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New York Rangers Analysis: The Clock is Ticking for Stepan and the Rangers

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Jeff Gorton is running out of time.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We should all be very nervous right now.

Tomorrow morning New York Rangers' center Derek Stepan has his scheduled arbitration hearing. As things currently stand, there is a $2 million disparity between what the club is offering and what Derek Stepan and his agent, Matthew Oates, think he is worth.

Of course, both parties are talking in numbers that are inflated/deflated as part of the negotiating process.Just look at Braden Holtby's contract demands before he signed his deal with Washington a few days ago. Holtby headed into negotiations and his hearing asking for $8 million and ended up signing a six year deal with an AAV of $6.1 million. A middle ground was found that worked for both Holtby and the Capitals at the 11th hour, hopefully the same thing happens for Derek Stepan and the Rangers. If it doesn't, Stepan will have to stomach harsh criticisms of his play from the team in their attempt to devalue him in the eyes of the independent arbiter. Both the Rangers and Stepan want to avoid this going to court, but unless both parties take a few more steps towards a middle ground that is just where this thing is headed.

There are a lot of opinions about just how good Derek Stepan is or isn't. Since he first stepped onto the ice as a Ranger and scored a hat trick in his first game it seems like there's been an ongoing debate about whether or not he's a "true" first line center. For those of you who are still uncertain, there is no doubt that Derek Stepan has the skill set and production of a first line center.

We will take a deeper look at just how valuable Derek Stepan is to the Rangers at a later date, but I wanted to make it clear that Stepan is a crucial cog in the Rangers' offense and losing him or mishandling his contract extension could have disastrous results for the team's success moving forward. Stepan's asking price of $7.25 million is, all things considered, a very good sign for the Rangers. It is not unrealistic that the Rangers could get Stepan locked up for 6 years at an AAV under $7 million.

Within 48 hours of an arbitration hearing a ruling will be made by an independent arbiter who will set the arbitration award for the player. Should the Rangers and Stepan reach an agreement before the hearing, during it, or before a ruling is made by the arbiter that agreement will stand and put an end to the salary arbitration process. We should all be crossing our fingers and hoping that the Rangers and Stepan reach an agreement before the arbitration hearing sometime tomorrow morning. We should also all be hoping that Stepan chooses to perhaps slip in under $7 million AAV to stay on a highly competitive team and play with a group that has been to the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons. We saw Dan Girardi and Mats Zuccarello take a little less money than they really wanted to stay with the Rangers, hopefully Stepan will follow their example... but things can get a little bit crazy when it comes to centers and their contracts in the NHL. Yes, we're looking at you, Ryan O'Reilly.

If the amount of the contract is more than $3,799,887 (which is a given with Derek Stepan) the Rangers will have 48 hours to walk away from what the independent arbiter set as the arbitration award and in so doing they would make Derek Stepan an unrestricted free agent. Some of you might remember that this is what the Rangers did with Nik Zherdev after he was given his arbitration award of $3.9 million several years ago. Obviously, the Rangers aren't going to do this with Stepan unless the arbitration award is outlandish and would cripple the team. The chances of the award being something that the Rangers simply can't work are slim to none, but the team's salary cap constraints aren't permissible in arbitration hearings.

I know I sound like a broken record and am stating the obvious here, but it really is in the best interest of the club and Stepan to hammer something out preferably before the hearing or before the arbiter settles on an award (after the Rangers have said all the things that wrong about Derek Stepan in front of Derek Stepan) and all control of the situation is taken out of the hands of GM Jeff Gorton. There have already been plenty of rumors about bad blood between Stepan and the Rangers' management group after his holdout two seasons ago that cost him time in training camp and the preseason. Something tells me it would get pretty nasty in there.

Another fun little twist in this process is that this year analytics are allowed in the presentations by the club and by the player in determining the value of the player. Here's a bit from Frank Seravalli's piece on TSN two weeks ago about "enhanced stats" being brought to the table.

For instance, should Stepan indeed take the Rangers to a hearing, his agent can show that Stepan finished 31st in the league with 2.67 points per 60 minutes played among the 568 skaters who appeared in a minimum of 40 games last season. That mark was better than notable names like Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Ryan Johansen, Joe Pavelski and T.J. Oshie. There were no statistical anomalies in the 30 players above him - they all put together impressive seasons.

At the same time, the Rangers could point out that Stepan only ranked 19th on the team last season in Corsi, or shot attempts for/against, as labelled on NHL.com. In other words, opponents generated 135 more shot attempts than the Rangers while Stepan was on the ice.

Oh boy, more numbers to keep in mind.

Derek Stepan will be a UFA in two years. If the Rangers and Stepan head to arbitration and Steps takes on a one or two year deal the Rangers will find themselves in a position to have to negotiate a contract extension with a thoroughly disgruntled and arguably mishandled center before he becomes a UFA in the 2017 offseason.

Whatever doubts you might have about Derek Stepan, it goes without saying that you cannot allow a player of his caliber and value to simply walk away in two years time. If a contract extension doesn't get figured out before the hearing tomorrow morning, the Rangers will find themselves in a true lose-lose situation. A deal must get done before its too late.

The clock is ticking for Jeff Gorton and Derek Stepan and his representatives right now. Will something get hammered out in the 11th hour that keeps Derek Stepan in New York for another half a dozen years? Or will we all be holding our breath and waiting to hear what his arbitration award is, knowing that it might very well put a two season shelf life on Stepan's time with the Ranger? Good luck with this one Gorton, we need a home run.

Thanks for reading. Let's go Rangers.