It came down to the wire for the Rangers and Chris Kreider. With the restricted free agent set for a 9 AM arbitration hearing, the announcement didn’t come until 9:35 this morning. The two sides agreed on a new four-year contract worth an average of $4.625 million per season.
TSN insider Aaron Ward broke the story first. The deal also includes a limited no trade clause. Kreider selected 11 teams he would accept a trade to. So, it’s not etched in stone that he’ll stay a Ranger for all four seasons. That largely depends on how he performs.
The 25-year old former ’09 first round pick (19th overall) has a unique skill set. The 6-3, 226 pound Boxford, Massachusetts native combines great speed with physical tools making him a power forward. So far, he’s been capable of scoring 21 goals doing so in each of the previous two seasons. A player who also has a mean streak, he still hasn’t found consistency.
The next step for Kreider is to become a more consistent player. In investing over the next four years at a solid price, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is banking on Kreider to take that next step. That means going from an up and down 21 goals and 40-plus points to somewhere between 25-30 goals and 50-60 points. The talent is there. It’s all about the player here.
By buying up his first two free agent years, the Rangers are counting on Kreider to be part of a young nucleus of forwards featuring Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, J.T. Miller, Derek Stepan along with newcomers Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad. Stepan is the oldest at 26. Mats Zuccarello is 28 and Rick Nash is the elder statesman at 32.
In already signing Miller to a bridge contract and re-signing Dylan McIlrath while getting Kreider done, Gorton has had a good summer. He also addressed the fourth line and penalty kill with underrated signings of speedsters Nathan Gerbe, Michael Grabner and Josh Jooris.
Gorton also added Nick Holden from Colorado and Adam Clendening improving depth on the blue line. Considering what he had to work with, he’s done well in his second off-season. With approximately six million left in cap space, all that’s left is Hayes. Figure a bridge deal in the neighborhood of $2.25 AAV should get it done.
With the exception of Derick Brassard, most of the core remains intact. Don’t forget captain Ryan McDonagh is 27. The Rangers’ captain needs to remain healthy for the team to have any success. He has dealt with injuries the past couple of seasons including two concussions in ’15-16. Hopefully, he’ll have better luck in the future. It would be nice if McIlrath, 24, rode shotgun. He must be part of the solution.
Brady Skjei definitely will be. The 22-year old smooth skating defenseman should definitely be a big help on a back end that’s gotten stale. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal must have their roles redefined. They aren’t the same due to wear and tear. The Rangers are hoping a longer off-season will help their recovery. Of the remaining D, righty Kevin Klein could be moved. With two years left at $2.9 million AAV, he only goes if things change.