KHL regular season cancelled: What it means for Kravtsov

Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The KHL announced that they are cancelling their remaining regular season games and are planning on resuming play on March 1 with the Gagarin Cup Playoffs.  That news has unleashed a torrent of speculation over the future of New York Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov.   Sorry folks, not much has really changed.

Here’s what the KHL decided.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league announced that they are not going to play the rest of the regular season and will go right to their playoffs which had been scheduled to begin on March 1.

The last games played in the KHL were on January 14 when the league took a week-long break before a scheduled hiatus for the Olympics.   At the time, there were 124 players in the KHL who had tested positive for the virus.

Teams had been scheduled to resume play on February 22.  Traktor Chelyabinsk, Kravtsov’s club, had five more games on their schedule, plus a couple postponed matches that had not been rescheduled.

The KHL will figure out the final standings and playoff match ups, probably using points percentage, similar to what the NHL did for the Stanley Cup Qualifier in 2019-20.

Traktor is sitting in a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with 71 points and record of 34-12-3.  Percentage-wise, they are in second place, behind Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

The Kravtsov timing

With the playoffs starting as scheduled, Vitali Kravtsov will be with Traktor until they are eliminated from the playoffs, consisting of four best-of-seven rounds.

With Traktor definitely going to the playoffs, that means Kravtsov could be done playing in Russia as early as the second week of March or as late as the end of April.

No matter what, he wouldn’t be eligible to return to North America until very close to or after the NHL trade deadline on March 21.

His season

Kravtsov has had a decent season with Traktor, scoring six goals and 13 points in 19 games.  One goal was on the power play and one was an overtime game winner.  He averaged 15:44 TOI per game and averaged just under two shots per game.

Kravtsov played in his last game on January 5 meaning he had missed the last three Traktor  games with no indication as to why he was out of the lineup.

If he is healthy and ready to play in the postseason, it means almost two full months without any action for the Rangers prospect.

His future

Chris Drury is in no hurry to make a trade.  He can certainly wait until the deadline or after the season, but a lot depends on what Kravtsov does in the KHL playoffs.  If he impresses in the first two rounds of the playoffs, it could enhance his value in a trade to a team looking for some offense for the playoff push.  Conversely, if he underperforms, it could reduce his trade value and in that case, Drury would be wise to wait until the off-season to make a deal.

Could he return to New York?  Suppose he stars for Traktor in the playoffs and they make it through the second or third round. If the Rangers do not trade him, they will have to make a decision about whether they want to bring him to New York to try to revive his Rangers career.

That option is risky.  If he is coming off a stellar playoff performance, he would expect to get a chance to crack the Rangers lineup.  But knowing Coach Gerard Gallant’s loyalty to players who have performed for him, would Gallant be willing in insert Kravtsov into the lineup in place of players like Julien Gauthier or Dryden Hunt, players how have worked hard all season and earned a place in the lineup?

Imagine if Kravtsov returns to New York, fully expecting to play regularly based on his KHL performance, and Gallant doesn’t put him in the lineup? We already know that the relationship was fractured when the team chose to keep players like Gauthier and Hunt and send Kravtsov to Hartford, a decision that resulted in his leaving the team.

At this point, the likelihood is that the Rangers will be looking to include Kravtsov in a trade for some long term help at the trade deadline.  In that case, it is in their best interests for him to have a good playoff run, but that won’t have any effect on his possible return to the Rangers.

What if they don’t trade him? Chris Drury doesn’t want another distracting, negative situation with Kravtsov.  Letting him finish the playoffs and then remain in Russia seems like the best recourse for the Blueshirts, no matter how much the fan base still hopes and believes that he can be a savior and an answer to the Rangers’ scoring issues.

Don’t forget, he will need a new contract after this season and it’s tough to imagine that Kravtsov and the Rangers share the same opinion over his value.  Although he is an RFA with no arbitration rights, he will expect a raise and as far as the Rangers are concerned, has he done anything to deserve it?

Of course, any talk about Kravtsov is pure speculation.  The only sure thing is that the young player made a grave miscalculation when he bolted from the organization to return to Russia.  We may never know what actually happened, but we do know that with all of the personnel issues this season, he would have been back from Hartford in a matter of weeks, if not days, and would have had a fair chance to prove his value on the big stage.

Sad to say, it’s very likely that we have seen the last of Vitali Kravtsov in a Rangers uniform.  Hopefully we are wrong. Just note that the news about the KHL season will have no impact on that future.

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