I'm not going to lie to all of you. As I returned from my vacation and visited the site for the first time I felt like a mother and father walking through the doors of their house after leaving their college kids home alone for a week. I slowly opened the site and peeked at the layout through half-covered eyes to realize ... nothing had happened.
(Side note: I was on a Carnival Cruise that left out of New York. I wore my SB Nation Bluehsirt Banter shirt the first day and saw a plethora of people in Rangers gear. No one said anything to me. It made me sad. If you want to make me happy, go buy Bluehsirt Banter stuff!)
I'll admit, a part of me expected Derek Stepan to be locked up by now. And as we continue hurtling towards the hockey season (less than three weeks before we can start talking about New York Rangers news again!) this story is going to become bigger and bigger, I can promise you that.
The Henrik Lundqvist contract negotiations aren't as big of a deal because Lundqvist is, well, under contract for next season. He'll be locked up by January I would guess and everything will be fine. But this Stepan situation is different because as of right now, he's unsigned.
Look, as a fanbase we've been through this before. These bridge deal negotiations can get uncomfortable. In the case of Brandon Dubinsky things got really, really ugly. Marc Staal's negotiations got uncomfortable, but it never built up the bad blood that Dubinsky's did. Michael Del Zotto's negotiations last year would have been worse if the lockout didn't end things quicker.
This situation is a little different, though. We all know why. Ryan McDonagh got to break the trend; mainly because of his importance to the team. Stepan (who is equally important) feels he should get the same treatment. The difference? Stepan broke out last year, McDonagh has been more consistent.
Make whatever argument you want about whether or not you think Stepan deserves to be locked up longer term (and I'm in the camp that thinks he should be), but it does make some sense to give him a bridge deal. As much as I think he's going to be a fantastic player for years to come, his true breakout season was still just one season.
I have no doubt in my mind that Stepan will be back. You shouldn't either. The only question is how long it will be until he comes back. I doubt we see him hold out, I doubt we see him cause a scene. To this point, his camp has remained remarkably silent on the contract negotiations as a whole. That's always a good sign. Things get ugly when details start leaking.
But that doesn't mean he's not upset. And it doesn't mean he wants a bridge deal. It just means it's going to take some time. The Rangers know how important he is to the team's success. He knows too. This is all part of the business.
That's what hockey can be, after all.