Is a Derek Stepan Reunion in Rangers’ Future?

Ths offseason seems like the most pivotal one for the New York Rangers since they announced their rebuild in 2018. With the first overall selection at their fingertips and a glut of RFAs that need new contracts, president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton have their work cut out for them.

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With a need at center and many options to fill that void, the Rangers may find help in a familiar face. Traded alongside Antti Raanta in 2017, Derek Stepan could make his way back to Broadway for the 2020-21 season.

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Odds are the Rangers will not take on his full $6.5 million cap hit, but there are still ways to acquire Stepan without paying that kind of cash. At 30 years old, he is still in his prime, and he would be another veteran piece with a solid track record in New York.

Why Stepan Could Be Available

The Arizona Coyotes seem to be heading toward another re-tool: they are rumored to be moving Darcey Kuemper, will likely not re-sign Taylor Hall, and lost two draft picks (second round in 2020 and first round in 2021) due to draft test violations.

Newly hired GM Bill Armstrong has a long offseason ahead, and seems set on building a contender, according to the NHL website:

We have great ownership that is committed to winning, a very good core group of young, talented players, and a passionate fan base. I’m excited about our future and the opportunity to build this team into a perennial playoff contender,

It makes little sense for Armstrong to keep Stepan’s contract on the books, with just one season before he reaches the open market. If the new GM wants to build around his ‘young core,’ players like Stepan should be on their way out.

How will the former Blueshirt make his way back to New York?

Buyout Option

According to Cap Friendly, the Coyotes have approximately $1.1 million in cap space, with only 36/50 contracts signed. They will need cap freedom and maneuverability to remain relevant, and, to do this, they could take advantage of the buyout option.

Buying out Stepan’s contract would save the Coyotes $1.33 million next season to double their cap space. The Rangers could then offer Stepan a team-friendly deal, one that, if he accepts, would bolster their center depth.

Derek Stepan Coyotes
Derek Stepan, Arizona Coyotes, Oct. 30, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

H is a reliable two-way center who does the necessary little things to win hockey games. Before the 2018-19 season, Stepan had tallied at least 44 points in every campaign he’d played. His decrease in scoring is a testament to the Coyotes’ overall performance who finished 29th in 2018-19 with 2.55 GF/GP, and 23rd this season with 2.71 GF/GP.

A change of scenery could rejuvenate his offensive output, especially considering the Rangers finished fifth in the league with 3.33 GF/GP. Stepan’s career faceoff percentage is 45.9%, although that number increased to 47.54% in 2019-20.

The Rangers’ best option to be reunited with Stepan is if the Coyotes buy out his contract and he accepts a lower offer from the Rangers than his $6.5 million. Yet, a more realistic option would be the trade route.

A Trade That Makes Sense

The Coyotes need two things: financial reprieval and draft picks, both of which the Rangers could offer. If Arizona retained 50% of Stepan’s remaining $6.5 million AAV, the Rangers could add him to the team for the last year of his contract at $3.2 million.

The Rangers also have two third-round picks in the 2020 Draft, one of which could be used to acquire Stepan. If one pick isn’t enough, they could also use one of their three seventh-round selections, or a conditional pick in the 2021 Draft. Because Arizona will not want to add any salary, the Rangers’ wealth of draft picks makes them an ideal trade partner. The franchises are also familiar with each other and have negotiated a trade for Stepan before.

Derek Stepan
Derek Stepan [photo: Amy Irvin]

It would be more worthwhile for the Coyotes to trade Stepan and save the additional dollars of buying out his contract while netting a decent return. If that’s the route Armstrong is willing to take, the Rangers’ brass will be pumping the tires to find out Stepan’s availability.

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Stepan was part of many memorable moments in New York, from the Game 7 overtime winner to his hat trick in his NHL debut. His tenure in Arizona is likely winding down, and his former club may be waiting to bring him back with open arms.

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