Rangers’ Chris Kreider focusing on present — not trade deadline

ST. LOUIS — Chris Kreider is an old soul.

The Rangers winger does newspaper crossword puzzles and plays cards on the team plane. He is a student of languages, fluent in Russian and Spanish (and working on more). He happily has no social media presence and has been uncomfortable in the spotlight since the moment he arrived on Broadway fresh off a national championship at Boston College in the spring of 2012.

So it is not lip service when the 28-year-old has said throughout this final year of his contract that he is not focused on what might happen to him before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. He has repeated that sentiment ad nauseam over the course of his first NHL All-Star weekend, where he replaced the injured Artemi Panarin and lost with his Metropolitan Division brethren in the first round in the 3-on-3 tournament, 9-5 to the Atlantic Division, on Saturday night.

“It really doesn’t [cross my mind], and I know people probably roll their eyes when I say that, but I’m really trying to focus on things — I’m not trying, I am focusing on the things I can control,” Kreider told The Post. “That’s trying to get better personally, every day; trying to help our team, every day; and trying to win hockey games. When we’ve been winning games recently, it’s been fun.”

The Rangers haven’t done much winning in the past two years. This will be the third trade deadline since the rebuilding began in earnest in February 2018. Kreider has watched as veteran teammates leave in exchange for future assets. The Rangers haven’t made the playoffs the past two years, and are on the periphery yet again despite some improvement in their play leading in to this nine-day break, All-Star weekend followed by the team’s bye week.

Rangers All-Star Chris Kreider said he's focusing on the present and not whether he will be traded before the trade deadline.
Rangers All-Star Chris Kreider said he’s focusing on the present and not whether he will be traded before the trade deadline.NHLI via Getty Images

Kreider is arguably the best available forward on the rental market, and the contract he would demand as an unrestricted free agent this summer might be too rich for the Blueshirts’ blood. So they have to consider trading him, just as much as they have to consider what losing a team leader like him would do to this young club. And just as much as they have to consider if it’s possible to fit him into their plans under the squeeze of the salary cap.

How can all of that not be going through his head, at least a little?

“I don’t have social media. I don’t watch [NHL Network]. I’ll watch games, but I watch games on mute,” he said. “Not disparaging our beat writers, but I don’t read what you guys write.”

Kreider said he was encouraged to try social media at one point, but then he had a “come-to-Jesus moment.” He was lucky enough to play for Team USA in the 2010 World Championships as an 18-year-old, and remembered after the game a bucket of beer in the middle of the room, and all the players talking and bonding.

“That’s why you play,” he said. “To hang out with the team.”

He then went back in 2018, and he said “everyone is sitting in their dry stall immediately after the game, and the bucket of beer is untouched. Every guy is going like this [scrolling through their phone]. I just think people waste so much time on it.”

Instead, Kreider spends his time focusing on his craft, and focusing on his teammates. And that means not focusing on the trade deadline.

“I go to the rink, I work hard. It’s something that’s in the future,” he said. “I’m not worried about the past, I’m not worried about the future. I’m worried about what I can do on a day-to-day basis, because I want to keep on getting better, I want to keep on helping our team.

“To me, that’s fulfilling. That’s fun.”

Kreider is quick to say that the most fun he ever had playing hockey was the 2014 playoff run that ended in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. He remembers it like it was yesterday — remembers the plays and the intensity and the emotion. And he wants it again.

“I want to be a part of that, and I want to be a part of that with this group,” he said. “I believe in this group.”

The group doesn’t have a lot of time once they return from the break to prove to management that it would be best if they stayed together and made a run at the playoffs. The organizational focus is still on turning into perennial contenders in the next year or two, but sometimes the best development is playing meaningful games.

If Kreider is traded, that likely won’t happen. But for now, this old soul hasn’t left.

“I’ve only ever pictured myself in a Rangers jersey,” Kreider said. “So until I’m not a Ranger, I’m a Ranger.”

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