Stamkos vs. Stepan. Who wins?

Stamkos vs. Stepan. Who wins?

One of the more prominent rumors to come out of the weekend is that the Rangers are clearing salary in an attempt to go after Steven Stamkos. Since the source of the rumor hasn’t necessarily been right on much –Malkin to the Kings?– it’s something worth discussing, as the Rangers would need to create a spot at center for Stamkos. That means moving Derek Stepan.

When you hear the names, you think that these two aren’t even in the same ballpark. And if this were five years ago, you’d be right. That was when Stamkos put up three straight years of at least 45 goals (51, 45, 60) from 2009-2012. Since then, his goal totals have been 29, 25, 43, 36. Point totals 57, 40, 72, 64. Solid numbers, but not “blown away” numbers.

Stepan, who is actually four months younger than Stamkos, has three straight years of at least 50 points (57, 55. 53). Now those are still worse than Stamkos’ stats, but let’s just isolate even strength time for now. Don’t worry, we will get to powerplay time.

Over the past three seasons –when Stepan started playing top line minutes– the two have almost identical even strength stats. It’s pretty amazing actually. At even strength, Stepan has averaged 2.10 points-per-60-minutes, where Stamkos is actually at 2.09 P/60. Edge here goes to Stepan. But Stamkos produced more primary points/60 (1.9 to 1.62 for Stepan). Edge there goes to Stamkos.

Using relative Corsi –This compares each player to the team’s success with and without him on the ice, which makes for more accurate comparisons across teams. Tampa was a much better possession team than the Rangers, so the raw numbers favor Stamkos. Relative puts them on an even playing field and evens out strength of team.– we see they are comparable as well (Stepan at -.04, Stamkos at 0.21).

So at even strength, Stepan and Stamkos are arguably very similar. The primary difference is style of play, as Stamkos is a shooter and commands attention. Stepan prefers to create and dish the puck out.

Stamkos has the big edge between the two players is on the powerplay, and that’s where the raw goals/points totals shift drastically towards the former first overall pick. Over the past three seasons, Stepan has a line of 13-29-42 on the powerplay. Stamkos is just slightly better at 36-25-61 in that same span. That’s what you’re paying for.

There are a number of external factors at play here, but it’s almost impossible to quantify how bad the Rangers’ powerplay has been. So let’s disregard this and just look at the style of the two players, and why they have such drastically different numbers with the man advantage.

We’ve all screamed at Stepan on the powerplay for his apparent refusal to take a one-timer from the off-wing. It’s maddening because that’s where we see players like Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin teeing up all the time with great success. Stamkos, as mentioned, fires with impunity. His teammates know he will get to open ice in the 1-3-1 and he knows to grip it and rip it. And that is what the Rangers sorely need on the poweprlay.

In a vacuum, trading Stepan and signing Stamkos does make sense if just for that one reason. The Rangers have needed that right-handed shot on the off-wing forever, and something we’ve been calling out for as long as I can remember. When Kevin Klein is your best right-handed shoot-first player, there’s a problem. Stamkos solves that problem.

The concern is the salary involved. Stepan makes $6.5 million for the next five seasons. Stamkos is likely to get Patrick Kane money ($10.5 million over at least six years, probably seven). Is powerplay production worth $4 million additional in cap space?

There is no correct answer here, because the Rangers can’t afford to simply move Stepan and sign Stamkos. More moves need to be made to fit Stamkos under the cap in this situation. Rick Nash seems the most logical player to move at this point, but even then, is that enough?

There is one correct answer to that question: No, it is not enough to trade Stepan and Nash and sign Stamkos. It would be a sideways move. It’s a message from the front office. “Look at the shiny new toy we got you. Stop complaining. We tried.” It’s a splash. It doesn’t address the issues.

Splashes get you nowhere nowadays. If the Rangers don’t address the two anchors on the blue line, then this team will go nowhere. If the club insists that going into the season with both Marc Staal and Dan Girardi in prominent roles, then we will see status quo, while other teams get better.

Stamkos would be a nice upgrade at 1C because he’s a shooter and he converts on the powerplay. But without addressing the real issues, Rangers fans will be disappointed again next season. That’s a guarantee.

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