Derek Stepan is eying up a long-term deal, but it appears the New York Rangers aren’t quite ready to dish out the big money their 25-year-old center could be after.
According to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, the Rangers have yet to begin negotiating on a long-term deal with restricted free agent Stepan with only two remaining until his arbitration hearing. The July 27 hearing could see Stepan awarded a short-term deal that brings him closer to unrestricted free agency, at which point the Rangers could risk losing the three-time 50-point scorer who has stepped up as the Blueshirts’ top-line pivot.
The believed ask from Stepan is a long-term deal – think six-plus years – that will pay him in the neighborhood of $6.5 million per season. Considering the long-term deal that Ryan O’Reilly recently landed with the Buffalo Sabres – a seven-year, $52.5 million deal with an annual cap hit of $7.5 million – Stepan is looking ripe to get paid some serious cash. And he’s earned that right, too.
Over the past two seasons, Stepan has become one of the standout players on the Rangers, taking on a role as an alternate captain and helping lead New York to consecutive Eastern Conference final appearances and a Stanley Cup final appearance in 2013-14. Stepan is also two years removed from a near point-per-game season during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign and posted his career best points-per-game total in a full season in 2014-15.
With 16 goals and 55 points in 68 games in 2014-15, Stepan was the third highest scorer on the Blueshirts this past year behind only Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. And while both Brassard and Nash may have found the score sheet more often, neither was as much an all-around star as Stepan.
This past campaign, Stepan averaged the highest time on ice per game of any forward on the Rangers. He ranked fourth among forwards in average power play ice time and third in average penalty killing ice time all the while turning in 10 points with the extra man and another five while shorthanded.
With Nash aging – and also the center of some trade rumors heading into the off-season – and Martin St-Louis retiring, there isn’t much of a star veteran presence up front in New York anymore. Locking up Stepan long-term would likely lead to him becoming the face of the franchise for several seasons, and he’s likely looking to be paid as such.
There’s little doubt that, eventually, the two sides will find an agreement and there remains the possibility that comes before arbitration. As Brooks reports, there hasn’t been any sign that the Rangers are interested in moving Stepan, but simply looking to find the right fit under their salary cap. That could take some maneuvering from both parties, though one would have expected preliminary talks to be underway or an offer to have been tabled to Stepan at this point.
At the culmination of the season, now-former Rangers GM Glen Sather stepped down and handed his position over to Jeff Gorton. Now, in his first summer as an NHL GM, Gorton is faced with his toughest task: locking up the young, future-star of the Rangers, and doing so without paving the way for Stepan to leave when unrestricted free agency becomes an option.