Derek Stepan vs. NY Rangers: Can they cut the right deal?

Derek Stepan vs. NY Rangers: Can they cut the right deal?

Derek Stepan has an arbitration hearing on July 27, and the New York Rangers would like to get something done with him before the soul-crushing airing of criticisms that leads to short-term contracts and long-term bitterness.

Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants thinks arbitration could happen, because Stepan has dug in before:

There is a significant chance Stepan and the Rangers wind up going through the arbitration process. Stepan, 25 and two years from unrestricted free agency, had 16 goals and 39 assists in 68 regular-season games (the first of his five NHL seasons in which he did not play in all the regular-season games) as he completed a two-year, $6.15 million “bridge” deal. Negotiations for his last contract were protracted and Stepan missed all of training camp and the preseason in Alain Vigneault’s first season as Rangers coach.

The Rangers would prefer to lock up Stepan - along with Derick Brassard their top center options - to a long-term deal and Stepan seemed to indicate he’d like the same thing as last season wound down. The thinking was that Stepan would likely slot into a deal around $6 million annually, with Brassard completing one season of a five-year, $25 million deal.

The question facing GM Jeff Gorton is what sort of deal works for the New York Rangers and their 25-year-old center at this time.

From Larry Brooks of the NY Post:

We’re told talks between the parties haven’t quite even reached the preliminary stages of negotiating, with the Blueshirts yet to submit an opening proposal for a long-term deal to their 25-year-old center.

As such, it is impossible to predict whether the sides actually will get to a hearing that would yield a two-year award and would take Stepan to the cusp of unrestricted free agency. But if general manager Jeff Gorton wants to avoid one and keep the Blueblood in a Blueshirt beyond 2017, it likely will take an opening bid of six years at $39 million ($6.5 million per season) just to get the ball rolling.

Would $6.5 million annually over six years get it done? That would slot him ahead of Brandon Saad’s newly inked deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets ($6 million AAV) and would give him the third-highest cap hit on the Rangers behind Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million) and Rick Nash ($7.8 million).

Anything under $7 million for Stepan – 252 points in 362 games, and coming off his best point-producing season of 0.57 PPG – could be considered a discount. He’s a great two-way center, and in a different system his stats would jump significantly.

But $7 million is the coveted number for players like Stepan, a level of compensation that separates the classes. Twenty-eight players are going to make over $7 million next season, and Ryan O’Reilly joins the club in 2016-17.

It’s that O’Reilly contract with the Buffalo Sabres, carrying a $7.5 million hit over seven years, that’s gotten the most attention in Stepan’s situation. It can’t be used in an arbitration hearing because Stepan is an RFA and O’Reilly’s contract will begin as he hits UFA status. But it can be used in a long-term contract negotiation, even though O’Reilly’s salary is and forever shall be offer-sheet inflated (thanks, Calgary).

Again, if Gorton can bring this in at under $7 million, it’s a huge win early in his tenure in a post-Sather front office. But it’s more likely that Stepan for fight for what he’s worth, the Rangers will have to ante up over $7 million and then adjust their roster accordingly (looking at you, Kevin Klein).