Expect another year of heavy contract talks in New York

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Entering the 2013-14 season, the New York Rangers boasted some huge names who were entering the last seasons of their contracts. The franchise resolved many of those issues (or, in the case of Ryan Callahan, traded those deals away) on their way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final… yet still finds itself in a similar spot as next season approaches.

Granted, nothing will really top the drama of last season — re-signing Henrik Lundqvist, opting against the same for Callahan, buying out Brad Richards — but a lot of money will still be at stake this year.

Naturally, a contract extension or two could happen in the early stages, but let’s look at the most prominent players (sorry, Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick) entering contract years with current cap hits in parenthesis:

Martin St. Louis ($5.625 million, UFA)
Marc Staal ($3.975 million, UFA)
Mats Zuccarello ($3.5 million, UFA)
Derek Stepan ($3.075 million, RFA)
Carl Hagelin ($2.25 million, RFA)
Cam Talbot ($562K, UFA)

That’s quite the list of prominent players. St. Louis has been (relatively) underpaid for years and may very well want to “cash-in” on what be his last NHL contract (or at least close to his last one).

The rest of the list features players in their primes who are probably all being paid below market value. Staal’s had his troubles, yet defensemen are so hard to come by that a nice season could mean a huge contract. Zuccarello topped all Rangers regular season scorers, Hagelin’s a speedy gem who could easily enjoy a big jump in production and Talbot was quietly brilliant backing Lundqvist up last season.

Stepan might be the most interesting, though. He’s been a steady performer (never missed one game since hitting the league in 2010-11) with two 50-point seasons and no less than 44 points in any campaign. He’s already pretty accomplished for a guy who’s only 24. With Brad Richards gone, Stepan’s status as the team’s No. 1 center seems as secure as ever, and the American-born forward is likely to play with St. Louis and/or Rick Nash next season. Could we see a 20+ goal season in which Stepan flirts with 70 points? It’s not outrageous to ponder, and such a leap would cost the Blueshirts some serious cash, even considering the fact that Stepan will be an RFA.

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This talk might leave Rangers fans a little nervous, but sometimes a little added motivation can be a good thing. Even with the likes of Lundqvist and Dan Girardi re-signed, New York benefited greatly from best-of-their-career moments from pending free agents during an impressive playoff run in 2013-14.

In other words, greed can be good … at least in the short term.