New York Rangers center Derek Stepan was one of twenty-three restricted free agents to file for arbitration on Sunday, July 5, 2015. The Rangers had already extended a qualifying offer to the twenty-five year old, but it clearly did not match his contract expectations. Hearings will be held in Toronto from July 20 through to August 4, and fans are already worried that New York is going to let Stepan walk because he may seek a similar contract to Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan O’Reilly (seven years with $7.5 million per year).
Stepan has been a key component to the Rangers’ lineup since coming into the league in 2010. He has become a contributor on a nightly basis and has matured into an exceptional two-way forward who can score key goals in clutch situations.
Stepan signed a two-year, $3,075,000.00 dollar contract back in 2013 and is currently a restricted free agent. Since he filed for arbitration, he is still with the Rangers organization until either a deal is reached or the organization trades his rights or lets him walk.
With Vladimir Tarasenko signing an eight-year, $7.5 million contract and with the O’Reilly situation, many are seeing Stepan wanting a contract similar to those mentioned. However, the Rangers only have about $10.2 million in cap space the work with according to hockeyscap.com and still have other NHL caliber players to be signed.
So that brings us to the question of how much Derek Stepan is actually worth?
We have seen this team without him in the lineup, and at times, they could barely get by and it can get ugly. Stepan clearly is a catalyst for this team and is a difference maker in some way shape or form every night. He does the little things that are necessary whether it be making a smart simple pass or back checking to break up a potential odd man rush.
In order to determine Stepan’s worth, lets take a look into his numbers. In 362 career games, Stepan has 89 goals and 252 points. He nearly averages around .70 points per game and is a +/- of +85. For a player who averages roughly eighteen minutes per night, those numbers are not too bad. He an easily be considered in the “elite player” category.
Since starting his career in the 2010-2011 season, Stepan has totaled 80 playoff games. A lot of these games include deep runs into the postseason (three Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final in the last four years). In those 80 games, Stepan tallied 15 goals and 41 points. With these numbers and the way we see him play once it matter most, it is safe to consider Stepan a playoff-player.
Stepan has a knack of stepping into the spotlight when the team needs him the most. For example, on April 6 of the 2015 season, the Rangers found themselves down 3-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets with less than a minute to go in the game. While on the power play, the puck finds it’s way to the front of the net and on Chris Kreider’s stick while screening the goaltender.
Without hesitation, Kreider chips the puck to Stepan who was waiting on the side of the net and he buries the puck. Finally, in overtime, Stepan finds himself with the puck in front of the net and he wins it for the Blueshirts.
We can not also forget the spectacular Game 7 overtime winner against the Washington Capitals. After winning the face-off, Girardi drives the puck on net and the rebound ends up on Stepan’s stick who is looking at a wide open net with Braden Holtby still recovering from a save. Who can forget Doc Emrick yelling, “SCORE!” while the team celebrates a Game 7 victory?
Lets not forget about his defensive capabilities either. Stepan is a rare two-way player who can play those tough defensive assignments while putting up great offensive numbers. Not many elite names in the league can do that. He is an effective penalty killer who can score shorthanded and can shutdown other teams’ offensive weapons.
However, there is one area of Derek Stepan’s game that does not necessarily help his cause; face-offs. He has a career face-off percentage of 44.1 %. This is not what you want to see from an elite player who the Rangers consider their number one center. Face-offs have always been the achilles heel of New York, but the Rangers need to improve and it starts with Stepan. A team cannot have its fourth line center lead in face-off percentage (Dominic Moore).
Stepan is in his prime years in a career viewpoint. While he still is very young (25) he is a hardened veteran for the Rangers lineup and is a leader on this team. Not many can be successful on Broadway, but he lives up to that challenge. Since he is a key component, the Rangers would be smart to negotiate a deal with him.
The Rangers organization have not let an arbitration-qualified restricted free agent actually get to the hearing since 2009. That year was when they let former forward Nik Zherdev walk. They have always made deals with players before the arbitration.
Seeing that he is a catalyst and that he is a core player, the Rangers will lock him up and strike out a deal. But the question is, for how much? Stepan is not a $7.5 million player just yet but he does deserve a big raise. The Rangers will probably meet Stepan somewhere around $6 million range. Players have a habit of thinking that they deserve more money than what they are worth, but Stepan is smart. He wants his money and deservedly so. Lets just hope the new General Manager Jeff Gorton and his staff see it that way.