Free Agent to Watch: Derek Stepan


The Rangers’ third-leading scorer has elected for salary arbitration – why this could work for the Ducks.

The Anaheim Ducks have enjoyed a pretty successful offseason so far – an understatement, I know.

Even so, bringing in Anton Khudobin, Kevin Bieksa, and Carl Hagelin should not completely satisfy the Ducks’ front office.   Sure, Hagelin should fill the scoring void left by Matt Beleskey, and Bieksa will fill in for recently-departed Francois Beauchemin.

But replacing players doesn’t get a team that blew a lead in the Western Conference Finals into the Stanley Cup Final next season.

Managing to swipe New York Rangers’ center Derek Stepan, on the other hand . . . .

Before I get too deep into the conversation, remember: we’re a fan site.  We throw out lots of ideas and “what-if?” scenarios.  That doesn’t mean we think that the Ducks will get involved EVERY time a top-six forward appears to be available – we’re just tossing ideas out.  It also helps to keep in mind that 19 of the 20 players who elected salary arbitration last summer wound up settling early.

(That’s a nice way of saying, “Relax!” before you grab your flamethrowers.)

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Stepan would have enjoyed his best season with the Rangers in 2014-2015 had he played a full 82 games; as it is, his 16-39-55 is only two points off of his career-best 17-40-57 that he posted in 82 games during the 2013-2014 season.  (If it means anything to you, his +26 rating was his best as an NHL player to date.)  Stepan currently has a .70 PPG metric – better than Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Evander Kane, James van Riemsdyk, Jeff Skinner, and Ryan Johansen (as per Blueshirt Banter).

Since I wouldn’t mind taking any of those players and adding them to Anaheim’s roster, Derek Stepan is certainly someone worth looking at.

And it’s not like Stepan is a defensive slouch – for his career, he is starting 52.6% of his shifts in the defensive end, and averages 49 takeaways per season – exactly the same number that Ryan Getzlaf averages, as per Hockey

The player whose name keeps getting tossed around when it comes to determining how much Stepan’s contract should be worth is Ryan O’Reilly, who will get paid $6.2 million in 2015-2016.  According to SI’s Alan Muir, it is conceivable that Stepan could be given an award of $7 million from an arbitrator, and from the sounds of it, the New York Rangers are low on cap space ( has them pegged at $10.075 million of cap space) and not certain that Stepan is worth over $6.5 million per season.

The Anaheim Ducks, meanwhile, have $18.63 million of cap space to work with, and a Stanley Cup to go out and win.  Rumors have it – and let’s repeat the word “rumors” to emphasize the fact that I am only discussing possibilities, not certainties – that the Rangers could move Stepan before getting saddled with a huge arbitration award that limits what they can do for the next two years.  It’s not like the Ducks need a second-line center, not with Ryan Kesler playing as well he did last season, but if they could convince him to shift over to the wing – yowza.

If the Rangers are smart, they’ll clear enough cap space to make sure that they can retain Derek Stepan – losing him would not be a case of “adding through subtraction” – but it’s worth your time keeping an eye out and an ear open for any news concerning Derek Stepan in the next few days, especially if another Western Conference team expresses an interest in his services.

Next: Development Camp Prospect Rankings