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As I mentioned in the last slide, the Rangers are about to face a RFA storm.
- Ryan McDonagh will be a RFA after this season
- Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin will be RFAs after this season
- Michael Sauer will be a RFA after this season
- Chris Kreider will be a RFA after the 2013-2014 season
That's five core players up for a new contract in the next two years.
Because of the large contracts to Rick Nash and Brad Richards, along with Ryan Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik and Dan Girardi becoming unrestricted free agents after the 2013-14 season, the Rangers simply may be unable to get everyone under contract.
The Rangers will do what they can, but the math may not work. Presumably, McDonagh and Kreider are going to want—and deserve—long-term deals.
Even if the Rangers decide to let Sauer and, for argument's sake, Gaborik walk, they are still going to re-sign Lundqvist, Callahan and Gaborik.
So that's five players with high priority. That means someone has to go.
In this scenario, it's Derek Stepan.
I may be in the minority, but I think Derek Stepan has underachieved.
17 goals and 34 assists last season is certainly not terrible, but he has the talent level to do more. His postseason struggles—one goal in 20 games—only compound the issues.
Stepan is always around the net, but for someone who's always buzzing, he isn't always scoring. He needs to be a 25+ goal scorer.
Stepan is still on his entry level contract of $875,000, so cost is not an issue for teams.
What can the Rangers get?
The Rangers would want a draft pick, of course, but would also want a NHL player, or a NHL-ready player—someone who can step in and take Stepan's place.
The Rangers might have an alternative to Stepan in the minors in Kyle Jean, who has scored four goals and added five assists in seven games.
Either way, the Rangers need to make a decision: Lock up Stepan for cheap now, or have a tough decision to make when the season's over.
I'd recommend locking him up to a team-friendly deal now, but of course Stepan has to like what he sees.
If they can't get him under contract for something that will allow them to sign their upcoming RFAs, then he might find his way out of town. Trading him when the lockout ends, before a poor performance could tarnish his value, would make sense.