Amidst the chaos of Dan Girardi getting bought out by the New York Rangers; hockey insider Bob McKenzie dropped a rather interesting little tweet into the mix
NYR centre Derek Stepan's name is fairly prominent in trade chatter. Stepan's contract has four more years with AAV of $6M.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 14, 2017
(McKenzie later corrected Stepan’s AAV which is $6.5 million)
While many fans have been debating and speculating about trading the 26-year-old center, this tweet was really the first time that it’s confirmed that Stepan’s name is among those names being discussed the most. The next logical question, of course, is what would or should a Stepan trade look like?
First, we need to get something out of the way here. Stepan is a very good, legitimate first line center in the NHL. That statement is not an opinion, it is objective fact. In fact, thanks to the HERO charts from ownthepuck.blogspot.ca, you can see that when compared to the average 1st line center, Step measures up pretty well.
To help understand the chart, here’s a helpful guide
So, Stepan is a bonafide first line center with a $6.5 million cap hit over the next 4 years with a NTC that kicks in on July 1st. At 26-years-old, that is a very valuable asset and any trade for Stepan would have to address the fact that the Rangers are losing a very good player. This isn’t just a salary dump, or a trade for picks or prospects. Stepan should be traded for players that can help the Rangers both now and in the future -- akin to the Derick Brassard trade.
But what does that mean? Well, I think there are probably three players that I would feel comfortable trading Stepan for. Keep in mind that this is just my speculation based on positional need, strengths, and weaknesses of both teams, and looking at names that have been (at least) loosely tied to trade talks. Also, none of these trades would be exactly 1 for 1 deals, but the players here would be the main parts of the deal.
First up? Addressing the defense and trading for Jacob Trouba.
The Rangers have a huge need for a top-flight right handed defenseman that could skate with captain Ryan McDonagh and not drag him down. At only 23, Trouba has already established himself as a top pairing defenseman that can skate with and without the puck and drive play towards the opposing end. Trouba signed a short two year bridge contract with a $2.812 million cap hit for next season after much consternation between both team and player and rampant trade rumors. Winnipeg has a young forward corps built around Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers that could use the steady, all around game that Stepan brings to the ice game in and game out.
The next option? Zibanejad 2.0 en francais. Acquiring Alex Galchenyuk:
Last offseason, the Rangers traded a center over the age of 25 that has proven himself as a top 6 offensive player to a Canadian team for a offensively gifted center under the age of 25 that hasn’t really had the opportunity to really establish himself quite yet. This offseason, the Rangers can do it again by going out and getting Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens. Galchenyuk, still somehow only 23, has been bounced around by the Habs as either a center or a winger and never really finding a solid fit for the young forward from Wisconsin and this has led to trade speculation out of Montreal since Alex is a restricted free agent this offseason. The Canadiens desperately need help down the middle and Stepan can fit smoothly into either of the Habs’ top two lines.
As you can see in the comparison above; Galchenyuk stacks up pretty well to Stepan, the only downside would be the loss of the great defensive game that Stepan plays which could be mitigated by addressing the defense and adjusting the Rangers game plan to be more open to risk and creativity.
Finally; the MacKinnon long shot
This is probably the longest shot for a Stepan trade, but I think there are some legs to it. The Colorado Avalanche are a team that is desperate for some kind of change, the kind of desperate that leads to a team wanting to make a culture change and bring in a more veteran player for a younger player to shake things up a bit. MacKinnon is still only 21 years old and has oodles and oodles of talent still waiting to be unleashed on the NHL. This trade would be a clear win for the Rangers both for the present lineup and especially for the future.
As for Colorado, they would lose the offense that MacKinnon brings to the ice, but they would gain the all around game of Stepan as well as a player that has been through the fires of the playoffs can could be the leader that the Avs need to build around.
Now, it would benefit the Rangers to keep Stepan around, as I said he’s quite the hockey player, but if they are persistent on trading him this offseason they need to knock the trade out of the park, and the three options above are probably the best returns the Rangers should look to get from other teams.