Rangers’ Kreider Contract Conundrum

The New York Rangers were able to sign winger Artemi Panarin, but what does this mean for the future of winger and Rangers alternate captain Chris Kreider?

In what may be the biggest free agent addition of this offseason, the Rangers signed Panarin, who spent two seasons each with the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets, to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal. The idea of Panarin becoming a Blueshirt looked bleak after reports on initial meetings, but the 27-year-old signed on despite being offered more money from the New York Islanders.

Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent on July 1. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The acquisition ultimately came with the price of losing another young winger in Jimmy Vesey, who was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 third-round pick. But by gaining Panarin, combined with the drafting of Kaapo Kakko and previous moves this offseason, such as trading for defenseman Jacob Trouba, the Rangers are having one of its most memorable offseasons to date. And there seems to be increased hope among Rangers fans the rebuild process is speeding up.

As the talks of Panarin possibly joining the Rangers grew in the aftermath of the 2018-19 NHL postseason, there was speculation his signing could have meant the end of Chris Kreider’s time on the team. Vesey ultimately became the one out hours before Panarin’s signing, but is Kreider’s immediate future any more for certain with New York?

The 28-year-old Kreider has just one season remaining on his current contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent, and the Rangers are dealing with a cap situation. But he is a beloved fan favorite who, if anything like last season is to go by, could seal the Rangers with two extremely talented top lines.

So what could happen next? Could the Rangers make things work financially for Kreider? Or do they trade him and how does that get done? Let’s look at how the team can make each branch work.

Keeping Kreider Can Be Done

As of the early morning hours of July 8, the Rangers have a little more than $8 million in cap space. Defenseman Jacob Trouba — their big trade pickup of this offseason thus far — and winger Pavel Buchnevich both filed for arbitration this past weekend.

Meanwhile, in addition to Buchnevich, the team still has to deal with two restricted free agents: winger Brendan Lemieux and defenseman Tony DeAngelo. Considering the team just acquired Trouba, and the youthful direction of the team, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rangers spend most of their cap on these players — if not being forced to make a move to stay under.

New York will once again be paying Kreider $4,625,000, as per the terms of a four-year extension they signed him to in July 2016. The 28-year-old has been around since the 2011-12 playoffs and has risen his way up to being one of these Rangers’ leaders.

Kreider finished this past season with 52 points, including 28 goals, both second on the team behind center Mika Zibanejad. In fact, he and Zibanejad (along with Kevin Hayes prior to him being traded) were key components for successes the team had on the ice.

Chris Kreider (Photo credit: Andy Martin, Jr.)

Despite the cap difficulties, Kreider’s skills may make it hard for the Rangers to want to trade him. They also may not get what they would hope for in exchange due to his rental status. And yes, if they play out this season with no extension, there’s no guarantee he re-signs.

But Kreider is a leader to the team on-and-off the ice, growing from a young kid — like many of his current teammates — into a seasoned veteran. And even if it’s just for one season, picture this Rangers team with Kreider, Zibanejad, Panarin, Trouba, Buchnevich, Kaako and more. It may not be a team that gets a cup, but it definitely gets Rangers nation excited.

The Rangers could, of course, opt to choose Kreider over their restricted free agents, but some may feel that goes against New York’s rebuild focus. Despite possible penalties in the coming seasons, the second buyout window could be what the Rangers need in order to keep Kreider and help with their cap. The team could end up buying out the contract of someone like Brendan Smith or Kevin Shattenkirk. In addition, Vladislav Namestnikov or Ryan Strome could be traded away for more cap relief if needed.

Keeping Kreider around may be a little more of a process financially, but with his play and leadership, it could be very well worth it.

If Kreider is Traded, Sooner Better Than Later

Now let’s flip the coin. Let’s say the Rangers brass doesn’t want to do the financial gymnastics and give Kreider a long-term deal, especially with the likes of Panarin, Kakko and Trouba here. Or they look at his previous season and see him already in his prime and want to trade him to a big contender for as much as they can get for a rental. Or somehow president John Davidson has another shock move up his sleeve.

Depending on how this offseason progresses, there may not be a way out of the trade spotlight for Kreider. Even if he’s here at Trade Deadline time, the Rangers could still opt to move him depending on how the team is doing. One way or another, the trade Kreider option will be there.

It would be as tough a pill to swallow as trading Mats Zuccarello last season. But if such a time comes, the question then becomes how to get the most out of such a move.

Chris Kreider Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kreider still has his no-trade clause, so there will be that to work around. They’ll also have to deal with a limit to what they can get if Kreider seeks free agency after this season. Considering that, and to better ensure a stable lineup and locker room, the Rangers should look to move the forward as soon as possible if they’re pursuing a trade.

The Colorado Avalanche reportedly rejected a trade that would have given New York the 16th-overall pick in exchange for Kreider, but don’t rule them out completely. The Avalanche still want offensive pieces, and Kreider is certainly a good grab for them. Then there are the Nashville Predators, who have cap room. Kreider could fit perfectly with their first or second line and the power-play unit, and his leadership and postseason experience adds another positive.

The Edmonton Oilers and Islanders would be other interesting targets for Kreider. But the Rangers may not get the greatest of pieces with the Oilers even if Kreider signs an extension there, and don’t expect the Metropolitan Division rivals to talk a trade anytime soon.

The Rangers still have questions to answer and moves to make this offseason. It will be interesting to see what they do with someone who has come up through their system and did so much for them in these last couple of seasons like Kreider.