Chris Kreider
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Chris Kreider and the New York Rangers appear to be heading to a February trade-deadline showdown, as the distance feels drastic. 

Frank Curto

New York Rangers veteran Chris Kreider is in the same spot he was in when last season ended. The beloved power forward is an unrestricted free agent to be with no deal in sight.

Kreider’s current contract was signed in July 2016. The four-year deal was for $18.5 million with an AAV of $4.625 million.

This story sounds familiar … and it should.

A year ago, the team was in this exact spot with Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. Due to the team’s rebuild status, they waited until the end of the trade deadline before moving both players. All season, the team suffered through the rumors surrounding if and where these two places would be heading to.

In the end, Zucc headed to Dallas and Hayes was shipped to Winnipeg.

Today, the team is in much better shape, though still very young and inexperienced. Kreider is the leader and the mentor the Rangers players need, but neither his management team nor his hockey team seems to be able to iron things out.

General manager Jeff Gorton appears content to let things ride out as they are for now. Speaking to Colin Stephenson of Newsday about a possible contract extension, Gorton laid it out bluntly.

“No, right now, I haven’t talked to Chris or (agent) Matt Keator lately,” Gorton admitted. “You know, we have some conversations over the summer, but right now, we’re just to let him play hockey and we’ll let those things work themselves out.”

“Work themselves out” is the troubling part. The longer this lingers, the more distracting it becomes. The conversation turns to possible transactions instead of potential victories.

The longer the Rangers wait, the harder it becomes to re-sign the right-winger.

The Hayes deal with the Philadelphia Flyers has a huge impact on what may transpire between the two sides. A fan of Hayes or not, his seven-year, $50 million deal dictates what Kreider’s management team will be asking for.

The Rangers need to attack the situation now and work out a contract that makes both sides feel like they achieved what they are looking for.

The knock on Kreider is inconsistency. He tends to go stretches of games where he doesn’t record a point and becomes a non-factor in the final outcome of a game. Often, he plays off of the puck too much, which most recognize is not his style of hockey.

The pros of keeping him are straightforward. When C.K. is on his game, the true grit of what a Ranger should be is contagious. Fast skating, plenty of scoring opportunities and massive hitting is what makes Kreider a fan favorite.

His ability to take over a hockey game can be mind-blowing at times. He fits in perfectly with the mixture of youth and veterans on this team.

The rugged forward suffered a near career-ending situation when he blood clots formed in his right arm. Surgery was required to resolve the problem and allowed his return to the ice towards the end of that season in 2018.

Kreider is set to start the season on a line centered by Ryan Strome along with Kaapo Kakko, a line that should manufacture plenty of points. Those same points could put Kreider on a track out of New York.

This team needs Chris Kreider. He still has so much to offer the club. The club allowed other players to be moved, and for the most part, most of those deals worked out for all involved.

The Rangers need to get Kreider locked in on a long-term deal and they need to do it in a timely fashion to keep the conversation on the team, not on a single player.

What the team doesn’t need is another chapter of, “Should he stay or should he go?”

At all costs, the Rangers must avoid the trade deadline “scratch” as an eminent trade lingers to avoid an injury. This message has been sent in previous years with negative progress.

When all is said and done, the name on the front of the jersey is much more important than the name that’s on the back.

Yet the Kreider name on top of the familiar No. 20 is something that is important to all Ranger fans and the team itself.

Follow Frank on TWITTER

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU