NHL training camps kick off this week, but one former Badger may be sitting at home while his teammates take the ice. Restricted free agent Derek Stepan has yet to agree on a contract with the New York Rangers, and the dispute may force the Hastings, Minn., native to hold out at the start of camp as a negotiating tool.
According to Stepan's agent Matt Oates via Larry Brooks, Stepan and the Rangers aren't close to a deal at the moment. Oates added that Stepan wouldn't report to camp without an agreement in place.
Stepan agent Matt Oates tells Post: "A deal is not imminent and obviously Derek will not report (to camp) without a contract."— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) September 10, 2013
In a New York Post article written last night, Brooks reported Stepan was looking for a five or six year deal in the neighborhood of $5 million per season. Brooks says the Rangers are believed to be offering a two-year deal worth around $3 million per year.
The Rangers have typically used two-year "bridge contracts" for restricted free agents who have aged out of their entry level contracts. Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto all signed these two-year deals.
New York broke the mold earlier this off-season with Ryan McDonagh, signing the former Badger to a six-year deal worth $4.7 million per season. The major difference being the fact that McDonagh had arbitration rights, while the others did not. Stepan does not carry arbitration rights, which is a big reason why the Rangers are playing hardball.
The other factor is the Rangers' cap space, or, lack thereof. According to capgeek.com, New York currently has about $2.2 million in cap space for the upcoming season. The Blueshirts can clear another $1.325 million by keeping young forward Chris Kreider in the minors, and may be able to save space by placing Hagelin ($2.25 million) and/or Callahan ($4.275 million) on the Long Term Injury list according to Brooks.
Regardless, the Rangers are strapped tight against the cap, and that's affecting their ability to sign a huge piece of their future. Stepan was one of the biggest reasons New York had success last season, and it's a huge reason why its fanbase is nervous about the way the team is handling this dispute.
Hockey Prospectus, one of the NHL's leading authorities on player analytics, published its top 10 player rankings from last season using a formula that combines player contributions in all aspects of the game, including defense and the shootout.
HP ranked Stepan sixth overall in the NHL for his play last season, noting, "A true breakout season for Stepan, who was the leading point scorer on a Rangers team that featured Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Plus, Stepan played at every manpower strength for the Rangers and led all NHL forwards in defensive GVT."
High praise for the third year pro out of Wisconsin.
The one wrinkle that could change the entire dynamic is the possibility of an offer sheet. While not a popular move in the NHL, it has been done before (see: Vanek, Thomas). If the Rangers continue to toss pennies at the feet of Stepan, it wouldn't be surprising to see a team with cap space and a need for center help (Calgary Flames, New York Islanders) extend an offer.
It appears the drama will only escalate from here. With the Rangers set to open their season Oct. 3rd, the clock is ticking.
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