With less than 24 hours until Saturday’s roster freeze, Derek Stepan trade speculation is heating up. TSN’s Bob McKenzie claimed late Friday night that the Arizona Coyotes are “likely/hopeful” to make moves, with them being “one of multiple teams with serious interest in Derek Stepan.”
The report comes after, coincidentally or not, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman discussed a Stepan/Arizona situation that manifested last summer. Here is what Friedman said on Sportsnet’s The Fan 960.
“I know Arizona was talking about him (last year), but I think there was something else that had to happen first before that deal got done and it never happened... I think the Rangers, by buying out Girardi, a guy whom the organization really loved, I think they’re sending a message - that, you know what? We’re kind of turning over our core a bit here. So I do think someone like Stepan could be available.”
The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported yesterday that the Rangers would not move Stepan “unless (they) get a no-doubt, first-pair right D” in return. For that reason, among others, it’s hard to view Arizona as a trading partner that makes sense.
The ideal trade target is stud offensive defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He is a lefty, but talent is talent. He becomes a free agent in two years, and Arizona might not like their chances of re-signing him. There are worse things Arizona could do than move him for a younger, established first-line center who is locked up long-term. Perhaps with some more coming from the Rangers as well. It might be a pipe dream, but weirder trades have happened.
Arizona also has two other top young defensemen in Jakob Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo. Both are NHL-caliber players now and have first-pairing ceilings. In the case of DeAngelo, Arizona would have to include other assets as well.
Beyond that Arizona has arguably the top group of prospects in the NHL. Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Brendan Pirlini, Christian Fischer, and Clayton Keller are all highly talented forwards who are NHL-ready, or at least very close. Brooks is definitely reliable, but circumstances also can change quickly in this shotgun environment. The Rangers could move Stepan for talent they like from Arizona, then move assets in a separate deal for another team’s defenseman. Or perhaps they could trade Stepan for desperately needed long-term assets, and then sign Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau to fill the hole at center in the meantime. It is important to reiterate that McKenzie cited Arizona as just one of multiple teams heavily pursuing Stepan, so a trade could occur with a different team. Or, of course, not at all.
With the roster freeze commencing at 3pm EST on Saturday, Derek Stepan’s Ranger career could possibly have only hours remaining.