In his first weeks as General Manager, Jeff Gorton has done a more-than respectable job taking care of the essentials, given the tight cap situation Glen Sather left behind. With the recent signings of Emerson Etem, Jesper Fast, and JT Miller, the last remaining RFA is Derek Stepan.
With all of the lead up acquisitions in place and $6.75 million left over in cap, the road is officially paved for Stepan and the Rangers to ink a long-term deal.
All the Pieces in Place
For a while there, signing Stepan to the big deal he probably deserves seemed not impossible, but pretty darn difficult.
Thanks to a couple of moves including the trade which sent Carl Hagelin to Anaheim in exchange for Etem, there was not only enough wiggle room to ink the other necessary RFA’s, but there’s now enough cap space for Stepan and the Rangers to come to an agreement well before arbitration day arrives.
Now, just because there’s approximately $6.75 million for Stepan next season doesn’t mean the Rangers should go crazy and overpay the man. While a strong case could and has been made by Tom Dianora that he’s a number one center, he is still by no means “elite.”
In his recent piece, Dianora argued that Stepan may even be more valuable as an all-around player than teammate and interchangeable number one center Derick Brassard. While arguably a better player than Brassard in certain situations, Stepan is not as inherently talented as his cohort, and because of that coupled with his dismal faceoff numbers, he should not be paid more.
During the 2013-14 season, Brassard signed a five-year deal worth $25 million. That’s an AAV of $5 million, which is pretty fair for a number one center who falls short of the elite tag. When it all boils down to it, both Stepan and Brassard fall into that category of very good but not elite, and thus the deal that Stepan eventually signs should be a mirror image, if not exactly the same as the one that Brassard signed last year.
Now it is true that at 25, Stepan is just beginning to enter the prime of his career. With a little more speed and size, the University of Wisconsin product could consistently put up 70-plus points. But does that really mean that he should be making more than $5 million AAV in his first big NHL contract?
A deal similar to that of Brassard’s would benefit the Rangers long-term, and help not tie them up in future seasons. Stepan would get his pay-day, the Rangers would have their two centermen for the foreseeable future, and everyone goes about their business with a smile. It’s a win-win.
If such a deal is not satisfactory for Stepan, however, then one of two things will happen. Either both parties will head to arbitration, Stepan will get more money than he probably deserves without a long-term solution, and the situation will be revisited again the year after next, or Gorton and the Rangers will make a mistake by shelling out too much dough over the long-term for a center who is not yet reached elite status.
Again, option “Same Deal as Brassard” seems like the far better route, and even though $6.75 million in cap space remains, that doesn’t mean Stepan deserves to make that much next season.
If I’m Gorton, I maybe sweeten the deal with a no-trade clause, and continue to sway Stepan in the direction Brassard went over a year ago. It would benefit both sides in more ways than one. But then again, I’m not Gorton.
The Waiting Game
However you slice it, everything is in place for Stepan and the Rangers to reach an agreement. The other essential RFA’s have been signed, and enough money remains to ink Stepan to a deal. While it wouldn’t be wise to pay an arm and a leg for the 25-year-old center, if the Rangers really want to, they can come pretty close to doing so.
And the Rangers have also signed J.T. Miller. Somebody still left unsigned. He goes by the name of Derek Stepan. He’s kind of important.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) July 15, 2015
Everything is there and set to go. Now all that’s missing are the signatures.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.