Step into reality: The New York Rangers should expose Derek Stepan in the expansion draft 1
Feb 7, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers center Derek Stepan (21) takes a shot against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, it sounds crazy on the surface, but Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers should expose Derek Stepan in the expansion draft.

Safe. Surprising. Sensational — this describes the escalation of the Rangers’ Michael Grabner this season. Protecting him in the expansion draft is something many New York Rangers fans feel is a necessity, but at what cost?

Listen, I’m a “Stepan guy.”

I’ve defended him for years because of what I think he brings to the New York Rangers: a rare combination of youth, on-ice vision and an uncommonly high hockey IQ to go along with immeasurable heart and passion. Derek Stepan is a fixture at the seasoned core of this Rangers club and he is one of the players with an entire extra season of NHL hockey under his belt in the playoffs alone (85 total playoff games).

He’s also about to become an anchor instead of just a reliable fixture. At 26-years-old, Stepan’s two-year, full no-trade clause will take effect on July 1 and he’ll also have a modified no-trade until July of 2021. He is paid an annual average salary of $6.5MM against the cap — that’s 1C money — and he has never produced more than 22 goals or broken the 60-point barrier (57).

That’s a lot of dough locked up for a long time in a guy who probably isn’t far from his apex as a player. Shedding that contract, while it would pain many Ranger fans to see, would provide some much-needed cap flexibility for Rangers’ GM Jeff Gorton.

This, however, is not about getting rid of Derek Stepan.

What it is about is something that is so glaringly obvious, it should simply be assumed at this point: the Rangers need to protect Michael Grabner from the Las Vegas Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. In order to do that, Gorton has a lot of thinking to do.

Grabby’s numbers speak for themselves. To-date, he’s an astonishing +28 (yes, that’s pretty amazing for a third/fourth liner) and leads all Rangers skaters with 26 goals to go along with 10 assists in 55 games played. His goal total currently has him tied for fifth in the NHL with guys named Vladimir (Tarasenko) and Alex (Ovechkin). Twenty-five of those goals are of the even strength variety (first in the NHL) and he’s taken only eight penalty minutes all year.

Grabner also possesses the highest goals per time on ice in the league as the only player averaging more than two goals per 60 minutes (2.03). He has, undoubtedly, been driving this club’s offense from various lines all season, seemingly skating into a breakaway per game while finding chemistry on a potent line next to J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes.

He’s doing all of that for $1.65MM against the cap.

For perspective, Grabner’s cap hit puts him in between forwards Kyle Clifford and John Mitchell. They have combined for seven goals this year.

Credit goes to Gorton for a savvy signing. However, with the expansion draft looming and the Rangers likely to opt for protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, it’s become clear that one of Gorton’s most important decisions as GM is coming with it.

Electing not to protect Step is not a guarantee he’s drafted away. It’s a draft, not a giveaway. Vegas could decide to opt for goaltender Antti Raanta, defensemen Kevin Klein or Nick Holden, or take another unprotected forward.

While I’d be sad to see Stepan leave Broadway, freeing up $6.5 million in space with the salary cap expected to be stagnant or only rise marginally would yield a lot of flexibility.

Now’s the time to face a tough fact: the Rangers have to make a tough choice and expose Stepan to Las Vegas.

Expect a wild trade deadline and tons of fireworks during the expansion draft, starting June 18.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Seriously, this is ridiculous. Stepan would be snatched up in a heartbeat especially considering how Vegas needs to reach the salary cap floor and they will need a few players on multi-million dollar contracts. Plus why would you expose a consistent performer, still in his prime, top line non-elite center with a few years left on his contract in order to protect a career inconsistent player like Grabner. Don’t get me wrong, would love to see Grabner here and thriving, as he’s done … but not at the expense of so important a player like Stepan.

    • you are overselling $tepans importance. you also didn’t want Grabner to begin with and you were quite angry (a normal state for you) when he was signed. your home groan bias shines again.

      i know you won’t agree but they should strongly consider trading $tepan after the season for a top 4 righty dman of similar age.

      barring a trade Grabner needs to be protected with his world class speed and bargain contract. Somebody like Zucc making close to $ 3 mm more would have to be exposed – at least we’d get some cap relief.

      • Top 4? Absolutely not worth it. A relatively young POTENTIAL top pairing d’man has to come back. You’re underselling Stepan’s performance on the team and your bias is clearly indicated by you using a $ sign in his name. You have ZERO credibility — and then you want to expose MZA as well? Why not just rip the heart out of the Ranger forward group by getting rid of both Stepan and MZA.

        • i did not say get rid of both apologist. your reading skills are still substandard.

          one or the other. clearly a trade for top 4 righty dman of comparable age is preferable to losing one via expansion. if its to expansion i’d prefer it be zucc who went

          • they will have to lose 1 hopefully via trade. i know you never wanted Grabner here but he has world class speed and a very favorable cap hit unlike $tepan in particular. He’s also same age as Zucc and makes almost $ 3 mm less. In a situation where cap is stagnant and no real money is coming off the books they have to open up some money. Losing Grabner to expansion makes zero sense. Maybe it does to you since you carried on quite a bit this summer over him.

          • They can lose Nash, or preferably trade him. That frees up even more money than either MZA or Stepan.

          • first nash has no move. second his contract ends in a year whereas $tepans is the gift that keeps on giving.. third $tepan gets his own no move soon so trading him for a top 4 righty dman before that happens makes a lot of sense.

          • Nash is 100000x the player Stepan is.

            He has hit 20 goals exactly once, don’t expect him to ever do it again. He racks up secondary assists off of Nash.

    • I honestly had to talk myself into the logic of it a bit, but think objectively. If the defense continues to play the way it has during this winning streak, I’d tend to agree with you. But I think the bigger issue is when the defense plays the way it did the month+ prior and then Hank at some point inevitably begins to actually decline.

      We could use $6.5 million on a premier, top-pairing d-man, be it Shattenkirk or whoever else becomes available. While Skjei has been solid, we’ll need another top guy more and more as G and Staal continue to age and decline in skill level (and they’re not going anywhere unless they agree to with their no move/no trade clauses). With all that being said, we have a fantastic group of dynamic, young forwards–arguably one of the best in the NHL. Why not expose from a position of strength and replaceability?

      We could potentially avoid paying a guy NHL top line money for less than top line production. I also don’t think we’d lose all that much with a Lindberg/Puempel/free agent replacement level Center coming in, as we already have Z and Hayes established down the middle.

      It’s almost like weighing options: 1. Stepan (at $6.5MM), the same defense and no Grabner vs. 2. A replacement level free agent Center, Grabner, and Shattenkirk.

      Lastly it’s clear Grabner has found his perfect match in terms of system/coach with AV’s up-tempo offensive scheme–no reason to think he can’t produce on a similar level next season.

      • We could just make a trade with Las Vegas and have them pick whomever we want rather than who they might want.

        If we need cap relief then we should trade/expose Nash. 1) He makes $1.3 million more capwise, 2) he has 1 year left on the contract, 3) he’s much older than Stepan who is just entering his prime, and 4) losing Stepan will affect our depth at center — the most important forward position.

        I love Grabner, but his up and down career scoring-wise needs to be considered, his age as well (although he looks like a beast with his shirt off, he’s in great shape) … plus, if he has a similar season next year, how much do you think he will ask for in the net contract?

        • nash has no move so can’t be exposed without his approval. his contract is not as burdensome going forward as $tepans whose deal (great for him not for us) goes several more yrs past this one.

          you certainly did not love grabner this summer as you were throwing a fit over the signing and impact it had on the home groan guys. seems you are going revisionist history.

          • you are the one with serious bullying issues. remember posting under a variety of names to attack somebody who takes sather/clark drafts to task is not the sign of a normal person.

          • Considering you always follow me around and attack whatever I say, no matter how mildly expressed it might be, one would think you’re the bully — and they would be right.

          • You stalk everything I post as Pantheon, literally … and never fail to comment, negatively. I would suggest stalking a person and always being negative with regard to what they say, no matter how inconsequential, constitutes bullying.

          • i try to stick to hockey but you make that really difficult.

            clearly i hold sather/clark accountable for poor drafts and you can;t accept that so you go to your trump act.

        • Stepan is hitting his prime? He’s going to be 27 and has only hit the 20 goal mark one time, his rookie season.

          He’s mediocre and his contract is hideous and will be an anchor going forward. He gets paid $8m this year, $6.5 cap hit, paid like a top line center but produces like a 3rd liner. He’d not even crack the lineup on Chicago, Caps, or Pittsburgh. He’s slow and is allergic to contact. For $6.5M? He’s a waste of money, I sell to the highest bidder for a puck moving defenseman and let Pirri play.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. I would try to trade him before the deadline, as to avoid losing him for nothing, but if we don’t….I’d leave him unprotected.

    His contract is gross and he is what he is, yet another mediocre player that Slats over paid.