Shaping the Rangers: Dealing with Chris Kreider and beyond

On February 8th, the second anniversary of the “rebuild letter” penned by Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton came and went. Amongst the members of Rangerstown, this message was the starting point for a new direction of reshaping, retooling, and by all means, rebuilding the franchise. It’s been two years since the letter sent shock waves through the Blueshirts Faithful fandom, and in that time, the Rangers front office has made several notable moves showing their commitment to the promise made to fans by Sather and Gorton that, “our plans will be guided by our singular commitment: ensuring we are building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.”

While playoff contention seems an unlikely feat this season, over the years, the organization has hired President John Davidson, added Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and Adam Fox, selected Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, and called up a slew of young Rangers prospects, including the highly anticipated Igor Shesterkin. With free agency looming for Chris Kreider and Tony DeAngelo, ranked first and eighth on TSN’s Hockey’s Trade Bait List respectively, and big contracts weighing heavily on the salary cap, the Rangers organization undoubtedly faces a busy trade deadline and off-season ahead.

The Rebuild Today

Rebuild Quote (Forever Blueshirts)

Fast forward to present day, and the future of this team is still widely up for interpretation, but one thing reigns true: Optimism is slowly but surely making its return to the organization and its loyal fanbase. Expectations always run high in the world of New York sports, and I’ll be the first to admit that I took the years and years of Rangers playoff hockey for granted at times. But luckily for us, a realistic playoff berth could and should be in the near future. It’s easy to want to jump the gun in these situations, but claiming that the Rangers are a year away from playoffs and possibly even just another year after that away from establishing a true Cup contender, is a claim I confidently stand behind.

A process is defined as a “series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end,” and with the moves previously mentioned, the Rangers have made great strides towards their end goal of building a cup contender, as they now have franchise pieces filling the winger, center, defenseman, and goalie spots to build around. This process, like others, endures many different phases, and the most important phase is still to come.

The Trade Deadline

If the Rangers can cut a deal with veteran Ranger, Chris Kreider, who in my book, is irreplaceable, they are one step closer to solidifying their top six forwards. It has recently been reported that Rangers GM, Jeff Gorton, and Kreider’s agent, Matt Keator are set to discuss the winger’s future in the coming days. In reality, a player like Kreider can demand somewhere around $8 million on the market this offseason, but the promise of playing alongside Mika Zibanejad, a possible Captain’s band, and the desire to remain with the team that drafted him back in 2009, could be the leverage working in Gorton’s favor to resign Kreider at a discount that keeps him on Broadway for at least five more years. (Keep in mind, at a similar age, Panarin left $2-3 million a year on the table to sign with the Rangers, so it’s certainly not out of the question for Gorton to negotiate a reasonable deal with Kreider if remaining in New York is a priority for him).

Kreider (Getty Images)

Of course, the Rangers could trade him before the deadline, but there is no one waiting in the wings to take his place on the top line, and the KZB chemistry only seems to be growing stronger as the season progresses. Trading Kreider now ultimately means the Rangers may have to sign or trade for a player to take his place in the future, but a first line winger simply doesn’t come cheap and they could end up paying roughly the same price for a new face. Come October, the Blueshirts could roll out a top 9 consisting of Kreider, Zibanejad, Buchnevich, Panarin, Chytil, Kakko, Lemieux, Strome, and Kravtsov, while a cheap fourth line of Di Giuseppe, McKegg, and Howden that has already proven effective this season can round out the offense.

Future Rangers

Diving into the Rangers prospect pool, which is the deepest among all teams in the league, it is blatantly obvious that the amount of defensive prospects outnumbers the offensive, with winger, Vitali Kravtsov as the only current AHLer projected on next year’s current roster. The surgance of players like Fox, Lindgren, Hajek, Keane, Rykov, Miller, Lundkvist, and Reunanen make Brady Skjei and his $5.25 million contract expendable, to say the least. If the Rangers want to make another leap towards building a contender, the organization needs to resign DeAngelo, trade Skjei, buyout Staal, and let the kids play. Trouba, DeAngelo, Fox, Lindgren, and any combination of the other six D-men prospects mentioned above, upgrades the team from a defensive standpoint at an extremely low cost.

Expectations From Here

In the end, every team shares the same goal heading into each season, compete at a high level and play for the Cup in June, but realistically, the Rangers priority heading into next season should be making playoffs. I can’t stress enough how valuable playoff experience is for any player, especially a team averaging the youngest age in the league. We are already reaping the benefits of the Fox-Lindgren pairing, Kakko is coming into his own, and Shesterkin has proven that he is exactly as advertised. Even if they only go a round or two, playoff experience for this group next season builds confidence and momentum heading into the 21-22 season. What may be even more important about playoffs is that those games would show the Rangers front office which areas of the ice they need to improve in the off-season, and with the cap relief coming from Lundqvist’s departure, the Rangers will have the money (and the prospects) to sign or trade for the final piece of the puzzle.

As much as missing the playoffs is never fun and this team has been nothing short of inconsistent throughout this season, the promise of building a cup contender is right on track and this team has already begun showing flashes of what could be. Two years from now, the Rangers will be four years into the “rebuild” and rolling out a legitimate contender on the ice. One thing is for certain, the front office wouldn’t have signed players like Panarin and Trouba this off-season if they didn’t expect to be competing sooner rather than later. If John Davidson’s track record with the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets is any indication of what he has instore for the future of the Rangers, I have a feeling we’re in for years and years of more playoff hockey, and I know I won’t be taking it for granted this time around.

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