MONTREAL — Chris Kreider is terrific at what he calls “compartmentalizing.”
So it rings true that he never really allowed himself to be distracted by the status of his contract negotiation, or the large possibility that the Rangers were going to trade him before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline. His focus was rewarded when the 28-year-old winger signed a seven-year, $45.5 million deal, the $6.5 million annual salary-cap hit keeping him on Broadway as the club moves forward with their rebuild.
“It’s a thrill, really,” Kreider said before Thursday night’s game here against the Canadiens, his first comments since signing the contract after dealing with an illness at a very inopportune time. “This is the only team I have ever known, this is the only place I’ve really wanted to play; an organization, front office, and team that gave me an opportunity to live out my dream to play in the NHL.
“I’m just incredibly happy, and going to try to win games with this group.”
Kreider will be 29 years old when the contract starts and 36 when it ends, which is a big commitment from management. The negotiation came down to the wire, with the deal not being announced until Monday morning. But Kreider did his best to not have it distract him.
“I wasn’t just saying that, it really didn’t,” he said. “It got tough in the final few days when they actually started talking. Obviously you start thinking about it a little bit. But we had a big stretch of games, a big stretch of important games, so we were just trying to win.”
Kreider would have been the No. 1 commodity on the trade market, and surely there were suitors lining up — including the Avalanche, Hurricanes, Islanders, and even his hometown Bruins. But projecting himself in another uniform making a push for the Stanley Cup this season and then hitting the free agent market was not something that Kreider ever allowed himself to do.
“It’s kind of a fruitless exercise, especially considering the position we’re in,” said Kreider, whose team has won eight of the past nine and head into Thursday night just four points out of the second wild-card spot. “Maybe the position we’re in helped me and helped my mental makeup and made it pretty much impossible to look at anything else. We’ve been in the thick of things, we’ve been in the trenches for a long time.”
It also helps that Kreider doesn’t have social media, and doesn’t read the news other than checking NHL scores. (When he watches other NHL games, he normally has them on mute.) He has been a mentor to a lot of the players on the youngest team in the league, and coach David Quinn was especially happy Kreider didn’t leave.
“Great move for us,” Quinn said. “A guy that takes incredible care of himself, and he means so much to us, on and off the ice. We’re just very glad it worked out.”
Signing Kreider did not change the Rangers’ focus on the future, just as it didn’t change with the offseason signings of Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba for a combined annual salary-cap hit of just under $20 million over seven years. This little postseason push is a nice extra, while next year and the few years after that are when expectations will rise — and Kreider will be there to help try to bring the goals to fruition.
“I think as players, looking at the big picture is something that we can not really worry about,” Kreider said. “If you can’t compartmentalize as a professional, you’re going to have issues. So you need to take things one day at a time, and look at the challenge you have in front of you.”
Now with the challenge of his new contract behind him, Kreider didn’t have to think about playing anywhere else — not that he ever really did.
“I’ve always wanted to be here,” Kreider said. “This is the team that believed in me and took a chance on me when I was a 17-, 18-year-old kid and wasn’t a very good hockey player. I’m not saying that I am now, and I have plenty of room to grow. But I believe in management, I believe in coaches, and I believe in the group we have here. I think everyone else believes in each other, too.”