New York Rangers: Jeff Gorton’s Tightrope


If it is indeed Christmas in July for Derek Stepan, as the New York Daily News’ Larry Brooks suggested, then Santa Claus in his midsummer escapade to Manhattan must have left Stepan the gift that keeps on giving. A few things have happened since the last time we visited this issue, they all benefit Stepan and they all put New York Rangers‘ newly minted GM Jeff Gorton in a position that probably has him reaching for a bottle of Tums and a bicarb.

That gift gave yet another to Stepan late Tuesday evening in when Ryan O’Reilly was arrested for driving under the influence and fleeing the scene. O’Reilly, the newly acquired $52 million golden boy by the Buffalo Sabres, is the popular comparison to Stepan pertaining to arbitration. These two are being compared for reasons that I can’t explain because Stepan is superior in leaps and bounds, at least statistically to O’Reilly, and with this new-found piece of information in character too.

New York Rangers
New York Rangers /

New York Rangers

In this little debate about what in fact Derek Stepan is worth, various figures have been thrown out there between the ranges of $6-8 million a year. The most popular consensus is $6.5 million. I say Stepan is worth $7 million, will sign for nothing less than seven and now should sign for nothing less than seven. With the arbitration date being set for July 27th, Stepan now sits in a very favorable position.

It has been theorized, one theory coming from my Blue Line Station colleague, Jessica Joy Curtin, that one of the reasons for O’Reilly’s huge pay-day was not on the merit of skill alone. O’Reilly was brought in and paid to also be a leader in the locker room. Well, I guess that’s not getting off to a good start.

Because of my own boredom with this redundant story, let me tell you how this will go down. On July 27th, Derek Stepan and Jeff Gorton will walk into a high-rise building dressed in suits and armed with lawyers. Sitting around a $15 thousand black marble table with mounds of papers and fine coffee in even finer china placed on the table, Gorton will initially offer $6 million, Stepan will say 7.

After a lot of yelling and hollering, accusations of various episodes of marital infidelity in the Hampton from one lawyer to another and after perhaps throwing out a few more numbers, Jeff Gorton will sign Stepan to a comfortable five-year, $7 million per year contract. They will all giddily walk arm in arm to the local tavern, drink beer, flirt with women and patch up their differences. Jeff Gorton will do this because the consequence of not doing this would be catastrophic. Let me explain:

While the mood on Broadway is certainly win a Cup now, it’s not win a Cup now and then spend the next ten years losing. Broadway has become used to the term ENCORE, ENCORE! Play our cards right, it’s not beyond the pale of reasonableness that the Rangers are in position to win a few championships with this team and pipeline. There are several variables that can play out here.

One thing we know is the Rangers are chock full of very good, very expensive talent. Keith Yandle, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Dominic Moore: All have been crucial elements to the makeup of this team and all have contracts that expire in 2016. Emerson Etem and Viktor Stalberg have already been signed to safe one-year “band-aid” contracts.

Apr 2, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan (21) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Rangers defeated the Wild 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

If this team wins the Stanley Cup, it will be at least part and parcel to the above mentioned players having stellar performances this year. I could see Kreider having a 20 goal season. One has to at least bet on the side that Etem will be good, if not fantastic, on the third line this year – I think he will break out to 15 goals. With a potential Cup being won and any one or all of these players going on to have career years because the motivation is double for them, Cup and money, the demand for these players will expand in concert with the bubble that is the New York Rangers salary cap. You would be safe to believe each of these players’ eyes are going to be on what’s happening in Toronto on July 27th, and Jeff Gorton.

There is a common phrase among athletes that perform well in violent sports. WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT ME? The success of this season lies on the ever so thin line of signing Stepan and how much he signs for and how long.

Stepan may, out of loyalty and the high probability of winning a Cup this year sign for a pittance of what he’s worth, say three years for $6.5 million. If he does that, don’t expect him to be as dangerous to his body as he would otherwise be. Don’t expect him to check as hard, drive to the net as recklessly, skate as efficiently or put that extra effort into being a locker room presence than he has been doing, unlike the drunken 7.5 million dollar hot mess that just staggered into the north country of New York. Particularly when his Cup chances don’t decrease by virtue of other players in contract years being motivated to play phenomenal hockey.

Or do they?

Here is where the razors’ edge that Jeff Gorton walks becomes so fraught. Those players will see in the event that Gorton short changes Stepan, that Gorton is miserly even to someone who has selflessly given themselves to the cause. Someone whose character is beyond reproach, unlike the five NHL players this year in whom have been charged with crimes. So the question then becomes not so much what are you gonna do about me, but what are you gonna do about them?

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Gorton is brand new right off the Glen Sather line. Unlike Sather, Gorton has no prior credibility with these players, at least not when dealing with their dollars and being the sole shot caller with that. If Jeff Gorton botches this by either letting Stepan walk or signing a deal that even is perceived as short-changing Stepan, Gorton might as well pack his bags run as fast as he can to LaGuardia airport and leave the country because if this whole thing falls apart, there are gonna be a lot of angry New Yorkers.

What makes this unbearable is the fact that this has gone on this long and the amount of movement by Gorton this off-season. The reasoning could be Gorton wanted to know just how many chips he walks to the (Russian) roulette table with on the 27th in Toronto with the task of signing Stepan. Regardless, if I were Stepan I’d be a slight bit perturbed that Viktor Stalberg got signed before me. Really? Yet another player not comparable to Stepan, nowhere even in the universe of Stepan’s caliber of player rolled into the good State of New York and got his dollars before even stepping on the ice? This is the system in which we play.

A very delicate game.

Next: Rangers Re-Sign Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller

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