Avalanche Should Target Kreider at Deadline

The Colorado Avalanche are in a funk right now.

They have been for some time, so I’m not sure you can call 20 games a ‘funk’. Yes, it’s been that long – the Avs are 5-12-3 in their last 20 games and yet, miraculously, they’re still sitting in a playoff spot.

While goaltending has been dragging the club down for far too long, I doubt it’s something general manager Joe Sakic will address at the trade deadline. Instead, it’s possible he will add some secondary scoring, something I wrote about earlier this month.

Recently, the Avalanche have been linked to the New York Rangers.

Rangers forwards Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello are likely in play because each is an impending unrestricted free agent (UFA) and the team has publicly stated they are in a rebuild. Adrian Dater from BSN Denver rightly pointed out over the weekend that Hayes is the more attractive option, mostly because he is five years younger. Dater also said a trade for Hayes is unlikely.

“The Avs are simply not going to give away top prospects or top draft picks for any short-term help this season,” Dater said. “If Kevin Hayes had three or four years left on his contract, at his current salary ($5.175 million), they might consider moving a nice pick and/or prospect for him.” (from ‘Why Trading for Kevin Hayes Seems like a Bad Idea – and Almost Certainly Won’t Happen’, BSN Denver – 1/20/19)

I think the Avalanche should consider moving a draft pick and a prospect to the Rangers, but not for Kevin Hayes. Instead, the Avalanche should offer up an enticing package for Chris Kreider.

Kreider Has an Extra Year on His Contract

It’s true the Avalanche are unlikely to give away top prospects or draft picks for any short-term help (i.e. someone on an expiring contract). I do, however, think Colorado should consider moving their own first-round pick for the right player.

Chris Kreider Rangers
Chris Kreider should be a trade target for the Avalanche  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kreider is exactly that. He may not be on the block, but if the Avalanche make the right offer, the Rangers could be convinced to move him.

The 27-year-old winger has size and speed for days, plus he can provide that secondary scoring the Avalanche so desperately need. Unlike Hayes, Kreider has one year remaining on his contract after this season. His cap hit is a very reasonable $4.625 million, $550,000 less than what Hayes would cost.

It’s a shame that Kreider isn’t signed for another two or three years, but if Colorado can acquire him, they would have the opportunity to sign him to an extension as early as July 1, and they certainly have a lot of cap room moving forward.

The Avs Need a Scorer, Not a Playmaker

Both Hayes and Kreider are having outstanding seasons.

Player TOI P/60 CF% Rel CF% GF% Rel GF% xGF% Rel xGF%
Kevin Hayes 535.62 2.46 50.61 7.54 60.87 20.3 56.21 12.81
Chris Kreider 640.77 2.25 50.96 7.83 54.93 13.95 54.82 11.06

This chart compares Hayes’ and Kreider’s 5-on-5 stats so far in 2018-19.

Their point production, measured in points per 60 (P/60), is excellent, with Hayes’ 2.46 just inside the top-40 in the NHL and Kreider’s 2.25 just outside the top-50.

Both have a respectable Corsi For percentage (CF%) at just over 50 percent, but because the Rangers as a whole are a terrible possession team (second-last in CF%), their relative Corsi For percentage (Rel CF%) is also excellent. The same can be said for their expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) and their relative expected Goals For percentage (Rel xGF%); Hayes and Kreider both generate a lot of offensive chances, which is even more impressive when compared to their teammates. Hayes’ relative GF% of 20.3 is 11th best in the league (the Ranger’s GF% is roughly 20 per cent better with him on the ice).

So, if they’ve both been extremely productive and good play drivers, why Kreider over Hayes?

Kevin Hayes - Rangers
Kevin Hayes would definitely help the Avs’ secondary scoring woes but they need a scorer rather than a play maker and he’s on an expiring contract (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I think the Avalanche badly need a finisher to play with Alexander Kerfoot. Kerfoot is a superb playmaker who needs someone on his line who shoots a lot, goes hard to the net, and can finish.

Who better than Kreider, who plays a very similar game to Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog? Kreider has 87 goals over the last three and a half seasons, which is just inside the top-50 in the NHL. Meanwhile, Hayes has 66 goals over that span, while playing in 10 more games.

Kreider also has 23 goals in 77 playoff games, and that kind of post-season experience would be extremely helpful for a young team like the Avalanche.

Hayes’ Numbers Inflated?

Instead of just looking at the 2018-19 season, let’s examine a larger sample size.

From 2016-19, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes’ have both been strong point producers but Hayes’ possession game has suffered because of his defensive deployment. (Bill Comeau @billius27)

This graphic compares the two players from 2016-19.

There are three takeaways for me: First, Kreider is a better scorer because he is in a higher percentile in goals per 60 minutes (94th percentile) and individual expected goals per 60 minutes (91st percentile). Second, Kreider has been a strong possession player with a Rel CF% in the 99th percentile and Rel xGF% in the 97th percentile, while Hayes’ has been a very poor possession player with a Rel CF% in the 37th percentile and a Rel xGF% in the 55th percentile. Lastly, Kreider has largely been used in offensive situations, being in the 36th percentile for defensive zone starts (DZ Starts), while Hayes has been used largely in a defensive role, sitting in the 79th percentile for DZ Starts (that has changed this season).

This proves to me that not only is Kreider a better scorer, but that Hayes’ strong possession numbers this season might be inflated thanks to playing alongside Kreider. According to Natural Stat Trick, the two have played together for nearly 278 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, during which time they have a 53.22 CF%. In the 257 minutes without Kreider, Hayes has a 48.41 CF%.

Possible Offer to Rangers for Kreider

I don’t think the Avalanche can entice the Rangers without offering up their own first-round pick.

That pick is likely to be in the 14-18 range, depending on if the Avalanche make the playoffs or not. If they just miss out, they’d pick 16th. I think that kind of mid-round pick is a necessary sacrifice to acquire a 30-goal scorer like Kreider, who is still in his prime. Keep in mind this is made possible because the Avs own the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick, likely to be in the top-five.

Vladislav Kamenev Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche forward Vladislav Kamenev may be a necessary sacrifice if the Avalanche are to acquire some secondary scoring (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

I also don’t think the mid-round pick on its own is enough. Usually, for a player of Kreider’s ilk, it takes a first-round pick, a prospect and a roster player. I would consider adding someone like Vladislav Kamenev or A.J. Greer, plus a bottom-six roster player like Gabriel Bourque or Sheldon Dries. It may not be enough, but it could be a starting point.

While I think Sakic stays patient and doesn’t pull the trigger on anything this major, I also think that’s the wrong approach. As I’ve said before, the Avalanche need to stop being a one-line team and Kreider would help in that regard, not just this season, but down the road as well.