Will Derek Stepan’s next contract spell doom for the NY Rangers?

Stepan (Photo by Anthony Causi)

Stepan (Photo by Anthony Causi)

Derek Stepan is going to get paid one way or another, how much he does get could have serious ramifications going forward in the way the team is currently constructed. Jeff Gorton  is officially on the job and he’s already got his hands full.

According to Hockey’s Cap the Rangers current cap situation is $10.2M in space left. They will need almost all of that to sign their 4 RFA’s (Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Emerson Etem).

Assume that 4 to 4.5m will be used to sign up everyone not named Stepan and allow for a little breathing room for emergency call ups during the year. That means any contract for Derek Stepan that exceeds 5.7M to 6.2M could force Gorton’s hand into a trade.

So what moves are available and make sense? Trading away Rick Nash would be difficult when you factor in he can only be traded to 10 teams and we can safely assume that not all 10 will be interested. Plus, if Nash doesn’t want to be traded he could easily put cap challenged teams like Chicago and L.A. on his list and continue to limit it. Let’s not forget that the Rangers have no interest in moving him and would have a hard time replacing his 42 goals also.

Continuing down the rabbit hole, the Rangers are unlikely to move a forward since they already had to move Carl Hagelin just to accommodate Stepan’s new contract. The obvious move comes on defense and considering this is a “win now” team, removing one of their top 6 to replace with a low end option or unproven rookie isn’t exactly plan A.

The Rangers were asked about Kevin Klein and had no intention of moving him and his friendly 2.9M cap hit. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently wrote:

[su_quote cite=”Elliotte Friedman” url=”http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/30-thoughts-players-like-kessel-tough-to-find/”]I’ve heard they’ve been asked about Kevin Klein, but don’t want to go that route. He’s signed for three more years at a very reasonable $2.9 million — not easy to replace at that cost. In a perfect world, they’d want to take one more run with this group, but Stepan’s number probably determines that. I don’t think they want to move Keith Yandle, but what if they’re really stuck?[/su_quote]

If Keith Yandle becomes the casualty, it will have even longer ramifications past this season.  Right now Yandle is only costing the Rangers 2.5M on the cap and when he becomes a UFA next summer, Dan Boyle and his 4.5M will come off the books. The Rangers can use most of that to lock him up. That would ensure a premiere power play QB to patrol the blue-line going forward. Should they be forced to move him, then the Rangers will need to hope Ryan McDonagh can assume that role or search again for it elsewhere.

Of course there is one other possibility and that would be trading Stepan himself. Here is the issue, everyone in the league will know the Rangers are in a bind and need to shed salary in one trade or another. This will lower the return and whenever you are trading the best player in a deal…you’ve already lost.

Good Luck Mr. Gorton.