Last year the Rangers announced a string of RFA re-signings out of left field. That's to say: No media members knew anything was happening until the Rangers (through Twitter) notified the world of their moves. No leaks, no hints and no warnings. One minute they're unsigned and the next minute they're back on Broadway.
The lesson there should reinforce what we've always known to be true about these situations: The Rangers play their cards very close to the vest.
On Sunday the Rangers fanbase turned on the blinker and merged into the panic lane again. Larry Brooks helped guide the steering wheel with a report the Rangers had yet to offer RFA Derek Stepan an opening contract submission. From his story:
We're told talks between the parties haven't quite even reached the preliminary stages of negotiating, with the Blueshirts yet to submit an opening proposal for a long-term deal to their 25-year-old center.
As such, it is impossible to predict whether the sides actually will get to a hearing that would yield a two-year award and would take Stepan to the cusp of unrestricted free agency. But if general manager Jeff Gorton wants to avoid one and keep the Blueblood in a Blueshirt beyond 2017, it likely will take an opening bid of six years at $39 million ($6.5 million per season) just to get the ball rolling.
Brooks goes on to speculate the Rangers are not anticipating having to deal Stepan before his July 27th arbitration hearing date -- although he does take the time to remind the world the Rangers walked away from Nik Zherdev the last time the Rangers did have an RFA go to arbitration in 2009.
This is kind of the point, though, we don't know anything. Just because Stepan hasn't been re-signed yet people are assuming the two sides are locking horns in an epic contract battle that's turned ugly in the negotiating room. Except apparently the two sides haven't even really started yet, so there is no reason to assume things are getting rocky.
The Rangers have always been really good at keeping this information private. Very rarely do negotiations in New York go public -- although it is worth noting when they do go public they're usually very ugly. It's more than possible the two sides are simply feeling each other out before they enter the trenches.
You know what else is funny? Brooks threw out a six-year, $6.5-million starting point as though that would be the end of the world. He said it as though the Rangers would have to start there because of course Stepan is going to get Ryan O'Reilly's $7.5-million figure because that's the way the world works.
Honestly, Stepan at $6.5-million would be absolutely fine. If Jeff Gorton walks in with a eight-year deal worth $6-million a year to open things up and they close in the middle then so be it. I still can't see Stepan getting more than $7-million but even if he creeps up to that plateau he's still worth the money.
You pay the home grown irreplaceable talent you have and you avoid spending money on luxury players. Kevin Klein is a luxury player. He's nice to have on the bottom six but he's too expensive for that role -- and Raphael Diaz is already an upgrade over him. You don't spend money on players who are dragging you down (Tanner Glass). You don't waste money on players who are easily replaced within the pipeline.
You make moves to fit players like Stepan. You don't try and make Stepan fit in whatever cap mess you currently have. The Rangers might be doing that right now. Or they might not be.
Truth of the matter is we don't know what's going on with those negotiations. And that's just the way they like it.