TARRYTOWN - Nearly four hours before Monday's trade deadline, the New York Rangers shook up the NHL with two major announcements.
The first was shocking. Forward Pavel Buchnevich and rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin were involved in a car accident at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, with Shesterkin sustaining a fractured rib.
The second was that forward Chris Kreider, who has been subject of rampant trade rumors for the last couple months, has agreed to a seven-year contract to remain with the team.
Team president John Davidson said that the car accident was in Brooklyn, with Buchnevich listed as day-to-day and Shesterkin out for at least a couple weeks.
"Igor was driving, and apparently a vehicle pulled a U-turn in front of them and there was a collision," Davidson said. "The air bags were deployed immediately and the seat belts were being worn by both players — and thankfully for that. They were taken to New York Presbyterian to be seen by our physicians.
"Buchnevich was quite shaken up," Davidson added. "No significant injuries, and he’s listed as day-to-day. With Igor, there’s a small upper-body rib fracture. It is non-displaced. He we will be reassessed regarding his injury in a couple of weeks."
'Everything had to fit' for Chris Kreider to stay
Davidson then shifted to "a better note," announcing that Kreider would remain with the team. His contract was set to expire at the end of the season, which led to speculation he would be dealt.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that the deal is for an average annual value of $6.5 million, which is a slight discount from the $7 million per season Kreider was expected to command.
"Both sides worked hard at this," Davidson said. "(General manager) Jeff Gorton and Matt Keator (Kreider’s agent), along with Chris and the rest of us. There was lots of dialogue. It's gone on for a few days, and both sides are very happy with the deal we've been able to put together."
Gorton indicated he had feelers out with several teams in case the contract talks with Kreider dissolved.
It had been rumored that the minimum the Rangers would receive in a deal for the 28-year-old would be a first-round pick and a high-end prospect.
"There’s always doubt with a negotiation with a deadline coming right behind it," Gorton said. "We were talking for a long time here in the last couple weeks. Thankfully, we were able to get it done. But yeah, for sure, we had to talk to some teams and go through some scenarios. ‘If this doesn’t happen, are we ready for that?’ So yeah, there was obviously the possibility that he might have to be traded."
But with Kreider having arguably his best season with 24 goals and 21 assists through 60 games — which puts him on pace to eclipse his previous career-high of 53 points from 2016-17 — it became increasingly important in Davidson and Gorton's eyes to keep him.
"It's obvious what he brings on and off the ice to our team," Gorton said. "When you look what he's doing — his emergence — we feel like he's still getting better. And the fact that his size, the skating, his scoring ability, this combination he has with Mika (Zibanejad), his power-play ability. When you add it all up, it's a player we've had in the organization for a long time and we've watched the strides he’s been making."
Davidson called Kreider, who's a notoriously hard-worker, "a very well-conditioned athlete," which gave them the confidence to give him a contract that takes him through his age-35 season.
He also mentioned his value as leader in a very young locker room.
"Everything had to fit," Davidson said. "When you do the pluses and minuses, the pluses certainly outweigh the minuses."
Rangers send Skjei to the Carolina Hurricanes for a first-round pick
The New York Rangers capped a busy day with a surprising final trade involving a player they once viewed as a major part of their future.
General manager Jeff Gorton confirmed Monday from the MSG Training Center that the team sent defenseman Brady Skjei to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a first-round pick.
"Trading Brady Skjei is difficult," Gorton said. "He’s a special guy, he’s a good person, he’s a good player, he’s been a good Ranger and we wish him nothing but the best. It’s just a move that we thought we had to make."
The 25-year-old former first-round pick of the Rangers signed a six-year, $31.5 million deal in 2018. It's unclear if the Rangers will retain any of his salary, but if they don't, moving Skjei offloads an average annual value of $5.25 million for the next four seasons.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reported that the Hurricanes will have the option of which first-round pick to send the Rangers. They own the rights to their own, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs. LeBrun also reported that Carolina created room for Skjei by using the long-term injured reserve. According to CapFriendly, they entered the day with just $593,004 in salary cap space.
Skjei will leave a void on the top pair next to Jacob Trouba, a longtime friend of Skjei's who was acquired during offseason. But Skjei's inconsistencies have cast doubt on whether he was the long-term answer on the top pairing.
He's never matched the 39 points and 50.6% Corsi he posted as a rookie in 2016-17. He had posted 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists) with a 46.3% Corsi through 60 games this season.
To fill Skjei's spot on the defense, Gorton said the Rangers would likely use veteran Brendan Smith in the "short-term."
They have other options, though, with left-handed defensemen arguably their deepest position. Libor Hájek and Yegor Rykov are both playing for AHL Hartford, with Hájek having already played 28 games with the Rangers this season.
Further down the pipeline, they have 2019 second-round pick Matthew Robertson signed to an entry-level contract and 2018 first-round K'Andre Miller in the mix to sign this offseason. The list goes on, including Tarmo Reunanen, Zac Jones and Nico Gross.
"We looked at everything — organizational depth, where we're strong, who are the players we have coming, the opportunity," Gorton said. "We spent a lot of time talking to our scouts and it’s going to be a strong draft. We just felt like the position we're in, to add another first-round pick, to have some flexibility with the cap — when you add it all up, we just felt it was the right move."
The Rangers announced earlier Monday that they had extended forward Chris Kreider for an AAV of $6.5 million, and with a handful of key restricted free agents due for raises this summer, the Skjei trade frees up needed salary cap space