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Derek Stepan and the New York Rangers avoided arbitration (as expected) with a multi-year contract (as expected) worth $39 million.
And that might be where it doesn’t meet your expectations.
From the Rangers:
Stepan, 25, registered 16 goals and 39 assists for 55 points, along with a plus-26 rating and 22 penalty minutes in 68 games with the Rangers this past season. Stepan was one of two NHL players who ranked tied for fifth or higher on his respective team in all of the following categories in 2014-15: assists, points, game-winning goals, plus/minus rating, shots on goal, power play goals, power play assists, power play points, shorthanded goals, shorthanded assists, and shorthanded points (along with Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks). In addition, he was one of three NHL players who tallied 55 or more points, posted a plus/minus rating of plus-25 or better, and recorded 25 or fewer penalty minutes in 2014-15.
Stepan established career-highs in assists per game (0.57), plus/minus rating, shorthanded goals (two), and shorthanded points (five), and tied a career-high in shorthanded assists (three) this past season. He also averaged 0.81 points per game in 2014-15, which is the most he has averaged in an 82-game season thus far in his career.
Is he worth $6.5 million annually?
It’s more than Brandon Saad, 22, is getting from the Columbus Blue Jackets over six seasons ($6 million), with the Rangers gobbling up more of Stepan’s UFA years. It’s more than Logan Couture is getting with the San Jose Sharks ($6 million) in a 5-year deal. It’s much less than what Ryan O’Reilly is getting over seven years with the Buffalo Sabres ($7.5 million, starting next season).
All contracts are context. Given what he’s accomplished, his age, the highs and the lows of his peers, it’s not outlandish.
It’s also not outrageous within the context of the Rangers, for whom he’s a No. 1 center. Would he be a No. 1 center on another dozen teams? No. But he’s not with a dozen other teams. He’s with the Rangers. And with due respect to Derek Brassard, there isn’t another center on the roster that comes close to matching Stepan’s two-way play or body of work.
The number’s right for Stepan for the Rangers, and it’s the number both assumed would end up as the average annual value. The only misstep for GM Jeff Gorton, in his first big test, was handing out no-movement protection to Stepan despite this contract meeting his financial obligations. Granted, there are a dozen ways to make a player feel compelled to waive it, but that just puts a hurdle in place if this deal doesn’t look as good in four years as it does now. But NMCs are the coin of the realm for top players, alas.
The Rangers have less than $500,000 in cap space remaining for next season, and could use a little more scoring on the wing.
Anyone need a mostly-used Dan Girardi at $5.5 million through 2020?
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