The Derek Stepan negotiations have taken a dramatic turn, with neither side coming to an agreement just hours before Stepan's 9 a.m. arbitration hearing is scheduled to begin.
I want to start by explaining the arbitration process to those who don't know what it is: Both the player and the team go into a meeting before an arbitrator with a cap-hit they're looking for. In this case, the Rangers are asking the arbitrator to award Stepan with a $5.2-million annual cap hit while Stepan is asking for a $7.25-million cap hit. The two sides, very similar to any trial you've seen on television, argue their points and then the arbitrator makes a decision within 48 hours. The team has the right to either accept the one or two-year contract (the Rangers selected the one-year option for Stepan's case) or they can walk away making the player a UFA.
Arbitration has a tendency to be a very nasty element in the contract negotiation game players, agents and teams play every summer. Why? Mainly because organizations need to explain all a player's faults -- as they argue for their perceived value against the player's higher perceived value -- to both the player and the judge.
As you can imagine, these are very personal and emotional meetings. Things get heated and bad blood broods from the conversation that goes on in the room. Neither side leaves particularly happy and in the end more often than not you're doing more damage than good, anyway.
The Stepan situation is no different than the above.
Here is what's different though: More often than not an arbitrator comes in pretty much dead center of the two offers. If that happened here it would put Stepan at a $6.2-million salary; probably a little less than Stepan actually wants but also less than he's worth.
If Stepan would actually settle at $6.5-6.75-million, why are you brooding bad blood and promising yourself to go through this again next summer just to save around $500K in cap space? It doesn't make any sense for either side involved.
A long-term contract is the necessity here. When you take a player who is capable of putting up points and playing defense the way Stepan has been able to you thank the heavens above you have said player on your team and lock them up long term.
When it comes to the past three years only 10 players 25 or under have had better point per game numbers than Stepan. He's capable of putting up offense despite brutal defensive requirements and he's been a constant playoff performer.
I've said it before and I will say it again: You make room for players like Stepan. You don't toy with him because you don't have it.