New York Rangers Fans Just Cannot Say Goodbye To Derek Stepan, Nostalgia
May 13, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers center Derek Stepan (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game winning goal on Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) during overtime in game seven of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers defeated the Capitals 2 - 1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

No matter the circumstance, fans of the New York Rangers simply cannot let go of the past and in the most recent case, Derek Stepan.

It happened so quickly, yet so triumphantly. Derek Stepan found a rebound and placed his team in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final with one righty and mighty wrist shot:

All Doc Emrick needed to say was, “Stepan. In overtime. The Rangers move on to Tampa.” At that very moment, we all knew what transpired before our very eyes. Again, these New York Rangers got it done when it counted most. These battle-tested Blueshirts defied the odds and came back on an opponent after falling down 3-1 in the series.

The feeling was evident: nothing’s gonna stop ’em now. Magic was still in the Garden air and the core players who failed in five against the Los Angeles Kings the year before were on track for destiny.

It was not to be. With half of the blueline skating with serious injuries and Martin St. Louis acting as an anchor on any line he played with, those hot Tampa Bay Lightning led by Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle took out the Rangers in seven games.

A more painstaking end couldn’t be conjured up and now, just two years after the extraordinary Stepan goal, No. 21’s professional hockey career resides in the Desert to the dismay of too many fans. The departure of Game 7’s hero is a sad occasion, but it shouldn’t be met with this much animosity.

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 RELATED: The Smarter Move Was Trading Lundqvist (2015) 

Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers pulled off the correct move.

The same attribute that makes fans of this special organization the most loyal in the Big Apple is the very same thing that makes them the absolute worst when dealing with logic. In the two-plus years Elite Sports NY has existed, two very clear things have crept to the surface:

  1. The Rangers and Giants are the two most loyal NY fanbases.
  2. The Rangers fanbase is the most illogical and subjective based on its passion (and this is coming from a Rangers fan who cried like the 12-year-old baby he was when Valeri Zelepukin tied Game 7 and did the same when Stephane Matteau saved the day).

The National Hockey League works under a hard salary cap. This isn’t baseball that dishes out a slap on the wrist (i.e. luxury tax) or the NBA that offers a soft cap (which may as well be a luxury tax). This is a hard cap that’ll eat your franchise up for years on end if not handled properly.

We all know why Stepan is gone: it comes down to the no-trade clause that was about to kick in. But don’t tell that to Rangerstown. They simply cannot let the perceived No. 1 center go:

And then comes my personal favorite:

Oh, yes. Let’s ask Gorton to sacrifice the entire future because his team must win-now thanks to Henrik Lundqvist‘s ridiculous $8.5 million per season contract (which is actually the root cause of the reason Stepan is now gone). No. It simply doesn’t work that way for the betterment of one man. Lundqvist had his opportunity to take a little less money as opposed to taking the tag as far-and-away the highest-paid goalie in the land in a league that’s seen a devaluation at the position. (Too many Stanley Cup champions these days bring good, not great, goalies to the table.)

Hank’s $8.5 million, Rick Nash‘s $7.8 million and Marc Staal’s $5.7 million (all moves made by Glen Sather), is the reason New York couldn’t gamble on Stepan at $6.5 million with a full no-trade clause. Let’s also not forget about the Dan Girardi disaster.

But these passionate and loyal fans of the Blue Seats don’t want to hear it. They want to win now no matter the realistic cruelty facing the GM.

The spoiled ones spout off offensive numbers Stepan accumulated through his seven Cup-less seasons in New York. They’d also rather pretend Lundqvist doesn’t have another three seasons with that $8.5 million cap hit.

For everything that Stepan contributed, fans have answered the call. They cheered loudly for him. They loved him. They respected him.

But that doesn’t now mean they hate him.

Those few fans who liked the trade and/or thought he’d be better left exposed in the expansion draft in order to keep a talented Oscar Lindberg, understand the cruel reality of the salary cap and how it works. If the team did that and Vegas jumped on Stepan, the Rangers would still possess Lindberg instead of the No. 7 pick, Lias Andersson. That’s the move I wanted as it would keep a stronger emphasis on now as opposed to later.

If New York kept Stepan, they’d owe him four more years at $6.5 million a clip with a full no-trade clause. If the 27-year-old slowed down in the least, they’d be in serious trouble.

Derek Stepan has never been the problem. But in order to solve “other problems,” good guys often need to receive the shaft for the good of the organization. He’s not a great skater and doesn’t win one-on-one battles. No stat will ever convince the naysayer that he doesn’t, but those who watch on a religious basis see it. Those who pride themselves on remaining objective, see it.

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The Rangers need a bonafide No. 1 center and Derek Stepan, for all of his wonderful contributions in New York, is just not it. There’s no reason in the world you should enter the scary land of the “no-trade clause” if a shiny No. 7 overall pick is staring right into your eyes.

Just remember this: the very same loyal Rangers fans who now hate Dan Girardi would have never thought of trading him in 2012. Under a hard salary cap, the late move is usually the damaging one.

It’s better to fill that No. 1 center slot with a man who can truly take the throne instead of hoping a No. 2 guy (maybe No. 1 if you show the right stats) plays over his head while he gets closer to 30. Whether or not that happens this summer or next has yet to be seen. The important thing is that Jeff Gorton is playing the cap with intelligence.

And last but certainly not least, relax. The club has $20 million to play with and the offseason isn’t even close to reaching its climax. Don’t repeat that embarrassing performance from a year ago when those Derick Brassard lovers howled at the moon until they realized Mika Zibanejad was far better.

Stay loyal and passionate, but keep at least a semblance of objectiveness in your bones.

If Derek Stepan never tallied that Game 7 goal in 2015, all of Rangerstown would have an easier time with this move. It’s just their nature. They just have a tough time saying goodbye to good times, nostalgia in general.

 NEXT: An Open Letter to No. 31, Antti Raanta 


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Founder of Elite Sports NY — Formerly of FanSided — Jets, Rangers, Knicks, Yankees, Mets, Giants — Former strong safety, point guard, and 400-meter hustler. Has interviewed the likes of Rob Dyrdek, Michael Waltrip, and Dominique Wilkins and has seen his work shared by major publications such as Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, Yahoo Sports, and Yardbarker.

Born as a New York Sports Fan, something unexplainable in his blood that’ll never be shaken. Remembers the Kevin Maas days, the Yankees on MSG, the Bruce Coslet era, and the Spring of ’94.

E-Mail: robsabo10@elitesportsny.com