Derek Stepan and the Rangers agreed to a six-year deal Monday, hours before a scheduled salary arbitration meeting in Toronto, general manager Jeff Gorton announced.
The contract, reportedly worth $39 million, locks up the 25-year-old center during his prime years and, Stepan said during a conference call, includes a no-trade clause through three or four years. That adds up to a $6.5-million cap hit for the Rangers for every year of the contract.
"It's a great feeling," Stepan said, adding that though he hoped to make a deal with the team and avoid arbitration, "it went all the way to the door. These things take a lot of time. We're talking, essentially for me, a life-changing contract. We wanted to make sure that both sides were happy . . . There wasn't any bad blood."
Stepan was the Rangers' third-leading scorer last season and entered the offseason as a restricted free agent. He just wrapped up a two-year "bridge" deal worth a total of $6.15 million and had filed for arbitration July 5. He totaled 16 goals and 39 assists in 68 regular-season games in 2014-15, averaging 18:11 per game. In 362 games, he has 252 points (89 goals, 163 assists).
By coming to terms with Stepan, the Rangers avoided an arbitration hearing in which an arbitrator, using comparable stats from other top centers, would determine a suitable salary for one or two years. The team could have accepted or walked away, with the latter option meaning that Stepan would've become a free agent.
Stepan's last contract also came down to the wire. Two years ago, he held out during training camp and preseason games. "Last time we were a little further apart to begin with," he said. "Both sides knew when this was going to end and knew where this was going to end up. It was a lot easier and a lot smoother [this time], that's for sure."
Some of that has to do with how integral a role Stepan has played since he joined the Rangers in 2010. The alternate captain has led the Rangers in points and is tied for the team lead in goals.
"I'm grateful," he said. "I think we have an exciting group of guys and we have a group of guys that want to take that next step, and that was our main goal right from the beginning. There were not many discussions about a shorter-term deal or even arbitration. The whole time was [about] trying to get a long-term deal done because this is where we want to be."
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