A few days away from salary arbitration, the Rangers and right wing Pavel Buchnevich agreed on a new contract. As expected, he received a payment between the projected $2.5 to 3.5 million range.
The 24-year old Russian forward will earn an average of $3.25 million over the next two years. That will take him through 2021. Assuming the plan is to keep the younger, more controllable cheaper player, then it likely signals the end for Chris Kreider.
That’s the cost of doing business the way the Rangers have this summer. In upgrading the roster by overpaying primary targets Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, they put themselves in cap dire straits. That’s the price they had to pay to get the Bread Man on Broadway due to a competitive market. He will improve the offense along with prize second pick Kaapo Kakko.
Ditto for the much needed top right pair defenseman in Trouba. A player who was the right choice by GM Jeff Gorton to revamp the blueline. He’s in his prime and can address one of the biggest weaknesses. If he can provide similar offense along with some physicality while being a shutdown D next to close friend Brady Skjei, then it’s a home run. Even if he will make an AAV of $8 million.
With the team no doubt improved, now comes the hard part. The Rangers are now over the upper cap limit of $81.5 million. Currently at $83.65 million, that’s over two million above where they need to be. The good news is they can stay above the limit for now before getting back down.
With still Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux left to sign, that’s at least another two and a half million. What that means is the subtractions are coming.
Even if they can find a taker for Vladislav Namestnikov, it won’t be easy. The easiest player to move is Kreider. A bargain in his final year at an AAV of $4.625 million, he’s likely a goner. With unrestricted free agency less than a year away, the popular power forward, who’s been an integral part of three playoff runs, will command at least $7 million per over seven years.
The proverbial writing is on the wall. As much as I’m certain they’d love to keep him, it doesn’t look like they have much of a choice. Not unless they use their buyout clauses on both Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk with the latter still probably needed in case Adam Fox isn’t fully ready.
If it is over for Kreider, it’ll come with a little disappointment. This isn’t about the ’09 first round pick taken at number 19 not hitting 30 goals or 60 points. He’s been a valuable player, who does so much for the team. From his deadly combination of size, skating and speed, the big man has been a good soldier wearing the traditional Blueshirt. Along with his net presence and transition to veteran leadership, if it’s indeed over for Kreider, those intangibles will be missed. He fit in well with old hat Derek Stepan and then was superb with Mika Zibanejad.
Now, it will likely fall on someone else. Oh. Perhaps Panarin along with Kakko if he is on the top line over Buchnevich. Buchnevich made strides under coach David Quinn by adjusting his perimeter game to play a more complete one. That resulted in a career best 21 goals including seven on the power play. He’ll be looked upon for more consistency over the next couple of years.
As for Kreider, he may never have found that highest level everyone believed was possible. Injuries contributed to not reaching 30 goals this past season with Number 20 showing true character by playing through pain. Something that shouldn’t be questioned. Losing that kind of player won’t be easy. If he is moved between now and October, he’ll be missed.
Such is life in the cap era. For better or worse, the Rangers are planning to move forward. If it’s without Kreider, so be it. That’s why you can never get too attached to a player. Whatever happens from here, it’ll be interesting to follow.