After Glen Sather stepped down from his role as general manager of the New York Rangers, the torch was passed on to his former assistant Jeff Gorton, and boy, did Sather leave tons of work for him.
The consensus across the board from fans and media is that so far, Gorton has done a solid job. He guided the Rangers through a tight-cap masterfully, and added some depth pieces to keep the Blueshirts in their role as annual Stanley Cup contenders. Viktor Stalberg and Raphael Diaz have joined the team, and he also added some players to bolster up the farm team in Hartford.
Then there was the Derek Stepan contract extension. One that had been looming since they signed the center to a bridge contract two years ago. The time had come for him to finally get paid.
At first, it appeared that things were going to get ugly and head to arbitration. Rumors of Stepan’s asking price of $7.2 million had fans questioning whether it (he) was worth it. Luckily for the organization and Stepan and his agent, they were able to find a middle ground and agree on a long-term extension worth $6.5 million per season for six years.
It’s not too much money, but it’s not too little either. In fact, it’s the perfect amount for a homegrown talent who has blossomed into the team’s top center, so it’s safe to say he was given what he deserved.
But with this new contract also comes added responsibility for the 25-year old Minnesota native.
In his previous years with the team, Stepan could fly under the radar. He wasn’t making that much money, but he was quietly putting up good numbers that were contributing to the Rangers’ success.
Moving into an all new tax bracket, all eyes are on him. Now instead of people complaining about Rick Nash’s output, they will complain about Nash AND Stepan. Good times, right?
However, in all seriousness, all the pressure is squarely on Stepan to produce numbers worthy of the lofty raise. Questions will be asked of him, with the focal point being if he can handle being the #1 center on the team. That’s a heavy role, and not many players can deal with that kind of pressure.
Stepan seems like the type of player however that can thrive with the added responsibility. He will be looked upon now as the main point-getter on the team behind Nash.
He is also looked to as a leader for the younger players. With the additions of Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast last season, and maybe Oscar Lindberg this season, it is pivotal that Stepan sets a great example not only for himself but the skaters on the team who have not been in certain situations before.
Stepan is a player highly driven to not only compete but succeed. The losses the past two years in the Stanley Cup final and Eastern Conference final have stung and stayed with him through the summer workouts. Now with the ‘mess that could have been’ signed and sealed, he can get back to focusing on his game and team success.
Will Stepan lead New York to the promised land? That remains to be seen, but it’s safe to assume the team will be in the hunt for the most prized trophy in sports again this season, with another chance to win said trophy.
And it will all start with their newly minted number one center.