deal. Not because Stepan didn’t earn a bigger deal, and not because the Rangers didn’t want to sign him to one. But going for more years means paying more annually, and the Rangers mathematically couldn’t fit it under the salary cap. It could be a similar situation with Kreider, as the Rangers have to stretch the budget as is just to bring back as many of their 11 free agents as possible. I imagine Kreider will be one of the last players the Rangers get signed. They’ll let the other chips fall, and then see what the salary cap situation is. If there’s room, then they’ll try to sign him for four or five years in the $4M-$4.5 range. If not, he’ll have to take that two-year deal in the $2.4M-$2.8M range.

 

Previous “Retain or Release” Articles:

Brad Richards

Derick Brassard

Brian Boyle

Dominic Moore

 

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