Four potential trade destinations for Rangers winger Chris Kreider

Chris Kreider sets Mika Zibanejad up with a beautiful reverse pass that fools James Reimer and the Carolina Hurricanes to tie the New York Rangers at one.

The first marquee trade chip of the season has already been dealt.

With elite winger Taylor Hall shipped from New Jersey to Arizona in mid-December, the trade market has officially opened. And as is often the case with big-ticket deals, the fallout is just as important as the initial move.

So, after a few minor moves on Thursday adding to the intrigue, who’s up next?

The biggest name appears to be Chris Kreider, the big-bodied, smooth-skating winger who’s been in Rangers colours for the past eight seasons. An unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, Kreider finds himself in nearly the exact same position as former teammates Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello — both important players with lengthy Rangers tenures under their belts, and both players who were traded away by New York in the final seasons of their deals when it appeared an extension wasn’t in the cards.

After breaking the bank to sign all-world winger Artemi Panarin — inking the Russian phenom to a monster seven-year, $81.5-million deal last summer — there’s a fair chance the Rangers won’t be able to afford the raise that’s certainly coming Kreider’s way. The 28-year-old carries a cap hit of just $4.625 million at the moment, but as a four-time 20-goal-scorer who approached 30 just last season, and who has enough size to see his game hold up when the league shifts into playoff mode, that price tag is sure to rise.

At the moment, it’s unclear whether the Rangers will deal Kreider or work towards an extension. But if they opt for the former, the list of suitors is sure to be lengthy, with Kreider’s low cap hit making him a prime deadline addition candidate for contenders around the game.

“All the contenders from Colorado to Boston to St. Louis to Pittsburgh are all believed to be interested in [Kreider],” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said during the Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “Teams don’t believe, right now, the Rangers have made him available, but they are waiting to see if they decide they can’t keep him, and they want to trade him, there is a ton of interest.”

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It’s tough to pin down a team that wouldn’t find use for Kreider’s services. Could the Calgary Flames be interested? A move Thursday to ship veteran Michael Frolik out of town freed up just enough cap space to fit Kreider into the picture. What about Edmonton, whose need for help on the wings is well-established? Or Montreal, who’s long been searching for an offensive boost?

Kreider will have some say in the matter, with the winger reportedly holding the cards with a modified no-trade clause allowing him to select an 11-team no-trade list, per CapFriendly.

That being the case, let’s focus on the four contenders said to be interested, who we can assume Kreider likely wouldn’t take issue with joining.

Before we do that, what might Kreider fetch in any of these potential deals? There’s some precedent to draw from in the two similar deals the Rangers made at recent deadlines.

For Hayes, New York received depth forward Brendan Lemieux, a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick. For Zuccarello, it was a conditional second-round pick and a conditional third-round pick. Hayes was two years younger than Kreider at the time of his trade, Zuccarello was three years older. So let’s assume Kreider falls somewhere in that range, perhaps closer to the Hayes-return territory given Kreider’s 28 and plays a post-season-friendly game.

How would he fit with these four contenders?

St. Louis Blues

The Blues’ need for offensive help is well-established, not because they’ve been struggling per se, but because the club has been making due without star winger Vladimir Tarasenko since October.

A late-career resurgence from veteran David Perron has kept the Blues’ offence on track thus far, but relying on that production to continue all year and into the post-season is a gamble. Throwing Kreider into the mix would only solidify the club’s hopes at repeating as Stanley Cup champs.

A top-line spot alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Perron seems open for the taking, which could bump some other names down the lineup to improve the club’s overall depth. More importantly, Kreider’s hard-nosed style seems a great potential fit with the identity the Blues have established over the past year and a half.

Given Tarasenko’s long-term absence — he’s out at least five months after shoulder surgery — the club has the cap space to add Kreider into the mix right now, too, with roughly $4.9 million in space, according to CapFriendly.

That said, GM Doug Armstrong hasn’t historically been too aggressive a buyer at the deadline in the past. And while a boost would be great, the fact that the Blues currently sit first in the west and third overall league-wide with their current group likely means he won’t be rushing to sell off futures to improve an already dominant squad.

Boston Bruins

Like the Blues, the potential fit here seems perfect in terms of the style both Kreider and the Bruins play.

Boston’s biggest need up to this point has been filling out the forward corps below their monstrous top line. David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are a threat for serious damage every time they step on the ice, but the downfall of loading up their best offensive assets on one line is underwhelming returns when the the other three lines head over the boards.

Kreider — a Boxford, Mass., native — could slot in on the second line alongside David Krejci and Charlie Coyle, giving the Bruins a more solid one-two punch. That would also bump young Jake DeBrusk down to the third line for a depth boost to the bottom six.

But another perhaps more intriguing option his addition would open up is splitting up The Perfection Line, even simply temporarily at certain points in games, to boost the top six as a whole — a top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Coyle followed up by a Kreider-Krejci-Pastrnak trio could make the already-impressive Bruins offence near unstoppable.

But fitting in Kreider would be a tougher move for Boston given they’d have to clear room for him — the club currently has under two million in cap space to work with, meaning a roster player would have to move. So, the big question for GM Don Sweeney: who’s worth shipping out for a few months’ worth of offensive help, for a team that just went to the Final?

Pittsburgh Penguins

At this point, the Penguins are likely just looking for anyone who can hold a stick and stay in games.

The club’s been devastated by injuries this season, the most significant being the long-term loss of Sidney Crosby, and the most recent being the season-ending injury to star winger Jake Guentzel. With the most durable scorer on last year’s roster, Phil Kessel, now a Coyote, the Penguins find themselves in need of some help up front.

Kreider would be the clear choice — the Penguins have managed to survive and hold on to a playoff spot through all their injuries, but the recent loss of Guentzel leaves Alex Galchenyuk (who hasn’t impressed so far in Penguins colours) and Dominik Simon as the top-six left-wing options.

The former Ranger, a bona fide top-six talent, could slot in alongside Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust to solidify the top line, bumping Galchenyuk down as a serviceable second-liner. Or Kreider could line up opposite Patric Hornqvist, on Jared McCann’s wing, to form a hard-nosed second unit behind the Malkin trio.

But like Boston, Pittsburgh has only around $2 million in cap space at the moment, meaning a roster player would have to move to make room for Kreider. The question is who — given the rash of injuries up front and on the back end, the Penguins can’t afford to lose anyone else of consequence, so weighing the value of Kreider’s offensive potential offensive contributions vs. what would be lost will be GM Jim Rutherford’s central conundrum.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are going to be the most interesting name involved in any rental player discussion, all because of their current financial setup.

As of this moment, GM Joe Sakic sits with more than $13 million in cap space, enough to sign Kreider and another impact player to a group that already has a dominant top line, some decent depth, and some talent on the back end.

Colorado added some interesting names to the mix recently in Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi, with those two joining a forward corps led by Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, all of whom have game-breaking ability.

Like Boston, the Avalanche’s main criticism has been their top-loaded offence, with those latter three names all lining up one line. Adding Kreider to the second trio alongside Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin could be a step towards spreading out the scoring, moving talented veteran Matt Calvert to the bottom six.

Or, as was the case with the Bruins, it could open up the option to spread that top-line talent throughout the top six.

How the rest of the Avalanche’s season shakes out will be one of the most interesting storylines of 2019-20’s latter half, and their potential to dabble in the trade market could be league-altering.

The current group’s already lifted the team to second-best in the west, and among all other contenders they seem the best set up to stockpile even more talent before the playoffs arrive.

Kreider would be a good place to start, providing a considerable boost to Colorado’s scoring depth while leaving Sakic enough space to make more impact moves.

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