The two sides in the Derek Stepan contract standoff are said to be talking, but it remains unclear this afternoon whether the Rangers center will be present and accounted for at medicals and testing Wednesday before the Blueshirts take the ice at training camp Thursday.
The Rangers have offered a two-year "bridge contract" to Stepan, as they have in the past to players coming off an entry-level deal. Naturally, Stepan, who had 44 points in 48 games last season and has improved steadily in his short career, would prefer a long-term deal.
But the only leverage that Stepan, a restricted free agent without arbitration privileges, has is to hold out in the hopes that the Rangers, limited to some extent under the salary cap at the moment, increase their offer.
For the past few weeks, after talking with Stepan, 23, at the U.S. Olympic Team's orientation camp in Alexandria, Va., I believed that a deal would be done by today. But it doesn't appear to be the case.
The Rangers do have ways to clear some space, but apparently prefer otherwise at the moment. Stepan, who is at home in Wisconsin, and his agent also could be negotiating for a more lucrative two-year pact. Both he and the team would have the option to sign an extension after this season, especially if the cap is projected to be higher in the next few years.