Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, at Yankee Stadium for the formal announcement of the two outdoor games against the Devils and Islanders in late January, said he remains confident that Derek Stepan will be re-signed before training camp and that Henrik Lundqvist will be in the fold for a long time.
Stepan, 23, is a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, coming off his entry-level contract, and the Rangers are also restricted, with only about $3 million left under the reduced $64.3 million salary cap. Stepan, the team’s leading scorer and No. 1 center, is due for a substantial raise.
“We expect some of these things to go a little longer than others,” said Gorton. “I don’t expect it to be done tomorrow, but we fully expect that we’re going to get something done by the time we’re in camp.” He acknowledged that the fiscal situation is tough, because the Rangers prefer not to use the 10 percent cap overage allowed in the summer.
“I don’t want to rule anything out, but that’s how we’re planning: To be under the cap when it’s time, because that’s the rules.”
“There’s no denying how important Step is,” said Gorton. “He’s a good two-way centerman. He’s still evolving as a player, we’d like to think he’s only going to get better. He’s one of our core guys, he’s a centerman, they’re hard to find….We haven’t talked in a few weeks but I expect talking to them in the next few days…There’s always a way to make a deal; it’s definitely difficult for us when the cap’s going down, (and) when you don’t have an unlimited amount of money left, but that’s upon us and the player to figure that out.”
Meanwhile, Team MVP and world-class goaltender Lundqvist has one more year on his deal and both sides are hoping for a long-term extension. “We’ve had a couple conversations,” said Gorton, “obviously he’s a huge part of our team…Henrik (currently in Sweden) wants to be here and we want Henrik; at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a deal, I think we’ll get one done…I’d prefer to have it done right now.” But Gorton didn’t appear to be unwilling to negotiate during the season; Lundqvist’s previous extension came in mid-season of his expiration year.
As for forwards Arron Asham and Darroll Powe, who cleared waivers and remain on the roster, Gorton said, “they’ll come to camp and compete for jobs. We have a unique situation where we have a whole new coaching staff, a new head coach who doesn’t know a lot about our players, so they’re all going to have a chance to show A.V. and his staff what they have.” If they are assigned to Hartford to save money, both Asham and Powe would have to clear waivers again.