The New York Rangers have a number of high-profile restricted free agents who need new deals before the start of next season, but team brass should be looking forward to next summer.
Next summer, Derek Stepan's current two-year deal worth $3.075 million a year will expire, and it has been suggested by writers such as Larry Brooks of the New York Post and Lyle Richardson of Bleacher Report that Stepan is due for a big raise.
With reports, via Brooks, coming out that current RFA Derick Brassard is seeking a multiyear deal worth $5.5 million a season, should the Blueshirts try and ink Stepan to a deal that will help their bottom line going forward?
How much is Derek Stepan worth?
Once the Rangers square away their situation with Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, John Moore and Brassard, it would be prudent to try and ink Stepan to a new deal that is between three and five years in length.
Brassard's deal could set the bar for Stepan, and that bar could only increase after the upcoming season. There is a risk of handing Stepan a new deal coming off a solid season, but it is one worth taking because they could get burned worse if the 24-year-old pivot lights the world on fire in 2014-15.
At this stage of his career, Stepan is one of the league's top budding young centers. He is 24 and has totaled 73 goals and 124 assists for 197 points in 294 games. That works out to a 0.67 points-per-game average, or 55 points a season.
The numbers may not be good enough for a traditional No. 1 center, but Stepan has a chance to show that he can be a 60-point center, and that production combined with his defensive prowess would be enough to justify first-line center money.
There is reason to believe he can still improve; therefore, he is worth the investment. So with that in mind, how much could it cost the Rangers?
When trying to pinpoint Stepan's value, it is important to look at his age, production, potential future and some comparable players.
The best way to do this is look at players who are similar in style, age and production. With that in mind, here are a few players Stepan could use in a potential arbitration hearing.
For the sake of relevance, the past two seasons will be used in the below chart.
|Player||Current Age||Goals||Assists||Points||P/GP||Cap Hit|
As you can see, there are some interesting situations. Logan Couture, one year older, outproduced Stepan in points per game, and his salary of $6 million could keep Stepan from eclipsing that monetary ceiling.
There's a big difference between a 65-point and a 55-point center, and that is something that could keep Stepan in the $5-5.7 million range. This is justified when you look at other players who are younger and have proven less but have still made more money than Stepan.
Ryan O'Reilly and Jeff Skinner haven't produced as well as Stepan, and they each have a nice salary. It could be argued that O'Reilly isn't a comparable because he was given an offer sheet, but the Colorado Avalanche signed him and therefore confirmed his worth.
Nazem Kadri is included because his salary is really close to Stepan's, and proportionally, it can be argued that his inflated salary adds ammunition for Stepan's camp to ask for more money.
However, the Rangers need to look out for themselves first and foremost, so expect them to play some hardball with Stepan. As it stands, he is three years away from regular free agency. His next deal will involve the purchase of regular free-agency years in a cap world where average salaries are going up.
Right now, he is a 55-point center with great two-way qualities. His improvement from here isn't going to be drastic, because most centers don't see a major improvement after their first 300 or so games.
Here is a chart that highlights a few of the league's top centers who have played a significant amount of games since hitting the 300 mark.
Note: Jonathan Toews, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos are omitted because they didn't have enough games for this comparison.
|Player||First Four/Five Seasons (300 Games)||Points||P/GP||Games Played Since||Points||P/GP||Variance Since||Point Differential Per Season|
|Joe Thornton||289||179||0.619||918||1015||1.105||(+) 0.486||39.852|
|Pavel Datsyuk||284||241||0.848||540||563||1.042||(+) 0.194||15.908|
|Ryan Getzlaf||297||270||0.909||336||338||1.005||(+) 0.096||7.872|
|David Krejci||298||214||0.718||206||164||0.796||(+) 0.078||6.396|
|Sidney Crosby||290||397||1.368||260||372||1.430||(+) 0.062||5.084|
|Eric Staal||327||282||0.862||442||406||0.918||(+) 0.056||4.592|
|Brad Richards||326||277||0.849||656||590||0.899||(+) 0.050||4.100|
|Jeff Carter||307||216||0.703||329||244||0.741||(+) 0.038||3.166|
|Anze Kopitar||318||285||0.896||286||261||0.912||(+) 0.016||1.312|
|Paul Stastny||274||264||0.963||264||194||0.750||(-) 0.213||(-) 17.466|
|Jason Spezza||322||345||1.071||364||342||0.939||(-) 0.132||(-) 10.824|
|Patrice Bergeron||303||228||0.752||356||228||0.640||(-) 0.112||(-)9.184|
|Evgeni Malkin||309||381||1.233||209||251||1.200||(-) 0.033||(-)2.706|
As you can see, there are a number of centers who improved, but most of them didn't have major improvement.
What is Stepan's ceiling?
The greatest changed was Joe Thornton improving his yearly point total by nearly 40 points, followed by Pavel Datsyuk at 15. The rest saw improvements ranging from an increase of seven points a season to as low as nearly one point a season, and some centers have seen their offensive output decrease.
What this means is that while Stepan could get better, he isn't going to magically transform into a 70-point center. Becoming a 60-point center is possible, and 65 points a season would be stretching it.
Therefore, the Rangers should play it safe and try and ink Stepan to a deal worth $5.75 million a season for the next three seasons. If they go longer and offer five or six years, then it would make sense to pay $6 million a season.
A $5.75 million deal would be more than fair value for Stepan as a 55-point center, and it would give the Rangers flexibility if he doesn't improve offensively. There is no guaranteeing that Stepan considers this deal, but it is something that would be fair for both sides.
What is for certain, however, is that retaining Stepan will be key. He is the team's No. 1 center, and with no future No. 1 in the system, he would hold a lot of the cards when it comes to negotiations next summer. Brassard is promising, but he needs to show some more year-to-year consistency.
It will be interesting to see what happens, but it would be beneficial for the Rangers to deal with this situation sooner rather than later. The Montreal Canadiens got burned with P.K. Subban, and a big season in 2014-15 from Stepan could have a similar impact on the Rangers' bottom line.
Financial information via CapGeek. Stats via Hockey-Reference unless otherwise noted.