What last year’s NHL rental market tells us about Chris Kreider’s value

Chris Johnston joined Writers Bloc to talk about the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline, what goes into teams deciding to be buyers or sellers, and why the uncertainty of some teams' situations could impact how many trades are made at the deadline.

Chris Kreider is the best rental player available on the trade market and there are certainly teams that would love to bring in a top-six winger. However, how realistic is it to expect that the New York Rangers will be able to get an unconditional first-round pick (plus) for him?

Let’s just say that would be the more surprising outcome than if he went for a second and a third.

League parity has changed the way teams think. If you’re going to move a first-round pick (or a first-rounder plus) for a player, why not target someone with an extra year or two on their deals and take multiple shots? And if that can’t be accomplished in-season, wait to do your business in the summer when the market is more active.

The further we progress into this Age Of Parity — which accentuates asset management — the less willing teams are to move prime pieces (see: First-round picks) for short-term help.

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In 2018 six first-rounders were moved during trade season, but just two for rental players: The Winnipeg Jets getting Paul Stastny and the Boston Bruins getting Rick Nash — a regrettable move.

Last year, two first-rounders were, again, moved for a rental piece — both centres.

Here’s how the entire rental market shook out in 2019:

Brian Boyle, C Nashville 2nd-rounder New Jersey
Carl Hagelin, LW Washington 3rd-rounder Los Angeles
Matt Duchene (and Julius Bergman) Columbus Vitali Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, 1st-rounder Ottawa
Ryan Dzingel (and a 7th-rounder) Columbus Anthony Duclair, two 2nd-rounders Ottawa
Mats Zuccarello Dallas conditional 2nd- and 3rd-rounders NY Rangers
Gustav Nyquist San Jose 2nd-rounder Detroit
Kevin Hayes Winnipeg Brendan Lemieux, 1st-rounder NY Rangers
Wayne Simmonds Nashville Ryan Hartman, conditional 4th-rounder Philadelphia
Marcus Johansson Boston 2nd-rounder and 4th-rounder New Jersey

Ahead of the 2017 trade deadline, Jonathan Willis did a breakdown for Sportsnet to gauge the rental market and, generally, the price of acquisition hasn’t changed too much. Centres hold their value and a top-six rental at the position can be expected to return a first-rounder. That was still true in 2019.

But wingers? They’re a bit different.

Star, top-line wingers will likely still bring back a first-rounder plus — and we saw that again this year in the Taylor Hall trade.

When you look at the remainder of the 2020 rental market, though, none of the wingers rise to Hall’s level. If the Rangers don’t re-sign Kreider (and they’re not currently negotiating) fans certainly hope that he can bring back a first-rounder to add to their rebuild. After all, he’s the best rental available, is a 30-goal, 50-point threat, skates well and plays a heavy game that lends itself to the playoffs.

Here’s the thing about Kreider, though: the Rangers weren’t able to get a first-rounder for Mats Zuccarello last season and he had more points at that time than Kreider does now, and the two had similar production (for the same team!) in the two previous years as well.

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A bidding war could inflate Kreider’s value. But since this is shaping up to be a buyer’s market just like last year, why wouldn’t a team instead target a rental like Craig Smith or Tyler Toffoli for a lesser price than pay up for Kreider? Or, why not instead use top assets to chase a winger with term, such as Tomas Tatar or Jason Zucker?

Mark Stone was in the final year of his contract last year, but signed a long-term extension immediately after getting traded to the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s one of the best wingers in the league, too, but the Ottawa Senators couldn’t even pry loose a first-rounder for him — though they did get first-round prospect Erik Brannstrom as the main piece headed back their way in return.

In fact, there may not be a first-rounder traded for any rental at this year’s deadline at all. In large part, that’s because there’s a dearth of centre talent available as well. Third-line penalty-killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau represents the best rental at that position right now, but his expected value tops out at a second-round pick.

So while Kreider still represents the best available rental, the whole market is a little soft less than a month from the deadline. Outside of a highly motivated buyer getting entangled in a bidding war, it seems the only other way Kreider could return a first is on the condition he re-signs with whatever team trades for him.

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