The news of Derek Stepan and his contract demands is widely known at this point. Stephan wants Rick Nash money and far too many years for what the New York Rangers can afford in the current salary cap era figures. This isn’t the first time Stepan and his agent, Matt Oates of O2K, rocked the boat. In 2013 Stepan missed the beginning of Alain Vigneault‘s first training camp as the Rangers’ head coach. That summer, Stepan’s best friend, Ryan McDonagh, signed a mighty contract with the Rangers and Stepan wanted the same type of deal. What Stepan failed to realize was that McDonagh already signed and completed his “bridge deal” as a Ranger. McDonagh arrived in New York as an unsigned, Restricted Free Agent, he played hard and earned his deal. Glen Sather appealed to Stepan through the media, encouraging him to be smart and take the short-term deal. Like magic, Stepan signed a deal just days after Sather addressed the media.
With a new General Manager, who will appeal to Stepan’s common sense and get things done? Should the Rangers even bother with trying to sign him at this point?
Stepan’s $7.25 milion dollar asking price is ridiculous. Once again, he, and his agent, are using another player to benchmark his demands in terms of contracts. Ryan O’Reilly‘s name is bouncing around due to his deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Yeah Buffalo. That team up north of the city where players go to fall into a void of desolation. Can the Sabres even be compared with the Rangers? There is a reason they have that much cap space and it revolves around the fact that the team is young, unproven, and oh yeah two post season appearances in the last eight years. I’m not here to talk about the Sabres though. O’Reilly is 24 years old with six years of professional experience. Last season in Colorado he posted 17 goals for 55 points in 82 games. He was a -5 in goal differential with 19:45 in average ice time per game. Stepan is 25 years old with five years of professional experience. Last year he posted 16 goals for 55 points, .8 points per game, in 68 games with a +26 in goal differential and 18:11 in average ice time all during the regular season. Colorado failed to make the post season and Stepan disappeared post season. Comparing these two players, Stepan seems to be a bargain! For those who like getting deeper, let’s remember that Stepan is on the Rangers top line and centers Rick Nash so the propensity for statistical inflation cannot be overlooked. Oh but Stepan is huge on the power play for the Rangers. Yeah, that’s nice. In the NHL last year the Rangers were 21st in power play percentage and tied with Minnesota for 25th in the league, with 39 goals. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a stellar thing for him to be considered a power play corner-stone. But Stepan was on Team USA in the last Olympics. Yes, he was. He registered four shifts in the tournament for 4:59 of total ice time. He spent more time carrying his teammates’ gear than anything else. It’s a great personal experience but there’s no way it goes on the table during contract discussions.
By contrast, 27-year-old Derick Brassard posted 19 goals for 60 points in 80 games, .75 points per game, with a +9 goal differential and only 17:24 in average ice time per game in his eighth professional campaign. He also posted 18 power play points and his 16 post season points surpassed Stepan’s 12 points. I guess that five-year, $25 million contract wasn’t a bad signing after-all. Does it make sense to pay Stepan more than Brassard at this point?
The general consensus is that arbitrators will bring the two sides together at around the $6 million dollar range. That’s nearly double Stepan’s previous pay. If the Rangers plan to pay Stepan $6 million per year I can think of a player I’d rather have in his place. How about a guy who posted 18 goals for 78 points in 82 games, .95 points per game, and was a +5 in goal differential with 21:36 in average ice time per game? Sounds good right? This player has an average cap hit of $6.7 million through the 2020 season. He posted 33 power play points last season; Stepan had 10. The player in question is 27 years old with eight years of professional experience and his contract has a limited No Trade/No Movement clause after the 2015-16 season. I’m not saying the Rangers could lure this player away from his current home, but the contract speaks volumes. The player in question, is Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. Yes, he centers Alex Ovechkin. Nash was supposed to be what Ovechkin is, so what’s the difference? Backstrom IS a power play monster and Ovechkin does not play any special teams what so ever.
Last season, Kevin Hayes posted 17 goals for 45 points in 75 games. He averaged just a touch over 13 minutes of ice time
per game. Say WHAT?! A promising centerman from the Hartford WolfPack, Oscar Lindberg, signed a new deal after posting 28 goals for 55 points in 75 games in his second AHL season. He bettered his freshman campaign by 10 goals and two assists. No one thought Jesper Fast would transition to the NHL, now he is a new favorite. Lindberg is the next Swede to break through and he is the quiet kind of wrecking ball.
I mentioned Stepan’s agent, Matt Oates for a reason. Oates also represents the newly acquired Emerson Etem, his childhood friend Devante Smith-Pelly, and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds. Smith-Pelly held out last summer on his contract negotiations in Anaheim, which may have played a role in their decision to move him in lieu of patiently awaiting his breakout. Simmonds plays for blood, double entendre intended, both on the ice and on paper. Oates, drafted by the Rangers in 1992, never cracked the AHL or NHL level. Oates is looking for the best deal for his client. After all, the more his client makes, the more he makes in return.