Tick, tick, tick.
As the clock droned on and Sunday afternoon turned to Sunday evening, still with no smoke signal as to the Rangers and Chris Kreider getting any closer to signing a contract extension, it seemed more and more likely the Blueshirts were going to move on from their 28-year-old power forward and find the best trade they could before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
It was always a priority for the Blueshirts to attempt to re-sign Kreider, the club’s first-round pick (No. 19 overall) in 2009, who burst on the scene in the spring of 2012 after a national championship at Boston College and was an integral part of the organization’s fabric for the past eight years.
But the Rangers’ salary-cap situation changed drastically last summer, when they were able to sign free agents Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba for a combined annual salary-cap hit of just under $20 million for the next seven years. That altered the tenor of this rebuild, but it didn’t change the fact that the Rangers wanted Kreider to be a part of it.
Yet business is business, and the two sides that started talking only about a month ago continued to struggle to find a middle ground that worked for both. It was possible things could come together sometime early Monday, but there would have to be a big compromise from one side or the other to make it work.
If general manager Jeff Gorton then goes into Monday with the pursuit of the best trade for Kreider rather than a new deal, it could have an effect on the way he addresses the rest of his many moving pieces. Winger Jesper Fast is set to be an unrestricted free agent, while Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo are set to be restricted free agents with arbitration rights.
There has been interest shown in 25-year-old defenseman Brady Skjei, with four more years left on his deal at $5.25 million per. Same for 24-year-old winger Pavel Buchnevich, with one year at $3.25 million before reaching restricted free agency. Even veteran defenseman Marc Staal, with one more year at $5.7 million and a no-move clause he would have to waive, should garner some phone calls for playoff-bound teams in need of shoring up their blue line.
And this is nothing of the three-goalie carousel which has spun for almost seven weeks now, with living legend Henrik Lundqvist getting relegated to cheerleader while Igor Shesterkin has emerged as his rightful heir apparent and Alex Georgiev wonders if he will share the net again next season or ply his trade elsewhere after reaching restricted free agency this summer.
In the context of all those storylines chasing them all season and intensifying over the past few weeks, the Rangers had somehow been able to claw their way to within four points of the second wild-card spot. Seeing the roster change in such drastic ways would be difficult to overcome, but the club has already dealt with a lot.
“I’m sure it’s going to affect a lot of guys, regardless of whether it’s the deadline or not,” said second-year coach David Quinn after Saturday night’s 3-2 win over the Sharks, his team getting the day off Sunday before returning for what should be a very interesting practice on Monday. “When one of your teammates gets traded, we’re all human beings and there is an emotional reaction to it, and guys are disappointed.”
If Kreider is gone, that is going to deeply affect his center, Mika Zibanejad, in the midst of a career year despite missing a month due to a neck injury. How will it affect Buchnevich, experiencing a resurgence in his game on the right side of that line? And Panarin has been at his best on a line with Strome and Fast — so what happens if that too is broken up?
So many things can happen before the Rangers play again, at the Coliseum for a match against the Islanders on Tuesday night. As time dragged on Sunday, Kreider making that trip seemed more and more unlikely. The rest of the team — and the rest of the season — could end up being materially different.
“Again, this is pro sports,” Quinn said. “That’s the reality of the business that we’re in.”