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What We Learned: Derek Stepan should get paid, NY Rangers deserve criticism

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The signings of Marcus Johansson and Mikkel Boedker seemed to signal that better-publicized cases of Nazem Kadri and Alex Pietrangelo would be wrapped up due to their players' acquiescence to the demands of their teams.

This of course ignores how much better the latter two players have been in their time in the world's best hockey league than the former; but largely lost in all this is the fact that Derek Stepan, too, remains unsigned in New York and seems likely to get shorted by Glen Sather if he wants a contract at all, which one would assume he does.

If anything, Stepan is and should be a more interesting case than Kadri, due to the much longer history of success in the league (three full seasons, 0.66 points per game in 212 career appearances).

Not that Pietrangelo has anything to show anyone a thing about his game, in the way that critics have some sort of point in implying Kadri does, but that applies to Stepan, too. He had 51 points as a 21-year-old sophomore in 2011-12, and followed that up with an identical-to-Kadri 18 goals and 44 points in the shortened season. Just as Dave Nonis is getting rightly roasted for signing everyone before his promising young center, so too should Sather be receiving the same criticism.

The Rangers have, as of this moment, $2.1 million in cap space, and even the most cynical wag — wryly observing that Stepan has been largely sheltered in his career to this point, getting favorable zone starts against mostly soft competition and, to his credit, destroying it — can't say with a straight face that this is the kind of money a player of Stepan's caliber should even consider taking. You'd have to think that he lines up as the Rangers' No. 2 center, and that the team could ill afford to go without him for any period of time, given that with their new coach they likely have aspirations of, you know, making the playoffs and being good this season and so on.

Unless you're deeply invested in contorting your argument to an absurd position, there is no question as to what Stepan deserves, at least within an acceptable range, because his value is apparent. The issue, though, is that the Rangers obviously don't have the ability to give him that much.

Should they have used an amnesty buyout Brad Richards or, say, Arron Asham or Darroll Powe to give themselves a little more wiggle room? You can probably make the case that they should have, given their not having done so is the reason they cannot re-sign a 23-year-old kid who went nearly a point-a-game last year.

So what is, or at least should be, the question, then? It seems to me that it should be about how this isn't getting more publicity. In an Olympic year, a young kid who looks like a pretty good bet to make the American team might start the season without a team.

Another rather germane question, one raised by several people in the last few days, is why no one has offer-sheeted Stepan.

Tyler Dellow floated the particularly intriguing idea of the Islanders doing so, because what do they really have to lose by inking him long-term to a deal in the neighborhood of, say, $5 million? A Tavares/Stepan 1-2 setup down the middle for the next five years or so seems rather conducive to repeated playoff appearances, does it not?

That, of course, will never happen because that's simply not how the NHL works, but obviously something has to give here. Unlike Nonis, Sather did not shell out like a drunken and already-spendthrift sailor on mediocre parts. The guys he re-signed or brought aboard, are useful and still a good value despite their cost (Ryan McDonagh) or useful and cheap at the very least (Benoit Pouliot).

This is, really, a case of the Rangers being victimized by the cap coming down, by a wholly arbitrary amount, but if you're making a choice between Pouliot and Stepan that's not a choice at all. It comes down to having the ability to clean up your own house before you start bringing new things into it, and while Pouliot is a perfectly fine depth player that can help a team win, Stepan is a future centerpiece for the Rangers. This is about priorities (which Sather has gotten all out of order) and managing moving parts (which he simply hasn't done).

Where are the articles claiming he's inept?

Where are the demands that Stepan take less than market value for the good of the team to prove that he wants to play in New York and as a show of good faith in his ability to earn later on, when the Rangers do have cap space (and next season, they're set up to have more than $37 million of it, thanks to 18 currently-signed guys coming off the books)?

Where is even the remotest of raised eyebrows over this issue?

Perhaps Kadri's case, sexier and more controversial since it's being negotiated through the media at this point, has already gotten everyone's brows furrowed enough as it is.

But that doesn't mean this isn't a case of a high-profile team in a major market punting a contract situation that should have been handled with ease, and months ago.

You have to pay guys like Stepan. He has nothing left to prove.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: So the Anaheim Ducks run a high school hockey league in California, and it recently grew to 28 teams, double the amount that competed last year. Now teams from San Diego to San Jose are in it, and that's pretty crazy if you think about it. Those schools are like seven hours apart.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins still haven't decided who's going to back up Tuukka Rask next season but it could very well end up being rookie Niklas Svedberg. That would certainly open up room for Malcolm Subban to get more time in Providence, which seems like it should be the goal.

Buffalo Sabres: Tom Vanek on the Sabres' chances this season: "I think we have to be on top of our game to beat the Detroits and those kinds of teams." Yeah and even then, probably not. The good news for Vanek is that he'll be gone from Buffalo forever before the trade deadline.

Calgary Flames: Everyone is still, understandably, talking about Brian Burke taking over the Calgary Flames' hockey ops department and having direct authority over Jay Feaster, presumably so he doesn't have another series of missteps in handling what is now a rebuild process in everything except name. But the major concern has to be that while he can certainly veto whatever deals Feaster might want to make, the management is still inexplicably screaming about the necessity of winning and I wonder whether this kind of thing signals a move away from the "pile up picks and prospects" type of rebuild and toward one of the ill-fated "do it on the fly" type of rebuilds instead. Because that kind of thing would be disastrous, obviously.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes lost 7-5 in a prospects game at the Traverse City rookie tournament, and it's really nice to see such a pervasive organizational commitment to having no defense whatsoever.

Chicago Blackhawks: Stan Bowman says he's going to make sure the Blackhawks keep Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane forever but the way he's giving out money this summer — in committing a combined $14.1 million against the cap to Bryan Bickell, Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson for at least the next four years — it's going to cost him roughly a trillion dollars (U.S.) to follow through on that promise.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche have 19 guys on one-way deals headed into camp, and four more on two-ways who were NHL regulars last season so that's 23 guys. Meaning the roster is set. Meaning the other 35 guys invited to their training camp are gonna feel really stupid when Patrick Roy posts the cut list I bet and Gabe Landeskog is high-fiving Steve Downie in front of it and laughing a lot.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Boone Jenner wants to make the Blue Jackets' roster this season. If he doesn't, he'll cry and whine like he did any time he elbowed someone in the face at World Juniors (which was often). Boohoone Jenner strikes again.

Dallas Stars: The Stars changed almost everything this offseason; their coach and their GM and like half their roster and even their jerseys. But the one thing they didn't change is the fact that they're not very good.

Detroit Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk is happy to be back in Detroit and that says it all.

Edmonton Oilers: Naming a captain for the Oilers doesn't seem like something that's going to be easy. Most of their older guys seem on their way out. Most of their younger guys don't seem like they've done enough to differentiate themselves from the pack. I hope it's Nail Yakupov.

Florida Panthers: Nick Bjugstad thinks he has a pretty good chance to make the Panthers this season and I'd say that's probably true since he's going to be their No. 2 center.

Los Angeles Kings: Defensive prospect Derek Forbort took a puck in the face over the summer and still has a big red mark where it hit him. "I should have had a visor on," he says. Why doesn't every hockey player think this all the time?

Minnesota Wild: A real-life thing Mike Yeo said out loud and presumably kept a straight face while saying: "I hate that people think that we’re a dump-and-chase team." I don't know where they would have gotten that impression, right?

Montreal Canadiens: A couple of Habs defensive prospects say they're not bothered by the team signing Douglas Murray this summer due in large part to the fact that they are probably both significantly better than him.

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Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Seth Jones says that this season he's going to try to cram his success down the throats of the Avs, Panthers and Lightning for not taking him. A true patriot and great human, that Seth Jones.

New Jersey Devils: Looks like the Devils are going to give at least a few rookies a very good chance to make the team, which means they don't have anyone more convincing to trot out instead and thus are going to be awful this year. Have a nice season, Devs fans.

New York Islanders: John Tavares will be named Islanders captain later today and this will come as a shock to the 97.8 percent of NHL fans who would have sworn up and down that he was already. That also serves as a fun reminder of the contract the Flyers gave former captain Mark Streit. It's really bad!

New York Rangers: Yes, people who write about the Rangers are still complaining about how John Tortorella dealt with the media. I can't imagine why he didn't like dealing with reporters.

Ottawa Senators: Kyle Turris and Patrick Wiercioch recently helped a bunch of minor hockey players and their parents pick out hockey equipment for the coming season, and were contractually obligated to scream at them if they didn't buy Kevlar socks.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers have a ton of defensemen on the team and Paul Holmgren isn't worried about the situation. I'm assuming that's because most of them are super-old, not very good, or both.

Phoenix Coyotes: Signing Mikkel Boedker for another two years is a good move for the Coyotes. Despite what everyone said, though, this contract should have no bearing whatsoever on anything Nazem Kadri does or does not do.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pirates are actually good this season, I guess, and the Penguins are planning to do something special to honor them this season. Whatever you do, though, don't make Marc-Andre Fleury catch for them.

San Jose Sharks: Single-game tickets and the new Sharks jerseys both go on sale next Saturday and I swear I forgot they even had new jerseys because of how awful Buffalo's thirds are. I forgot all jerseys except that one existed.

St. Louis Blues: If the Blues sign Ryan Whitney as a stopgap while they try to lock up Alex Pietrangelo I think they're going to be extremely disappointed with how all of that went.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Will Ben Bishop be the starter for the Lightning this year? Hell, will anyone?

Toronto Maple Leafs: What do you think is a "winning mentality?" Do you think Leafs prospect Garrett Sparks can pass it on to say, oh I don't know, James Reimer? Anyone else on the Leafs, maybe? That would help I bet.

Vancouver Canucks: Oh god it's going to be a whole season of headlines like this, isn't it?

Washington Capitals: Adam Oates seems likely to keep newly re-signed Marcus Johansson on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom, where he spent the majority of the last half of this past season and had some pretty strong success. After all, he went 5-16-21 in the final 23 games of the regular season, but one wonders how much of that was entirely due to Alex Ovechkin shooting the lights out at a wholly unsustainable and never-to-be-repeated rate? Almost of it? That seems likely.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are trying to go bigger this season. The irony of a team with Dustin Byfuglien trying to get bigger is so delicious Dustin Byfuglien ate it.

Gold Star Award

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I just want give Canada the biggest props possible for having a black and gold jersey at the Olympics. When America is scoring a million goals against them it will feel more natural because Marc-Andre Fleury or something? I don't know, that's a joke that needed a little more time in the oven but it's too late now.

Minus of the Weekend

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Shout out to Jonathan Cheechoo for saying 7,500 KHL fans at an arena in Croatia are "louder" than NHL fans. You know, because Cheechoo has only the vaguest memories of people in an NHL arena making any noises other than screaming, "You suck Cheechoo" when he got his doors blown off in transition and fell down because he's the worst skater alive. And by the way, just to underscore how crap the KHL is: Cheechoo had two goals in his first game over there.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "geebaan" says this is "just a crazy idea" and I'm inclined to agree with him or her.

Vancouver:
The Sedins
Chris Tanev

to

Nashville:
Shea Weber
Colin Wilson

Signoff
Your mother is so ugly it affects her self-esteem.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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