Chris Kreider watched teammates Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes handle all the speculation before getting traded a year ago and saw others do the same in previous seasons.
With the New York Rangers still in the process of transitioning to contender status, it is Kreider’s turn, and he’s dealing with it his way.
“I think I'd be disingenuous to try to embody how someone else went about this situation, so I'm just trying to be myself every day,” Kreider said. “I feel like my name's been out there for the last seven years. It's just the nature of the beast.”
Kreider may be bracing for a trade that seems inevitable. The NHL standings suggest the Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings are clear sellers ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
While Kreider is the biggest name likely on the move, there is no shortage of talent available. New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen and Wayne Simmonds, Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ron Hainsey, Detroit’s Mike Green and Trevor Daley, and Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli and Trevor Lewis are all pending free agents.
There is also Senators forward Anthony Duclair who can be a restricted free agent, and Kings defenseman Alec Martinez is drawing interest with a year left on his contract. The Kings have already traded goaltender Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford to Toronto and made no secret they are open for business.
“We all signed up for the plan,” first-year Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “We know where we're going with the team and what we want to do with it. So, none of this approach to the deadline has been a shocker to us as a coaching staff.”
Duclair was traded three times his first five NHL seasons, so his approach hasn’t changed despite being in the midst of an impressive comeback year.
“I’ve been through it for a couple of years in a row now,” Duclair said. “I just try to focus on the team and I just try to win, help the team win as many games as possible and we’ll go from there.”
A Massachusetts native who played at Boston College, Kreider has been linked to the Bruins and the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, who have more than stayed afloat amid significant forward injuries.
He said last month at All-Star weekend that the Rangers winning games would go a long way to keeping the group together. Despite five victories in seven games after the break, New York is still nine points back of a playoff position and Kreider is almost certainly gone unless he signs an extension.
The same goes for Lewis, who might be the perfect kind of low-risk deadline pickup that has proven to be the blueprint for recent Cup winners. Kings general manager Rob Blake is attempting to quickly rebuild, but players are in wait-and-see mode.
“I talk to my agent quite a bit, but it's kind of up to them with what they want to do,” Lewis said. “Obviously when you play your whole career somewhere, I'm sure they know you'd like to stay. We'll see what happens.”
The Flyers are on the playoff bubble and have had their share of inconsistencies. But Philadelphia has shined against the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, picking up 12 of a possible 18 points against Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Pittsburgh.
“We're a tough team to play against,” winger Jakub Voracek said. “It can give us a lot of confidence that against the top teams in the league that we really perform very well. Playing good defense, the goalie shows up every time we play the big teams and we just play a good overall game.”
The Flyers fell flat last week in a 5-0 loss to the Devils before bouncing back to beat the Capitals 7-2.
“It's just important to stick together and get game after game the same kind of efforts,” center Sean Couturier said. “You look at our lineup, we have some depth. I think we can match up with anyone in the league. It's just a matter of doing it night after night.”
GAME OF THE WEEK
The Kings and Colorado Avalanche take it outside for what should be a pageantry-filled outdoor game at the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs on Saturday night.
Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington) and Auston Matthews (Toronto), 40; Assists: Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton), 57; Points: Draisaitl, 89; Ice time: Thomas Chabot (Ottawa), 26:06; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 30; Goals-against average: Tuukka Rask (Boston), 2.14; Save percentage: Elvis Merzlikins (Columbus), .930.