Assuming Alain Vigneault can continue to improve Kreider’s defense, Kreider’s contract should immediately become a bargain. The big, skilled forward has the potential to explode this coming season. He is now firmly established in the NHL, will have another camp under his belt, will be coming off a solid playoff season and will also want to prove that he was worth that $2.9 million he was demanding prior to agreeing with Glen Sather earlier this week.
Kreider is still all about potential and –while still slightly raw– he has 30-40 goal potential. Given his likely line mates (Stepan and Nash) and his talent, there’s no reason why he can’t hit 30 goals this coming season. In fact 30 is a number many fans will expect (albeit unfairly expect) from Kreider given his development over the past year. Twenty-One players scored 30 or more goals during the last regular season, and only Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets (33 goals, on his entry level contract) earned less than $3 million.
For the next two years Kreider should be a bargain, but it doesn’t bear thinking about how expensive he will be after that, should everything go according to plan. For now, Kreider’s deal is a great result for the Rangers. Given the state of the forward unit (an aging St Louis, Nash’s uncertain future and the contract uncertainty up front – Hagelin, Zuccarello, Stepan) Kreider could quickly develop into an offensive leader. No real negatives can be drawn from the Kreider deal at this stage.
It’s Zuccarello’s situation that provides more concern for the Rangers. Yes, he has shown tremendous desire to be a Ranger to this point, yes both sides continue to work on a longer term deal and yes, Zuccarello earned his raise. That said, with little bargaining power, Zuccarello more than tripled his salary without having to sign up to any significant term and has the chance to absolutely cash in next summer – perhaps to the point where he cannot be retained by the Rangers.
Think of some of the recent contracts thrown around the NHL. Then imagine if Zuccarello merely matches his output from the ’13/14 season and heads into free agency on the back of consecutive 50-60 point regular seasons, a solid playoff career to date, and all that at 27 years of age. He would easily command around $6 million and 6 years on the open market. Those numbers would surely be too much for the Rangers to embrace.
If you’re Zuccarello and you approach January (when he would be able to sign an extension with the Rangers) what motivation would you have to sign up to a new deal before hearing what the rest of the league can offer just a few months later?
Loyalty only goes so far. We saw from Ryan Callahan that differences over money and term can split up even the best marriages. Zuccarello has less ties to the Rangers than Callahan ever had. For the short term, although a big raise, Zuccarello is a relative bargain – even at $3.5 million – and all Ranger fans hope he continues his ascension to becoming a key Ranger. But assuming he does, the likelihood of a long term tenure in New York becomes less likely. A double edged sword if ever there was one.