Trading Derek Stepan would be foolish

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The theme at Rangers breakup day on April 29 was change.

“I think we are at the stage now where we need to look at some changes. Any NHL team today, status quo is not possible and is not what you need, you need to keep changing pieces and bringing in different players to add different dynamics to the group,” said Alain Vigneault.

(Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

(Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

That’s also the theme that’s dominated much of the conversation among NYR fans on social media. We debate what the change should be, who the change should be based around. Rangers’ brass is most definitely doing the same.

Just over two weeks ago, the New York Post reported that the Minnesota Wild had noted interest in 25-year-old center Derek Stepan. Yesterday, James Murphy, formally a member of the Bruins beat for ESPN Boston, tweeted that the Rangers were talking Stepan trade with a Western Conference team.

I’m not saying a Stepan trade seems imminent, but where there’s smoke, sometimes there’s fire. It’s possible that the Rangers have called teams to gauged their interest on Step.

For the Rangers, doing their due diligence on every player’s potential return as a trade chip is more than fine. But trading a player as important as Stepan would ultimately prove to be an unnecessary risk.

Some of the aforementioned debating will be based on whether or not Stepan is a true number-one center.

In my mind, the number one center test is based on the question: are you the best center for the team you play for? In Stepan’s case, the answer is yes. In terms of production, he and Derrick Brassard both had a points per 60 minutes’ rate of 2.42 and 2.45 respectively (for comparisons sake, both better than Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux).

Points per 60 minutes is a good tool to use, being that Stepan missed ten games due to injury—this slightly skews his end of the year totals.

At even strength p/60, Stepan (2.15 p/60) finds himself in elite company. Ahead of John Tavares (2.15 p/60), Niklas Backstrom (1.87 p/60) and just below Sidney Crosby (2.20 p/60). The case can be made that he has provided elite point production and defensive play for the better part of five seasons as a New York Ranger.

After all, where Stepan separates himself is his play without the puck. He ranks first on the Rangers in takeaways, and is eleventh in the league among all players. With the rumored departure of Dom Moore, he is without a doubt their number one penalty killing center. Since Step’s rookie season, Dom Moore is the only current Blueshirt that’s taken more short-handed face-offs. He is going to be relied on more than ever for late game and PK defensive zone sequences.

That’s why this doesn’t all add up. It’s not like the Rangers are exactly bursting with center depth. If Stepan goes, Kevin Hayes assumes the number two center role. That’s not going to cut it.

The only way a Stepan trade would work is if the Rangers were getting a cheaper, or younger, but better center in return. If not that, they’d need to grab a new #1 (or 1A) center via free agency. Steven Stamkos obviously comes to mind here. A Stepan trade revolving around the premise of Stamkos coming to NY would be interesting, but it isn’t something that seems a remote possibility at this point in time.

In any case, trading away a homegrown talent who is very much a known commodity would be unwise. The fact of the matter is that Step is one of the top 30 centers in the NHL, and will only get better from here.

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