Derek Stepan and the Rangers agreed to a six-year deal Monday morning -- hours before a scheduled salary arbitration meeting in Toronto, general manager Jeff Gorton announced.
The contract, reportedly worth $39 million, would lock up the 25-year-old center during his prime years, and, Stepan said during a conference call, included a no-trade clause through three or four years. That all adds up to a $6.5 million cap hit for the Rangers for every year of his 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 came into the offseason 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 on July 5. He totaled 16 goals and 39 assists in 68 regular-season games last season, averaging 18:11 on ice per game. In 362 career games with the Rangers, he has posted 252 points (89 goals, 163 assists).
By coming to terms with Stepan, the Rangers avoid a possibly messy arbitration hearing, where 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 -- the latter option meaning that Stepan would have 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," Stepan 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 Stepan has been to the franchise since he joined the team in 2010. Since then, 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."
With Steve Zipay