Derek Stepan is an influential player and leader with the Arizona Coyotes, but his time with the team could be coming to an end.
The 29-year-old center has been named an alternate captain in each of the three seasons he has played in the desert, but he may have a limited time left with the Coyotes organization.
Regardless of the status of the 2019/20 season, Stepan has just one season left on the contract that sees him hold an AAV of $6.5 million.
By the time Stepan’s contract expires, he will turn 31 (being born in June), entering the latter stages of what has been a steady career.
While his next contract is likely to be significantly lower than his current deal, his declining production over the past few seasons may make the Coyotes organization consider whether or not he is worth bringing back.
After registering 56 total points in his first year with the Coyotes, Stepan has registered 35 and 28 in the following two years, a clear sign that he is not the type of player capable of producing consistently in Rick Tocchet’s system.
His current production is also not worth his current deal, raising the question of whether or not he will even see out the 2020/21 season with the Coyotes, with his veteran leadership a valuable asset to playoff teams at the trade deadline.
The Coyotes have a tough cap situation to manage heading into next season and could be looking to offload some hefty contracts that are not quite producing at their monetary value, which would include Stepan.
His 47.5% average success rate in the face-off circle isn’t enough to value him as a top-six center either, with the Coyotes desperate to find a true number one that can lead the team forward offensively.
Stepan could still provide value to plenty of teams around the league and may attract interest prior to next season and again at the trade deadline.
He is a popular figure among the Coyotes fanbase and has been a model professional in his role as an alternate captain, but a combination of his age, production, and financial cost could see him become a trade candidate whenever next season begins.
It would be a shame to see Stepan leave before the end of his contract, but some difficult decisions will need to be made if the team hopes to truly build a team that can become a consistent playoff contender.
Even if he is traded away at the deadline, there is the possibility of re-signing him in free agency next year if he wants to see out the rest of his career in the desert, though it would have to be at a significantly reduced cost.
If, however, Stepan can turn around his recent declining production, he may be able to earn a significant contract elsewhere around the league and lead to the Arizona Coyotes earning some assets in a trade.
There are many questions surrounding the Coyotes roster and none of them are likely to be answered any time soon, but there will be plenty of decisions that general manager John Chayka will need to make if he hopes to turn the fortunes of the franchise around.