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Derek Stepan Needs To Prove Himself Worthy of New Contract

Derek Stepan woke up Monday morning expecting to present his case for a new contract to an arbitrator. Instead, he averted the hearing and became a rich young man.

Stepan and the New York Rangers agreed to terms on a six-year contract worth a reported $39 million. The restricted free agent also received a full no-trade clause for the middle two years of the deal and a limited clause for the final two years.

“It went the way I expected it to and wanted it to,” Stepan said during a conference call. “I think (first-year general manager Jeff Gorton) did a great job. There wasn’t any bad blood through the whole thing. Hats off to him and my agent.”

Selected in the second round of the 2008 draft, Stepan has been a solid, durable contributor for the Rangers. The 25-year-old center appeared in every one of New York’s games over his first four seasons before missing 14 contests last season due to a broken leg.

Stepan also has been one of the Rangers’ top players during the playoffs the last two years. He registered five goals and 10 assists in 24 games during New York’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013-14 and added five tallies and 12 points in 19 contests this past postseason.

However, Stepan may have been overpaid. The native of Hastings, Minnesota now has the third-highest annual salary on the team behind Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million) and Rick Nash ($7.8 million) even though he hasn’t reached the 20-goal plateau since scoring 21 as a rookie in 2010-11.

Stepan became the 29th forward in the league who will bring a $6.5 million salary cap hit to his team in 2015-16. Of those 29 players, he is the only one that hasn’t recorded a 60-point season in his NHL career.

He came closest in 2013-14, when he registered 57 points. Stepan surely would have eclipsed the plateau last season had he not missed time, as he finished the campaign with 55 in 68 contests.

But even though he was a lock to notch five points in 14 games to hit the mark, several forwards who actually have recorded at least 60 points in a season are less of a cap hit to their teams. The most prominent such player is Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings.

Zetterberg has a $6,083,333 cap hit. The 34-year-old captain has collected at least 60 points on eight occasions, including a team-leading 66 this past season.

Milan Lucic of the Los Angeles Kings and his $6 million cap hit also fall into the category with Zetterberg, as do San Jose Sharks teammates Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, Edmonton Oilers budding stars Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche. Each of those players have recorded 60 or more points at least once in their careers, with several accomplishing the feat multiple times.

Regardless of whether or not he’s worthy of the money, Stepan will be counted upon to provide more offense for New York this season. That would have been asked of him anyway, but considering Carl Hagelin was traded and the only established forward added to the roster has been Viktor Stalberg, it will be even more imperative.

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