Where does playoff spare part Kevin Klein fit in Rangers future?


MONTREAL — Of course Kevin Klein was thinking about his future, which was only natural when the present left him wanting for attention.

The Rangers, who took a 3-2 lead in their first-round series with the Canadiens with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 5 on Thursday night at Bell Centre, must also be wondering what the future holds for the veteran defenseman, who was a healthy scratch for the fourth time in five games this postseason.

Klein, 32, had been an integral part of the Rangers’ back end since arriving in January 2014 in a lopsided trade with the Predators, in exchange for mercurial young defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Klein was a mainstay as the Rangers made it to the 2014 Stanley Cup finals and the conference finals the next season. But his play slipped in 2015-16 and even more so this season. It went sideways when he suffered a back injury during a morning skate in Toronto on Feb. 23, going for a poke-check on teammate Kevin Hayes during a two-on-two drill. He knew something went wrong.

“Just my body protecting itself by locking up my right side,” Klein said after his skated with the Rangers’ extras prior to Game 5. “But [stuff] happens, it’s part of hockey.”

Klein said he’s feeling “really good” and the injury is not going to hamper him in the future — either this postseason or next year.

Klein has one year remaining on his contract that carries an annual salary-cap hit of $2.9 million. The Rangers will make sure he sticks around at least to the point at which he can be exposed to the expansion draft June 21, when the Vegas Golden Knights surely will pass.

After that, if no trade partner emerges out of thin air — as in, general manager Jeff Gorton can’t lump him into a bigger deal — it’s most likely he will get a chance to make the roster in training camp.

How the back end of that roster is going to look is still a big question, though. The only sure things will be captain Ryan McDonagh along with Brady Skjei, whose full-season rookie campaign has been nothing short of hugely promising and whose goal at 18:28 of the second period Thursday forced overtime. Odds are the veteran Marc Staal will be there, with four more years remaining on his deal at $5.7 million per.

That leaves the question of a possible buyout on Dan Girardi’s deal, with three more years at $5.5 million per for the 32-year-old veteran. Nick Holden, 29, back in the lineup again after his first healthy scratch of the season in Game 3, has one more year left on his deal with a $1.65 million cap hit, and there is a slight possibility that once exposed, Vegas would consider taking him.

Then there is the question of pending unrestricted free agent Brendan Smith, obtained for second- and third-round picks at the trade deadline and in line for a significant raise from his current $2.75 million salary. Likely the Rangers would like to keep him, but at what price?

So where does that leave Klein? Well, right now he’s hoping to get another chance this postseason, and then deal with the future when it comes.

“It’s always difficult when you’re not in the lineup, but that’s part of being a professional and good teammate is supporting those guys,” Klein said. “You want the team to win, and that’s the No. 1 priority. I’ve got something to offer, and if they need me, I’ll be there.”



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