You'd have to say that the New York Rangers front office has had a very productive past 24 hours. First they avoided arbitration with Mats Zuccarello, agreeing to terms on a new contract last night, then they went down to the wire but again avoided an arbitration hearing with Chris Kreider this morning by again finalizing a new contract.
That's two of the team's projected Top-Six forwards back in the fold. And even though the arbitration process guaranteed that both Zuccarello and Kreider would have been Rangers in 2014-15 -- unless the team had walked away from the arbiter's ruling, which, of course, was extremely unlikely -- avoiding arbitration was clearly a win-win for both the team and the players.
The Rangers have not stepped into an actual arbitration hearing since 2009, and that's a good thing. As much as both sides can say "It's just business", there's something about the face-to-face arbitration hearing that quite often ruffles feathers and causes some ill will. Working together on an agreement beforehand benefits both sides, and certainly is the case here with both Zuccarello and Kreider, two of the most important players on the Rangers' roster heading into next season.
Zucc has established himself as a legitimate consistent offensive threat at the National Hockey League level. After several stops and starts to his NHL career the previous three years after arriving from overseas, Zuccarello was given the chance to be a regular contributor last season by new head coach Alain Vigneault. After a slow start, the popular Norwegian went on to lead the Rangers in scoring with 59 points, establishing career-highs in every offensive category.
Just as importantly, Zuccarello played nightly with grit and fire and passion. His tenacious style not only helps make him be a fan favorite and winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, but it earns him boatloads of respect within his own dressing room.
Like Zuccarello, Kreider is a young player who emerged last season under Vigneault. Zuccarello will be just 27 years old this upcoming season while Kreider will be 23. They are both rising stars whose best is still in front of them, and will be centerpieces for the Rangers moving forward.
Unlike Zuccarello, Kreider was a first-round draft pick and had more inherent expectations from the organization, and really from the entire hockey world, upon turning pro. Where Kreider is a physical specimen at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds -- and possibly still growing -- who can skate like the wind and muscle even the strongest opponents off the puck, Zucc is 5-foot-7 and has to battle NHL stereotypes at every turn. Yet Kreider also had his ups and downs before finding success last season.
After bursting on the scene with five goals during the 2012 playoffs, Kreider appeared in only 23 NHL games and found the back of the net only twice in an uneven 2012-13 campaign. Then he failed to make the openingnight roster under Vigneault last fall. However, not dissimilar to Zuccarello, Kreider stared down his early adversity and produced a 17-goal, 37-point season over 66 games, one of the top offensive seasons for NHL rookies in 2013-14.
If there was any doubt how important Kreider has become to the Rangers -- he had ascended to top line duty alongside Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, of course -- just see how much he was missed while injured the first ten games of the playoffs last spring, and what a boost he provided upon returning to the lineup.
One of the things to love about Chris Kreider is his ability to come up big in big games. He has done it at the international level while representing the United States, in college at BC, and in the post-season with the Rangers.
Yes, there are aspects of his game that need to improve -- his defensive-zone play and penchant for taking questionable penalties come to mind -- but Kreider has star written all over him. It is fair to expect 20+ goals from Kreider this season, just as it is fair to expect even more production from Zuccarello coming off his career year.
That the Rangers were able to settle with both of these players over the past 24 hours is just plain good business.
Now, next man up: Derick Brassard.