It’s come down to this for the Rangers and Derek Stepan. With his hearing July 27, the two sides have yet to negotiate a new deal that would keep the club’s top center past 2017 when he could become an unrestricted free agent. That’s only if they can’t work something out. It better not get to Monday. That would be the worst case scenario with an arbitrator awarding Stepan another potential bridge contract that could put him in position to leave.
Unfortunately, this is how it works with the Rangers who always seem to wait last minute to lock up their core players. As has been discussed throughout, Stepan’s market has been set at between $6 to 7 million. Assuming new Team GM Jeff Gorton is able to reach agreement with Stepan, it could be either a six-year or seven-year commitment. Let’s say the two sides meet in the middle. You’re probably looking at at least $6.5 million per season. A proposed six-year deal worth $39 million could make sense. However, if it’s seven years, then you’re talking about anywhere between $45 to 49 million for a center who’s never produced a 60-point season. Of course, he would have had he not missed 14 games in ’14-15. In 68, Stepan fell five points short with his 55 (16-39-55) still ranking third in team scoring behind Derick Brassard (19-41-60) and Rick Nash (42-27-69).
There’s no need to restate Stepan’s value. I’ve already hashed out what makes him so important to the team’s present and future. At 25, he’s established himself as a two-way playmaking pivot who can be trusted in any situation including serving as one half of a lethal penalty killing duo with Nash. As evidenced by last week’s post, he compares favorably to 30-year old Ryan Kesler, who the Ducks extended for six years and $41.5 million. Stepan has proven durable missing only 14 games so far. He also has improved his postseason performance going 10-17-29 over the last two. That leads all Blueshirts with Brassard (15-13-28) and Ryan McDonagh (7-19-26) right behind. Without his Game 5 theatrics setting up Chris Kreider for the tying goal and McDonagh for the overtime winner, they lose to the Capitals in the second round. Topping it off, Stepan scored in sudden death of Game 7 to send the Rangers to a second straight Eastern Conference Final.
Given how much money the Sabres tossed at Ryan O’Reilly (7 years $52.5 million), Stepan is going to be expensive. With Gorton able to get everyone else re-signed, he has just enough wiggle room to get it done. Counting Oscar Lindberg ($600,000), the Rangers have 21 players signed for $63.874 million based off War On Ice. I excluded Matt Lindblad ($600 K) and Jayson Megna (600 K) who both are ticketed for Hartford. If you subtract Lindberg, then it becomes 20 players signed for $63.274 million. There’s also Dylan McIlrath who also will make $600,000. But he could start with the Wolf Pack. Brady Skjei remains the wildcard. If he impresses enough during training camp, then Kevin Klein ($2.9 million) could become expendable. He’s signed through 2018.
One way or another, we’ll have a better idea of what’s happening with Stepan. Hopefully, it’s good news this weekend for the Garden Faithful.