(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)
Last week in this space, the subject of what Ryan O'Reilly is worth was discussed at length, and in the end the conclusion was that, by the end of that hefty deal, Buffalo would likely have gotten more or less full value from the contract.
And this contract is important, straight away, in determining the value of Derek Stepan, who now has an arbitration date scheduled with the Rangers and currently looks for all the world like he's going to get there without a new contract having been signed.
It's fair to say that this would be a disaster for the Rangers. In a best-case scenario, New York gets him on what they hope is short money for one or two years before he hits unrestricted free agency. In a worst-case scenario, he gets pissed off and feels like he really ought to test the market when that one or two years is up.
The obvious thing here is that locking him up long-term is an imperative. While he's hardly an elite center in this league, he is a clear No. 1, so the fact that they haven't even offered him a reasonable, lengthy contract borders on negligence. Further, the fact that the player may be asking for as little as $6 million, depending upon whom you believe, makes the situation flatly bizarre. If the ask is a $6 million AAV for anything more than four or five years, why is this deal not already signed? Most GMs in this league would climb an erupting volcano to get a player like that locked down at that price point.
On some level, though, you have to accede that Jeff Gorton just took this job and therefore probably has a lot of stuff to figure out. But on another, that should be a slam dunk. This is especially true because Stepan is coming off one of those great “bridge” deals that is supposed to lead to an amicable, lengthy extension that leaves both sides satisfied. Stepan is coming off the best two seasons of his career — as most players will at 23 and 24 as they move toward the peak of their productive years — and he was asked to take less money then to make more money now. He did his part, so why haven't the Rangers?
Currently*, 13 centers in this league make more than $7 million annually, and if the question is whether Stepan is currently one of the 14 best centers in the league (i.e. if he should join that group), the answer is maybe. But another 10 are in the range from $6-6.875 million, and the upper end of that feels like a comfortable group for Stepan right now, who just turned 25.
* O'Reilly will make $6 million this season, but makes over $7 million starting in 2016-17.
This is an interesting way to look at things because you can say for certain where guys do and do not belong. The first three columns are, of course, the territory of the absolute elite — plus Eric Staal — and all are guys who are beyond Stepan's range. You'd have to say the same for a few guys in the fourth column as well; Stepan is no Stamkos, nor a Sedin, and in some ways not a Thornton or Datsyuk (these once-elite centers are getting on in years but still very good). There are also a few guys who fall into the fifth column who seem underpaid. Bergeron and Kopitar, Backstrom, Duchene, Couture all feel as though they should be ahead of some of the guys in front of them in terms of what they're paid against the cap, but they aren't and that's life.
So crossing all those guys whom Stepan has clearly not surpassed in this league, we're left with a relatively small group of potential comparables:
I think we can throw out the Eric Staal and Nugent-Hopkins contracts as well. I'd toss the Staal deal comparison anyway because the valuation is so out of whack with everything else in the league — Carolina valued him way too highly — that you have to say it's unreasonable for anyone to use him as a comparable. As far as Nugent-Hopkins goes, he made his money coming out of his ELC (the only one in this group to do so) so he's also out.
Everyone else on the list, though, had full UFA status when these deals began, which is not the boat in which Stepan finds himself (he has one more RFA season to go), but they're all relatively close in age and this contract would be buying a ton of UFA years, not just the three for Nugent-Hopkins. I'd also throw out Pavelski and Spezza as comparables because of their ages (both 30-plus), meaning they'd been around awhile and their best years were behind them.
Which leaves us with a pool of five comparables: O'Reilly, Krejci, Stastny, Koivu, and Jordan Staal. Now, again, those are just guys who “feel” like Stepan in terms of quality, so you have to look at the numbers to determine whether that's the case. And because we're mostly working with “defensively responsible two-way centers who can score a decent amount,” one of the first interesting things to look at here is how they were used in the two years leading up to their contracts, versus Stepan's usage.
None of these guys has a particularly easy ride (even the ones at the bottom of the chart play some fairly good competition overall), but clearly Stepan and Krejci pull the easiest duty of the group. And the problem with that is Stepan does little to distinguish himself from the group. Not that he's done badly, but apart from his colossal goals-for percentage, he's solidly middle-of-the-pack.
And I'd note that his goals-for percentage is almost certainly driven by “having a world-class goalie behind him.” While his shot attempt and scoring chance numbers are more or less even, he blows everyone but Krejci out of the water in terms of goalscoring. No one else in this group is north of 55 percent except these two, and they both clear 60 percent with ease. Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist make everyone look a lot better.
And if you want to take a closer look at those numbers, in terms of what those guys are generating versus what they're allowing, it has to be said that Stepan is just kind of jumbled in the middle of most stats here again as well.
So among the one-tier-below elite centers, the total average of all Stepan's ranks is, not surprisingly, a little less than halfway in between everyone (3.38). Now, we also have to take into account the whole “share of cap taken up by cap hit” thing (that is, a $7 million deal three years ago wasn't worth the same as a $7 million deal is now), and all these guys were in the roughly 10-10.5 percent range here.
Judging, then, by the fact that Stepan is solidly in the middle of these comparables, let's say he's worth about 10.25 percent of the cap. That puts him around $7.32 million, and that seems like a reasonable number for him to get. Anything less and he's probably selling himself short.
And right now, that's the Rangers' job.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Clayton Stoner bought a home that costs more than $2 million in Newport Beach. He'll make that back less than two-thirds of the way through the season.
Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes think their future looks good after going through development camp. No word on if all the other teams that have development camp also think their future looks good, but I'm gonna assume they don't think it. Only Arizona.
Boston Bruins: Scratch that. Boston also thinks it has a bright future. (Until Don Sweeney trades these prospects for picks when their ELCs expire.)
Calgary Flames: What do you think the Flames give Lance Bouma, a mediocre third-line player who had a way-better-than-that year, for his new contract to avoid arbitration? A billion dollars?
Carolina Hurricanes: College hockey fans in New England gotta be hecka bummed on this Noah Hanifin news. Kid deserves it, probably didn't have much left to learn at the NCAA level, but man, sorry to see him go.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs want the team to get faster in the future, so that's what they worked on at development camp. I dunno, though. Seems fine to me. Look how quickly the stars expiring contracts skipped town the last two summers.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The forward group is not a concern in Columbus these days. The D? Yeah, that's a worry. Know who might have helped? Mike Reilly.
Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn started rehab on his hip. Projects to be 100 percent by the oddly specific date of Oct. 8, which just coincidentally I'm sure is Dallas's opener.
Detroit Red Wings: You have to love the value on this Gustav Nyquist contract, at least in theory. It'll be interesting to see what he does when he doesn't have an aging Hall of Famer on his line.
Florida Panthers: Gerard Gallant seems to have gotten a lot out of his team last season (given what we all knew they were). One wonders, though, whether they can take any sort of decent step forward soon.
Los Angeles Kings: Lucic didn't even spring for the full-page ad?
Minnesota Wild: Decent value on a good-ish bottom-pairing defenseman. Any time you can get an NHLer on a cap hit for less than $1 million you're doing okay.
Montreal Canadiens: With Max Pacioretty out for a while here, someone's gotta step up and put the puck in the net. Can you count on the kids to do it? Ehhhhhh.
Nashville Predators: People were baffled by this trade, but it's obvious Nashville just wants to clear a contract.
New Jersey Devils: The Devs invited Johnny Gaudreau's brother Matthew to development camp, as well as Martin Brodeur's son Anthony. There's a trend here, and I leave it to you to figure out what that is.
New York Islanders: People are loving Andong Song, and with good reason. Just a great story, really.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson is the most important player on the Sens? He doesn't even play defense!!!! What about Hamburglar we love him!!!!!!!!
Philadelphia Flyers: Vinny Lecavalier wants a chance to contribute to the Flyers next season. I want a million dollars and a milk shake machine in my house. It's nice to want things.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Using Brian Dumoulin in the NHL full-time next season seems like a good idea to me.
San Jose Sharks: Will Nikolay Goldobin make the roster next year? Seems at least somewhat likely. Maybe he can nudge Mike Brown out of the lineup haha just kidding he can't.
St. Louis Blues: I love this signing. Justin Hodgman's “deranged millionaire” segments on the Daily Show are great.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Oh yeah you know what the Bolts need up front? More help.
Toronto Maple Leafs: You really can't discount the importance of having so many guys on prove-it deals. Could really help the team succeed going forward if everyone basically has to have a contract year every season during a rebuild.
Vancouver Canucks: Hoo boy, this is a delightful read. People in Vancouver are (rightly) furious with the team's direction.
Washington Capitals: People take Alex Ovechkin for granted? That doesn't sound right. Everyone loves him and thinks he works so hard!
Winnipeg Jets: Can't wait until Nik Ehlers is in the NHL. Such a fun player to watch, but yeah, he does have to get a lot bigger.
Gold Star Award
You can't really see it too well, but this is Jack Eichel shooting the puck through the net. This is legend-building. You don't see Connor McDavid doing that with his weak Canadian arms.
Minus of the Weekend
John Scott still has a job instead of someone who's good at hockey. What a league.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “PuckMagi” makes me wish two things: 1) Randy Carlyle still coached the Leafs, then 2) This trade happened.
JVR to the Islanders
Barzal + 2016 1st + Kulemin to the Leafs
How far away is this goddamn river?