We all hoped it wouldn’t happen but knew it was coming — watching Artemi Panarin exchange his Columbus Blue Jackets jersey for a New York Rangers one dealt a blow to the team’s offensive line, and to fan morale in general.
In his two-year, 160 game tenure with the Jackets, Panarin proved to be a dynamic difference-maker every time he hit the ice. Losing him stings, but the blow could be lessened if the Jackets could acquire NYR forward Chris Kreider, whose time with the Rangers is speculated to be nearing an end.
Kreider, a first-round 2009 draft pick and long-time Rangers veteran, would bring speed, size, strength and skill to the Jackets’ offense. After recovering from a blood clot in his arm that limited him to 58 games in the 2017-2018 season, Kreider bounced back to tie his career-high of 28 goals in 2018-2019 over 79 games played. He’s a seasoned player without being past his prime, so this would be a good time for a team in need of some restructuring to roster him.
With one year remaining in his contract, the Rangers could start shopping Kreider in order to open up cap space. They have $7M in space available but still need to sign RFAs Jacob Trouba and Pavel Buchnevich. Moving Kreider frees up $4.625M of space and also creates an opportunity for young wingers Buchnevich, Vitali Kravstov, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko.
This could be a prime acquisition for the Blue Jackets, who are looking to fill a Panarin-sized void. Kreider doesn’t become a free agent until 2020, so an immediate trade deal would have to be tantalizing — for example, a 2020 first-round pick, Trey Fix-Wolansky, and Sonny Milano (just to get him out of Columbus) — and it would be necessary, considering the Jackets don’t have many other vital pieces they can afford to lose right now.
Also worth considering, unfortunately, is that Kreider will be in high demand — the Blue Jackets aren’t the only ones who are sorely in need of a refreshed offense. The St. Louis Blues muscled their way past the notoriously physical Boston Bruins with a handful of forwards who closely resembled Kreider’s physicality and style of play, and several teams could be looking to emulate that.
Fortunately, the Jackets have money to spend and nothing to lose as they rebuild their team to match potential they reached in their latest playoff run.