One of the best moments of Nazem Kadri’s free-agent contract squabble with the Toronto Maple Leafs was when he called out the team’s irresponsible cap management in a martyr-ish way:
“I know I’m being pretty reasonable, taking cap into consideration, when really, that’s not my job."
Alas, he had zero leverage and took the money ($2.9 million against the cap) the Leafs wanted him to take. But that moment of indignation probably resonated with many players stuck in bridge contract hell: ‘Hey, why didn’t they think of me when they were handing out contract money to veterans like candy corn on Halloween?’
Such is life for Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers, the 23-year-old center who has yet to miss a regular-season game in three years and whose offensive numbers are on a steady climb. The restricted free agent remains unsigned and remains steadfast in his desire to be compensated for his accomplishments and abilities, despite what GM Glen Sather has done with the rest of his budget.
Stepan wants around $3.5 million per season over two years, according to multiple sources. The Rangers want $3 million per season, but could go up to $3.2 million.
Because he has no arbitration rights, he’s in the same pickle that Kadri and P.K. Subban were in. Long gone is the notion he’d land an Adam Henrique-like long-term deal, despite that being his preference. Stepan has accepted that he’s in Bridge Contract Hell, but has the nerve to ask for what he deserves rather than what fits under the NHL’s cap.
This, naturally, doesn’t sit well with Sather, who took to MSG Network on Monday and hoped his leading scorer from last season won’t be “a fool” in negotiations
"I don't think Derek is going to let this thing linger that long," Sather said in an interview on MSG Network during the Rangers' preseason game against the Calgary Flames on Monday night. "I don't think he is a big enough fool to think that he will sit out the year and it will do any good. He is in a gap contract and every one of our players has signed a gap contract.
… "He is going to get paid, but it isn't today," Sather said. "I hope he gets wiser because every day he misses is a big deal. We have offered him a very good deal. When he turned down our qualifying offer, we have stuck with that. He has to start smelling the roses and figure out what is going on. I hope he does."
“He is going to get paid, but it isn't today."
Now we’re starting to creep into that part of the negotiation where things get downright insulting for a player like Stepan.
Novel concept: Pay a player for what he’s done, as well as what you expect him to do.
Stepan led the Rangers in scoring last season. He’s led them in ice time at the forward spot for three seasons. This isn’t simply a case of a player taking some money now on the promise that he’ll break the bank in two years; this is a player that’s already earned the money he’s asking for in the bridge deal.
But there will be those what want Stepan to shut up and sing, that the Rangers’ cap situation – they currently have $2.18 million under it, although they can move salary for Stepan – necessitates sacrifice. And the longer he’s unsigned, the more he’ll be demonized by everyone from Sather to Alain Vigneault to the media, which is already terming this dispute a “hold out.”
He’s the first Ranger to be in this position since Brandon Dubinsky back in 2009. Remember how he was treated? Something about his coach calling the situation “stupid?”
Dubinsky was being stupid. Stepan might be a fool. Yet it’s the Rangers that are thoughtless about what one of their most vital offensive players deserves.