Chris Kreider
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The Chris Kreider conundrum isn’t that complicated. The New York Rangers need to extend him, as it would be foolish not to.

Since the start of the New York Rangers 2019-20 campaign, It’s been a foregone conclusion that Chris Kreider would be dealt before the Feb. 24 NHL Trade Deadline. It didn’t seem to make sense for the Blueshirts to give Kreider — who will turn 29 in two months — the massive extension that he’s earned.

Now, just over a week away from the deadline, that is no longer the case.

After a disappointing start to the season, the former first-round pick has turned things around in a big way. Kreider had just 13 points through the Blueshirts’ first 28 contests. In the 28 games since then, he’s tallied 29 points. If Kreider keeps scoring at this rate, he’ll end the season with a career-high 34 goals and 62 points.

By producing at such a high level, the Massachusetts native has put the Rangers in an even more difficult spot. Kreider has solidified his spot atop the list of available rental players and has elevated his high trade value while proving his worth to the Blueshirts.

Nonetheless, Kreider has inflated the value of his future contract. So should Jeff Gorton pony up and find a way to keep Kreider on Broadway for the next six or seven years?

The answer is yes.

Sure, the Rangers could fetch a first-round pick and a legitimate prospect in exchange for their sniper. But Kreider wants to stay in New York and is invaluable to this team in so many ways. He is essentially irreplaceable, so the answer is simple — keep him.

With lots of youth in the system along with Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Jacob Trouba all in the prime of their careers, it’s time for the Blueshirts to shift their focus away from adding young assets and refocus on winning the Stanley Cup.

The groundwork is already in place. Now it’s time to add to the foundation that has been established.

As crazy as it sounds, New York’s window to achieve is probably going to be over the next five years or so. While they’ve been plagued by inconsistency this season, the Rangers are not that far away from being contenders again. In fact, if the Blueshirts were part of the Western Conference, they would currently be sitting in a playoff spot.

For these reasons, it makes no sense for Kreider to be traded. The winger is in his prime and is one of the Rangers’ core foundational pieces. His net-front presence, his goal-scoring prowess, and his leadership would leave behind a huge void if he were to be dealt.

Without Kreider, it’s hard to picture New York hoisting the Stanley Cup in the next five years. This begs the question: Will the first-round pick and prospect that the Blueshirts are hypothetically acquiring in this trade soon help them to regain contender status?

It’s possible. But it can take a long time for youngsters to adjust to the NHL, so only time will tell.  The Rangers know what they have in Kreider. He’s an experienced leader, a 20-30 goal scorer, and an impactful player. He can take over any game with his speed and physicality.

The only hard part about signing Kreider will be the money. The 28-year-old will likely be asking for something along the lines of a seven-year, $49 million contract. In the end, if a deal is done, it may be for six or seven years. It could additionally hold an annual average value of between $6.5-7 million.

While there’s no denying that this would be a hefty price for the Blueshirts that could come back to haunt them later on, it will all be worth it if they can bring the Stanley Cup back to Broadway.

Artemi Panarin, The Bread Man T-Shirt

Additionally, re-signing Kreider would force the Rangers to make some other moves to clear cap space. This may mean that pending restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, or Alexandar Georgiev could be dealt. Nevertheless, I don’t think that will be the case. Instead, I think the Rangers will look to trade Brady Skjei and possibly even move on from Henrik Lundqvist.

The good news for the Blueshirts is that the salary-cap crunch won’t be a problem for long, as the contracts of Lundqvist, Marc Staal, and Brendan Smith all come off the books after the 2020-21 campaign. This will give the Rangers plenty of flexibility moving forward.

At the end of the day, keeping Kreider is a necessity. Aside from the impact this will have on New York’s long-term future, it would be smart to retain the lifelong Blueshirt even simply for the sake of the team’s morale. Management can’t afford to force the players to abandon their playoff aspirations and endure a third straight trade deadline sell-off. It will ruin the culture.

It’s time for Gorton and John Davidson to go out and show the world that the rebuild is over. With tons of high-end prospects and draft picks in place, it’s time for the Rangers to build around the core that they’ve put together.

What better way to do this than by signing the heart and soul of the team to a long-term extension?

It won’t be easy, but the Blueshirts must find a way to complete this task.

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