According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the Coyotes are one of the teams in contention for acquiring New York Rangers center Derek Stepan.
ARI, BTW, is one of multiple teams with serious interest in NYR C Derek Stepan.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 17, 2017
For a franchise missing a clear #1 centerman, finding a way to get Stepan to Phoenix would be a coup for the team, and the move could potentially transform them from a Western Conference bottom feeder to a possible playoff contender.
While this is very premature, let's take a look at the player the Coyotes might be adding to the top of their lineup.
When it comes to consistency, few are more reliable than the former Wisconsin Badger. Stepan has scored over 45 points in each season of his career (with the exception of the 2012-13 lockout season, when he scored 44 points in 48 games). And since his sophomore season, Stepan has tallied at least 50 points and 16 goals each year.
The 26-year-old has never finished a season with a negative plus/minus rating, and has played at least 80 games four times.
Last year, Stepan registered 17 goals and 38 assists (55 points) in 81 games. While these aren't league leading stats, they would give Arizona a consistent scorer to center Max Domi's line, something the young Coyote phenom has not had in his NHL career.
Since a surprisingly bad possession season in 2014-15 (a relative Corsi rating of -5 and a relative Fenwick of -4.2), Stepan has returned to his positive-possession ways the last two years. In 2015-16, he was +2.9/+2.8 in those categories, while improving more so last year en route to a +3.7/+4.1 score in those areas.
For comparison sake, Martin Hanzal, the Coyotes #1 center for the last half decade, has recorded an average Corsi/Fenwick of 3.5/2.7 over his last three years.
What these numbers show is that Stepan could fill the same puck controlling role Hanzal provided, while giving Arizona more speed and puck skill in arguably the most important position on the ice. From a points standpoint, Stepan's predictable 50 point campaigns is something Hanzal has never accomplished in his career. The former Coyotes' career high point total is 41, four points less than Stepan's rookie-season career low.
Stepan has four years remaining on his six-year, $39 million contract he signed before the 2015-16 season. For each of the next four seasons, he will have a $6.5 million cap hit, a good value for a good player.
While the $6 plus million per year he is due would make him the highest paid player on the roster, he would also be the transformative player that could take Arizona to the postseason for the first time in what will be six seasons. Also, Stepan’s true salary declines in each of the next four seasons (starting at $7 million this year, falling to $6 million in 2018-19, and then $5 million for each of the final two seasons).
To be good, you either need to draft well or spend money. The Coyotes have done an okay job in the former, meaning they need to open the billfold to finish the job. An uncertain ownership situation, again, means it's anyone's guess as to how much money the Coyotes will be willing to spend in the near future, but if winning is the priority, it will be tough to find a better value than the available Rangers' center.
While Stepan's salary is one hurdle that might stand in the way of a Stepan to Arizona trade, another even bigger obstacle could be the assets the Coyotes would have to part with to make a trade happen.
The main need plaguing New York at the moment is a right-handed defenseman (sound familiar?). As bad as the Coyotes need someone to play with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Rangers need the same even more. A top pairing, right-handed defenseman is something the Coyotes lack that other teams, such as the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens, don't.
So, the best the Coyotes could do is start throwing draft picks and forward prospects at Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and hope he takes the bait. They have two first rounders this year, along with their own 2018 pick. The hope John Chayka will be holding onto is that New York feels confident enough in being able to sign Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency, which opens the door for the Rangers potentially being interested in other assets.
Unfortunately, New York doesn't have many bad contacts the Coyotes could take on, much the way they did when eating Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk's deals last year.
It would take a stellar offer, probably including a Dylan Strome or Clayton Keller caliber player, to swing a deal including a mid-20s, legitimate first line center. But, that's the price of winning in the NHL.
Acquiring Stepan would dramatically improve the Coyotes, meaning that any trade not including Max Domi or Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be worth it.
Chayka's first move of this expansion draft offseason was a bit of a head scratcher, but bringing Derek Stepan into the organization to lead the offense for the next half-decade would make the summer of 2017 one of the best offseasons in Arizona Coyotes history.