If this is it for Kreider, it’s been fun

I am going to start off this post by saying I don’t know anything about what’s going on between Chris Kreider and the New York Rangers. As fate would have it, it’s right down to the wire.

In about 20 hours, it’ll all be over. At approximately 3 PM tomorrow on the Trade Deadline. A day that’s become like a holiday for hockey fans around the world. Everyone is watching and waiting to see what happens on Monday.

Already, we’ve seen some moves by teams. The Bruins traded for Ondrej Kase from Anaheim by unloading David Backes contract, a first round pick and defense prospect Axel Andersson. That likely takes them out of the Kreider trade talks. That’s assuming the situation doesn’t change between tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

That Tweet from the normally reliable Darren Dreger came four hours ago. Even the TSN insider got duped earlier this week when he believed the rights to top Islanders Russian goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin was about to be moved to the Blackhawks. The hot rumor was a reunion with popular goalie Robin Lehner and perhaps another piece going to the Isles to help their playoff push. Instead, Dreger recanted.

It just goes to show that sometimes, even the best reporters can be wrong. Most of their sources are accurate. But there have been moments where a trade rumor didn’t go through. The Devils were very close to dealing Scott Gomez in 2003 to San Jose in a move that would’ve acquired Patrick Marleau. It never happened. Instead, Gomez helped the Devils win a Cup.

Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don’t make. I can’t speak for what the Rangers are thinking. They can either sign Kreider to a contract extension or trade him by the deadline. There is no in between here. They cannot wind up keeping him unless the two sides reach agreement on a new deal that would keep Kreider on Broadway.

If you read between the lines, the two sides are apart on salary and term. Similar to what happened in 2014 with Ryan Callahan. The big difference is they’re not a veteran team pushing for a Cup. There isn’t going to be a scenario where they get a Marty St. Louis in a captain for captain deal that included one too many first round picks.

That still was a memorable time to root for the Rangers, who rallied around St. Louis following the death of his Mom France to comeback from a 3-1 second round series deficit and stun the Pens. They would defeat the Canadiens with Kreider playing a significant role. Montreal is still bitter over the unintentional incident that ended Carey Price’s postseason. Apparently, Alexei Emelin did nothing wrong. I bet they’d love to have a player of Kreider’s unique talent. If only he could’ve converted that breakaway in sudden death on Jonathan Quick in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Final that year.

When it comes down to it, maybe Kreider hasn’t reached his full potential. I pegged him as a 30 goalscorer and 60-65 point scoring forward. However, he developed into a strong power forward whose deadly combination of size and speed make him a rare player. A five-time 20 goalscorer whose previous career high is 28 coming in both ’16-17 and ’18-19, the former 2009 first round pick taken 19th has been one of the most successful players the Rangers have chosen in Round One.

A point-per-game pace since the second week of December has him on track to finally reach 30 goals. By going 18-14-32 over the last 32 games to help get the team back in playoff contention, he’s been dominant. The chemistry Kreider has had with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich is undeniable. They’re a dynamic trio that feed off each other.

The great thing in watching the KZB Line is seeing the growth of Buchnevich, who’s finally matured into a better player by using his size and physicality to become more responsible. It’s the best hockey of his career. Not bad for someone I’ve critiqued in the past for inconsistency. Ironically, his dramatic improvement came while joking that he was number 12 on the TSN trade list. I don’t see Buchnevich going anywhere.

Unfortunately, his close friend and linemate Kreider could be. If he goes, it’ll be emotional for teammates, coaches and fans. We’ve seen him grow into a better player who’s become a team leader. It wasn’t long ago that he barely was noticeable doing postgame interviews. That all changed last season. He has been front and center along with Zibanejad following games. Win or lose, they’ve been at their lockers discussing what went right or wrong. If Kreider agreed to stay, he could become the next captain. The Rangers have been without one since trading Ryan McDonagh at the 2018 deadline.

However, in the event he does move on due to the two sides not being able to iron out a new deal, Zibanejad looks like the best candidate to be named the next captain. He is over a point-per-game and needs only two goals to hit 30 for the second straight season. Don’t forget he missed time due to an upper body injury. He has 60 points (28-32-60) in 48 games. Thankfully, he’s signed for another two years at a friendly cap hit of $5.35 million through 2022. What a bargain.

If this is it for the 28-year old Kreider, who’ll have his age 29 season next year, he will finish with 24 goals and 21 assists for 45 points including 15 even strength goals and nine power play with a team-leading five game-winners. Overall, he’s played in 520 games and has 157 goals with 159 assists for a total of 316 points.

A good playoff performer who is best remembered for scoring five times during the 2012 run out of Boston College, he put up 13 points (5-8-13) during the 2014 run at age 22. There will always be the clutch tying goal he scored in Game Five of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinal versus the Caps when they were staring at elimination. They came all the way back again to win that series making NHL history.

Derek Stepan set him up and The Garden went nuts. I was in the building for that. They would win the big game on a McDonagh goal in overtime that also was set up from Stepan. They were a dynamic duo from the time they teamed up to help Team USA win the World Junior Championship in 2010.

Eventually, Stepan was traded with Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for Tony DeAngelo and the first round pick that became Lias Andersson. That started the rebuild. When Derick Brassard was dealt to Ottawa for Zibanejad previously, he eventually became the new center for Kreider. The amount of high praise Kreider paid him recently sums up their relationship. So did the hug following an emotional win over the Sharks on Saturday.

Breaking up is hard to do. We’ve seen it a lot in recent years. From Callahan, McDonagh and JT Miller to Brassard, Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, it’s become part of the story due to the salary cap. It forces teams into hard decisions like the one facing the Blueshirts.

At this point, it sounds like Kreider could be on the way out. I’ll definitely miss him. He’s been one of my favorite players since he arrived. The intangibles he brought makes him unique. It’ll be hard for the Rangers to replace that. It’s not only about statistics with Kreider, but the other things he does like stand in front of the net and screen goalies or tip pucks. The forecheck pressure he can bring due to his size and speed can transition from defense to offense very quickly. Plus how good he’s been in the room.

Whoever gets him winds up with a very good player, who will improve them. If this is indeed the choice the organization has made, it’s another example of them unwilling to pay top dollar for one of their own. Even if they’re up against it due to the immovable Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and key Group II free agents Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo.

They have no problem overpaying for other team’s players. At least with the dynamic Artemi Panarin, he’s worth it. Most haven’t been. Case A. Jacob Trouba. Eight million dollars. Say that like a New York Lotto commercial 10 times fast and you’ll be sick. All they do is come up with excuses for him. It’s all due to Brady Skjei. Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Both have to be more consistent. Especially for the money Trouba is making.

The reality is the Rangers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We don’t even know if Jesper Fast will still be here tomorrow either. He’ll be cheaper to re-sign. But he is more replaceable compared to Kreider. Both are well respected. Fast is that hardworking gritty, two-way type of forward every team can use. That’s the argument for moving him. He has value.

Unless Lundqvist winds up moved instead of being the uncomfortable third wheel in New York City behind new heir to the throne, Igor Shesterkin and second-year man Alex Georgiev, there’s literally no way they can keep everyone.

So if this is goodbye, thank you Chris Kreider for nine great years. Number 20 will always be fondly remembered in this city.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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