Chris Kreider isn’t making this easy on the Rangers.
The Blueshirts’ biggest trade chip ahead of the NHL’s Feb. 24 deadline is the most coveted winger that could be available on the market over the next two weeks.
And he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career.
Before Thursday night’s matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, the 28-year-old posted 27 points (11 G, 16 A) in his last 26 games which also included 10 goals in his previous 13 outings.
With 22 goals and 18 assists (40 points) in 54 games this season, Kreider is on pace to crush his previous career-high of 53 points set back in 2016-17.
His hot run of recent play has some speculating if the Rangers can find a way to keep Kreider, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
It would be difficult to get a proper return for the winger at the trade deadline given his expiring contract, though negotiations would have to start with at least a first-round draft pick and more, including further draft capital or prospects.
If the Rangers don’t receive the proper offer from the rumored teams interested — including the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues — then they would be forced to try and retain him or lose him for nothing in free agency.
Rangers management and Kreider’s representation have recently begun negotiations on a potential contract extension.
As a career Ranger, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that Kreider would a small hometown discount to stay with the team that drafted him back in 2009. But it can’t be that large of a discount.
Forecasting the upcoming offseason, Kreider’s new contract could get him something along the lines of $7 million per season. Anything close to that will be difficult for the Rangers to get on their books considering the large contracts they are paying Artemi Panarin ($11.5 million AAV), Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million cap hit next year), and Jacob Trouba ($8 million AAV).
To make room for a potential Kreider contract, the Rangers would have to part ways with other promising players like defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and Brady Skjei along with forward Pavel Buchnevich.
DeAngelo is a restricted free agent this offseason and will be in line for a considerable raise given the breakout year that he’s having with 13 goals and 29 assists in 55 games.
Buchnevich is owed $3 million next season while Skjei carries a $5.2 million cap hit in each of the next four years.
Management’s job would become much easier, however, if they could find a way to get Lundqvist’s contract off the books.
The Rangers legend has a no-trade clause that he hasn’t had any intention of waiving in recent years, but the arrival of Igor Shesterkin has created a precarious three-goalie juggling system that also features Alexandar Georgiev.
With Lundqvist’s better days far behind him, he would be the logical choice to be shown the door to make enough room for Kreider.