ST. PAUL, Minn. – The screws tighten from both directions. And soon the Rangers will have to make a critical decision for the future – a decision that appears to be made for them.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how Rangers can trade with Chris Kreider and expect a return that is even close to his value for their young club. The 28-year-old Kreider is said to be an unrestricted free agent and has long been considered the best (possible) rental on the retail market until February 24. He probably plays the best hockey of his career.
After scoring two goals in the team's 4-1 win in Winnipeg on Tuesday night and starting his right foot with three games against the wild on Thursday night for this road trip, Kreider now has at least one point in six of his past seven games ( six goals, three assists) and 20 of his last 26 games (16 goals, 11 assists). With 155 career goals, he is now number 24 on the Rangers list of all goals and overtakes Fred "Bun" Cook.
But it was never about getting rid of the blue-blooded blues shirt, but about what his new deal would cost and how it would fit under the salary ceiling. With negotiations beginning between General Manager Jeff Gorton and Kreider's agent Matt Keator, the standard for a five- or six-year deal is around $ 7 million a year.
For this to work, some costs have to be reduced. This could include trading with Tony DeAngelo, the aggressively dynamic defender who is aiming for a big payday as a restricted free agent. Or there is the possibility to move Brady Skjei or Pavel Buchnevich or even swallow! – the possibility of finding a mutually acceptable way to part with the last year of the contract with Henrik Lundqvist.
It will be difficult, but if the Rangers don't plan to transfer all sabers to everyone and rebuild them over the long term, there must be an appearance of veteran leadership.
Above all, the statistics that Kreider compiles were a prime example of how you concentrate in the midst of plenty of distraction, even for the younger players. After defeating the Jets – as close as this team's defensive performance was throughout the season, despite Igor Shesterkin having stopped 42 shots (and one from Lundqvist) – the team's crack social media team caught the players after that Victory came from the ice. Buchnevich pointed to the camera and said: "No. 12 ”with reference to its placement on the TSN Trade Bait list. Then he pointed to Kreider behind him and said: "No. 1. "
Kreider then quietly and jokingly rebuked the 24-year-old winger and said in Russian: "Shut up."
The Rangers' biggest mistake this season was their inconsistency, which is almost to be expected considering that they are the youngest team in the league. You have tried to maintain focus over different time periods, be it within time periods or over a week. They haven't won three in a row since Thanksgiving, and so their hopes remain on life support after the season.
But Kreider is a stabilizing factor, someone who can explain what is happening and why. After waiting for the media to berate himself after a 2-3 loss to the Sabers on Friday night, he quickly replied to a question on Tuesday whether the boys on his team would get the news of better defense ,
"Don't you think so?" He said to two New York reporters. "Do you see any difference in our D-Zone, in the way we come back and how we protect the middle? … We had people who did the right things, stood on the right side of the puck, talked, communicated , swiveling and not watching a puck. It's a good recipe to protect your net. "
Operating in the NHL with a ceiling is not an easy business, and sometimes it can be difficult to resist the temptation of the future. But the way Kreider plays forces the Rangers to realize that what they already have can be of immense value. Finding a way to get it working financially seems to come closer to a need than an option.