The Stepan Situation May Reach Arbiration, and Kevin Hayes is a big reason why

Tim Christian

stepan and hayes 11-9

Almost everyone is saying that the Rangers will come to terms with RFA Derek Stepan before the arbitration date. But will they? There are a lot of factors that say otherwise. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

As we near the date of Derek Stepan’s arbitration hearing, there seems to be much talk centered around “How Much” and for “How Long”, with many folks feeling the Rangers & Stepan will come to a long-term agreement just under the wire.

Indeed, this has generally been the case with the Rangers. The Rangers last allowed a player to reach an arbitration hearing in 2009. Nikolai Zherdev was the player, and the Rangers chose to not pay him the $3.9 million award.  Instead, they let him walk.

While I certainly don’t think Stepan will be allowed to walk, I do think the Rangers may let arbitration run its course and pay him for 1 or 2 years.  I say this because of:

– Kevin Hayes

– The Rangers’ highly paid Defense

– The Rangers’ highly paid Goaltender

–  The Salary Cap

The Hayes Factor

Kevin Hayes 10-19

Kevin Hayes’ phenomenal rookie season forces the Rangers to make a tough decision with Derek Stepan. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

There can be little doubt that Kevin Hayes had an exemplary rookie season.  His poise with the puck,  nifty stick-work,  ability to thread the needle, and hockey acumen were notably on display all season.  All thoughts of Hayes hitting the “Rookie Wall” were quickly dismissed as Hayes not only continued to play, but excelled.  In fact, when many expected Hayes (a player that went directly from College hockey to the NHL) to tire, he turned it up a notch at the end of the season.

A quick glance at the stats says as much.  Over Hayes’ last 13 games of the Regular Season, he recorded 4 Goals & 9 Assists for 13 Points. Over the final 4 games, Hayes notched 2 Goals & 4 Assists for 6 Points.  Those last 4 games were against a red-hot Columbus team that has set a tone for high expectations next season, a Devils team with which the Rangers have an infinite rivalry, a desperate & streaking Ottawa team (no points), and a Capitals team that came to play and chose not to sit the likes of Ovechkin in preparation for the Playoffs.

Though not a pundit in Advanced Stats, I feel it necessary to explore them in order to explain my position.  Let me begin with some of the more common 5 v 5 statistics.  Since Stepan played in only 68 games and Hayes played in 79, I’ll go with “Per 60 minutes played” statistics for the following:

Stepan Goals per 60  minutes on ice = 0.47

Hayes  Goals per 60  minutes on ice = 0.90

Stepan Assists per 60  minutes on ice = 1.82

Hayes  Assists per 60  minutes on ice = 1.10

Stepan Points per 60  minutes on ice = 2.29

Hayes  Points per 60  minutes on ice = 2.31

Here it becomes clear that Hayes likely has more natural goal scoring ability than Stepan.  Stepan’s 0.47 GF60 was created by a mere 7 goals during 5 v 5 play.  Hayes was able to double Stepan’s 5 v 5 output with 14 Goals of his own.  On the other hand, it appears that Stepan has a greater ability to make those that he plays with better.  His assist statistics seem to back this, although Hayes’ 22 Assists during 5 v 5 play is not much lower than Stepan’s 27.  This difference becomes even more negligible when you consider that Stepan was blessed with more adequate finishers in Kreider & MSL, while Hayes was forced to rely on those with less potent finishing ability.  Namely, Hagelin & Miller.

Yes, I do understand that Stepan is generally playing against stiffer competition than Hayes, but I find it difficult to ignore the comparable stats and what the eye-test told me all season…that Hayes is a special player.

Let’s get into Corsi & Fenwick for the next round of statistics.  For those who don’t follow Corsi & Fenwick, I’ll explain what they mean.  Corsi represents Shots on Goal + Missed Shots + Blocked Shots.  Fenwick represents Shots on Goal + Missed Shots.  Blocked Shots are eliminated in the Fenwick stat, as Blocked Shots may represent intended defensive play.  CF represents “Corsi For” and CA signifies “Corsi Against”.  FF (Fenwick For) & FA (Fenwick Against) is what you get for Fenwick statistics.  Though not perfect, these statistics make an attempt to represent puck possession when a player is on the ice.

Stepan CF60 = 52.86

Hayes  CF60 = 55.45

Stepan CA60 = 61.87

Hayes  CA60 = 53.33

Stepan FF60 = 40.42

Hayes  FF60 = 41.70

Stepan FA60 = 45.87

Hayes  FA60 = 40.03

Arguments can be made in favor of either player when you consider who they are matched up against and who they play with, but I don’t think we should consider Stepan the “No-Brainer Center of the Future” in comparison to Hayes.  Hayes, as a Rookie, led Stepan in both Corsi & Fenwick.

Now, let’s look at Scoring Chances when these players are on the ice.  SCF represents “For the Rangers” and SCA represents “Against the Rangers”.

Stepan SCF60 = 24.35

Hayes  SCF60 = 26.09

Stepan SCA60 = 27.51

Hayes  SCA60 = 23.26

Next, let’s look at High Danger Scoring Chances (HSC).  HSCF represents “For the Rangers” and HSCA represents “Against the Rangers”.  High Danger Scoring Chances differ from Scoring Chances in that High Danger Scoring Chances are in closer proximity to the net.

Stepan HSCF60 = 14.66

Hayes  HSCF60 = 15.94

Stepan HSCA60 = 16.41

Hayes  HSCA60 = 13.30

As you can see, the Rangers had more Scoring Chances of any variety when Hayes was on the ice, and fewer against.  Yes, Stepan had tougher assignments, but Hayes was a Rookie.  Regardless of any argument, Hayes can lay claim to having better numbers across the board.

I’d like to follow this with another statistic.  The statistic is “Primary Assists”, meaning that the player who gained a point in this stat made the final pass to the goal-scorer.  This is also 5 vs 5.  It is not Per 60, but in aggregate:

Stepan Primary Assists = 19 Hayes  Primary Assists = 21

Clearly, Hayes comes out on top in this category.

Some final stats that may be of interest for 5 v 5 play, where Hayes accumulated a total ice time of 933 minutes and Stepan a total of 892 minutes:

Hayes  Hits Given = 55 Stepan Hits Given = 32

Hayes  Takeaways = 38 Stepan Takeaways = 32

Stepan Giveaways = 23 Hayes  Giveaways = 35

High Dollar Defense, Lundqvist, & the Salary Cap

dan Girardi and marc staal and kreider

Dan Girardi and Marc Staal highlight the very expensive Rangers defense. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The Rangers currently have half the salary Cap tied up in D-men & Goaltending.  The most expensive contracts, those of Lundqvist, Girardi, & Staal…are made heavy by current No-Movement Clauses and future No-Trade Clauses.  McDonagh’s $4.7 mil AAV also isn’t going anywhere, with the Captain expected to be a long-term piece of the team.  While there will be some relief when Boyle’s $4.5 mil AAV contract expires at the end of the season, the majority of that money may be invested in Yandle if the Rangers intend on keeping him.  With what it cost to procure his services, you’d think the Rangers would make every effort to sign the puck-moving D-man long term, especially if he performs as expected next season.  My point after all of this is that we are unlikely to see much Cap relief on the Defensive side.

This leaves us with approximately $35 mil to split up among 13 O-men, $7.8 mil of which goes to Nash. By now, you can see where I’m going with this.  Unless the Rangers intend on icing a Merry-Go-Round of $1 million 3rd & 4th line Wingers over the next few years, it will be difficult for Brassard (who has a No- Trade Clause), Hayes, & Stepan to exist on the same team.  We’ve been fortunate with cheap talent as of late, but I fear the well is running dry.

Do we have any of the Fast, Miller, & Hayes variety in the immediate pipeline?  I fear not.  Much is riding on Buchnevich, but he declined to come over for next season and the book hasn’t even been opened on whether or not the slight forward will perform in the NHL if & when he comes to North America.  There is hope for Tambellini, but we won’t have a gauge on him until we are well into his first AHL season. What he was able to accomplish last season with the Calgary Hitmen was as a 20-year-old playing against teenagers.

Let’s have a look at a hypothetical roster for 2016-17.  We’ll assume Etem, Miller, and Stalberg have decent years.  Etem & Miller take the Rangers to arbitration for better money, and Stalberg gets a raise or walks as a UFA.  The amount of $2 mil per player is not unrealistic, as Kreider received a 2-year, $2.475 mil AAV contract after one good season in which he tallied 37 points.  Also, after the 2016-17 season, Fast & Lindberg will be due raises if they perform (which is what we hope for).  Does anyone see the Salary Cap shooting to over $76 mil after next season, especially when the Players Association had to use the 5% escalator just to get to $71.4 mil?

Left Wing Cap Hit Center Cap Hit Right Wing Cap Hit
Nash 7.8000 Brassard 5.0000 Zuccarello 4.5000
Kreider 4.5000 Stepan 6.5000 Miller 2.0000
Stalberg 2.0000 Hayes 3.2500 Fast 0.9500
Glass 1.4500 Lindberg 0.6500 Etem 2.0000
Left Defense Cap Hit Right Defense Cap Hit Goaltending Cap Hit
McDonagh 4.7000 Girardi 5.5000 Lundqvist 8.5000
Staal 5.7000 Skjei 0.9250 Hellberg 0.6250
Yandle 6.0000 Klein 2.9000
 TOTAL SALARY  76.6500

All in all, I’m not seeing a situation that points to giving Stepan whatever he wants in regards to salary. To the contrary, I see a highly competitive situation that involves Stepan needing to prove himself even further in order to obtain the money he is surely seeking from the Rangers. If Hayes can improve his skating ability in the off-season, Stepan would truly have his work cut out for him.

Hayes had a fantastic season, and performed better that Stepan in many areas despite not playing on the power play often, playing less minutes, and skating with wingers that aren’t really known for their scoring ability. Bump him up in the lineup and put him out on the man advantage, and Hayes could eventually grow to outclass Stepan in all areas.

We’ll see what happens. If the Rangers go with an arbitrator’s ruling instead of a long-term deal, I’d suspect that it is because of their hopes for Hayes and unwillingness to pay three Centers good long-term money at the expense of 5 of our bottom 6 wingers.

Posted on July 23, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Great analysis (how are you at analyzing stocks). My bet is if it goes to an arbitrator, Stepan will eventually be a goner. They will sign him and trade him either before the season begins or no later than the 2016 draft.


    • I’m glad you enjoyed the read. If it does go to an arbitrator, I agree that Stepan’s remaining time in NY may be short. A lot would depend on Hayes’ performance next season. If Hayes underperforms (unlikely), the Rangers & Stepan could become best friends again.


  2. RangerTantrum

    Statistics don’t mean squat when the sample is so small….Hayes has only one season under his belt. I tend to agree, however, that the Rangers might end up either negotiating a short term deal or letting it go to arbitration. If Hayes shows that his rookie season was not just a fluke and he fulfills what seems to be great, great potential, then the Rangers can feel more comfortable dealing Stepan if necessary. Hayes also may be better suited to playing wing….something else the Rangers have to figure out before moving Stepan.


    • Thanks for responding to the article, Tantrum. I love Hayes as a Center, but he did play Right Wing at BC, so it could happen. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in pre-season. Can’t wait…


  3. An update on Twitter regarding the Stepan situation:

    “”Elliotte Friedman @FriedgeHNIC

    Not sure if out yet, but NYR offer to Stepan is $5.2M. Stepan ask is $7.25M””


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