Restricted free agent Derek Stepan is seeking $7.25 million in a new contract from the New York Rangers, according to Elliotte Friedman. The Rangers are entering arbitration, which is set for Monday, offering a significantly lower $5.2 million per season.
Before you get yourself too worked up about Stepan’s ask, let’s address the player’s ask in arbitration cases. Like with the Braden Holtby case where he was reported to be asking north of $8 million, the player’s ask doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re actually looking for that. It’s a negotiation. Of course players are starting high and the teams are starting low. There was a lot of hate online for Holtby’s ask. Too many people are forgetting that this is a negotiation and that players and their agents are absolutely entitled to flex their muscles in the negotiation process.
Stepan ranked third on the team in scoring last season with 16 goals and 39 assists through 68 games. He’s clearly a key piece of the team’s future, but this negotiation could get tricky. General Fanager has the Rangers sitting with just north of $6.9 million remaining in cap space. Stepan’s ask is more than the cap space they have available. He’ll likely come in below $6.9, but term and how much space that leaves the Rangers with are big questions.
The team already has seven players who will count as a $4.5 million cap hit or more over the next three seasons. Stepan will make that number eight. Six of those seven are on contract for at least the next four seasons and only two are under $5 million, with Rick Nash’s $7.8 million and Henrik Lundqvist’s $8.5 million topping the list.
Stepan is the team’s last returning free agent to deal with this season, aside from UFA James Sheppard, but the list of RFAs next summer is long, including Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Emerson Etem, Jayson Megna, and Dylan McIlrath. (At a minimum, expect raises for Kreider, Etem, Hayes, and possibly Miller.) That leaves out that they’ll have UFAs in Dominic Moore, Viktor Stalberg, Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle (who is unlikely to be re-signed), Antti Raanta, and Raphael Diaz, not to mention plenty of young players at the AHL level who will merit re-signing. That, no doubt, is weighing heavily on management’s mind as they crunch numbers and try to find a way to make a Stepan deal work now while balancing their needs and negotiations over the next couple years.
The team is in salary cap hell already and it’s only going to get worse. Stepan’s contract will be tricky and will play a role in determining who will be in a Rangers jersey in the 2016-17 season.