The New York Rangers have agreed to terms with forward Derek Stepan on a six-year, $39 million deal.
Today’s announcement came the morning the two sides were scheduled to go to arbitration.
Stepan had 16 goals and 39 assists in 68 games last season. The 25-year-old center now has the third-highest cap hit ($6.5 million) on the team, behind Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million) and Rick Nash ($7.8 million).
With Stepan signed long-term, the Rangers have two young centers, Stepan and 27-year-old Derick Brassard, under contract for at least the next four years.
Restricted free agent Derek Stepan might consume all of the New York Rangers’ remaining cap space.
Ahead of Monday’s arbitration hearing, the 25-year-old forward put in a request for a $7.25 million contract while the Rangers are countering at $5.2 million, per Elliotte Friedman.
While that might sound like a big gap, it’s worth remembering that both have likely chosen their positions strategically, leaving potential room for a compromise. We saw an example of that recently when Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby filed an $8 million request versus Washington’s position at $5.1 million. They ended up agreeing to a five-year, $30.5 million deal. In other words, he’ll come with a $6.1 million annual cap hit.
The Rangers have reportedly already shown a willingness to go above their arbitrator filed price on a long-term deal as they are interested in a six-year contract worth $6.5-6.75 million annually, according to the New York Post. Stepan has countered at $7.25-7.5 million annually for at least seven years.
At the same time, that gap does have major significance to the New York Rangers as they currently have roughly $6.9 million in cap space, per General Fanager. So if the two sides settle close to Stepan’s demands then the Rangers will have essentially no wiggle room going into the season and might even need to make another move to get in a more comfortable cap position.
Stepan had 16 goals and 55 points in 68 contests in 2014-15. He’s never recorded more than 57 points in a single season, although he did have 18 goals and 26 assists in the 48-game 2013 campaign.
There are always going to be solid unrestricted free agents that have trouble finding a contract that lives up to expectations, but even in that context this year feels different, according to one longtime agent.
“It’s tough,” the agent told the Columbus Dispatch. “There are plenty of teams interested in adding a player, but they don’t have (salary cap) room. It’s just not there.
“So either they’re trying to make moves to accomodate that, or they’re waiting for the market to adjust. There’s plenty of time. It’s the middle of July. But it’s been really difficult for a lot of guys this summer.”
Thirteen teams have less than $5 million in remaining cap space, according to General Fanager. That number doesn’t include the New York Rangers, which still needs to re-sign RFA Derek Stepan, or the Los Angeles Kings, which might be in limbo as they wait to see how the contract situations with Slava Voynov and Mike Richards play out. So it’s not hard to argue that half the league has little to no cap space remaining. Of course, that doesn’t even start to factor in teams that are expected to stay significantly below the ceiling due to their own internal budgets, rebuilding strategy, or both.
Meanwhile, there are 22 UFAs remaining that came with a cap hit of at least $3 million last season.
There are of course going to be more noteworthy signings, but for teams that have space and the flexibility to add salary, this is a potentially great opportunity to improve their squad at a reduced price. We also might see more salary dumping trades before the 2015-16 campaign starts.
Related: There are some interesting players left on the UFA market
The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Jarred Tinordi to a one-year, two-way contract on Wednesday. The financial terms have not been disclosed.
At this point, the Habs only have one pressing concern remaining: re-signing RFA Alex Galchenyuk. Naturally, much like the New York Rangers with Derek Stepan, getting Galchenyuk under contract will be more challenging than signing the likes of Tinordi and Michael Bournival.
Tinordi, 23, managed to play in 13 regular season games last season, generating two assists. He didn’t receive any reps in the playoffs, but he does have some postseason experience, as he played in five playoff games in 2013.
It’s likely that the young blueliner – drafted 22nd overall in 2010 – will need to battle for playing time. It won’t be easy, yet he has at least one ace up his sleeve:
The New York Rangers crossed two more items off their to-do list on Wednesday, signing RFAs J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast.
The team only officially acknowledged that the two deals are done, but the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that Fast’s contract is for two years, $1.9 million (a cap hit of $950K per season) while Miller accepted a qualifying offer of about $874K.
It sounds like Miller might be eyeing the future in compromising his 2015-16 payday:
Of course, there’s still the elephant in the room in Derek Stepan’s negotiations, but the Rangers’ other worries are largely taken care of. Taking those two contracts into consideration, that leaves New York with about $6 million in cap space for Stepan; Brooks reported that $6.5 million would just be a starting point, so there could still be some work to do there.
The Rangers have developed a pattern of saving with RFAs, for the most part, and these two deals stick with that trend.
Fast, 23, generated modest point totals (14 in 58 regular season games, six points in 19 postseason contests), yet he showed flashes of brilliance here and there. Miller, 22, managed slightly better totals and could very well blossom in the near future.
It’s been a busy day with the signing of Dylan McIlrath also in mind, but the team’s executives can’t quite take a vacation just yet.