One of the more interesting viewpoints this offseason is that the Rangers need to trade Derek Stepan. The thought process here is that he “is not a true 1C”, “he doesn’t make anyone around him better”, and “he is overpaid.” Add on the apparent interest from the Minnesota Wild, and you have a lot of smoke around this.
While I am not opposed to trading Stepan in the right deal, I take issue with the above three statements. Stepan is not in the elite class of centers like Sidney Crosby or Anze Kopitar, but those are generational/elite talents, and few teams are privileged to have them. Stepan is in the class below that, as a solid center who can be any team’s 1C.
Looking at Stepan’s HERO chart, we can see that his playmaking skills and production at even strength are among the top forwards in the league. He produces like a top line forward at even strength. We also see that his linemates perform better in terms of expected goals for and shot attempts when with him, and perform worse without him. So that pretty much debunks the first two thoughts above.
In terms of him being overpaid, we turn to Josh’s handy-dandy PSAM:
The first thing I notice is that at even strength Stepan is either on par with or exceeds those at the same salary cap tier, both in terms of production and shot attempts. So that debunks the third point that he is overpaid.
One thing to concede here is that Stepan doesn’t really produce that much on the powerplay. He’s a bit too deliberate with the puck to play as the off-wing trigger man, which affects his production. There’s a coaching aspect at play here, as the Rangers haven’t had a decent powerplay since Jaromir Jagr was in town.
So in terms of production, Derek Stepan is 100% worth his contract and 100% a 1C in this league. But for the Rangers, who need to shore up issues on the blue line, Stepan is one of their better chips to address their needs given their current approach (remember, Dan Girardi is going nowhere). In the right deal –and assuming other moves are made to address his departure– then trading Stepan can be a good thing.
“Right deal” are the operative words here. The Rangers would be foolish to gut the team and rebuild. They can’t tank with Henrik Lundqvist in net, he’s too damn good and him alone in net will prevent them from bottoming out. The Rangers will be looking to re-tool on the fly. If trading Stepan –and others– can make the team better, then I’m all for it. But trading him just to trade him because of the above three incorrect notions is foolish.