Offer sheets. I like offer sheets about as much as I like shootouts and steamed broccoli. (If you’ve ever gone to have a meal with me and watch a game you know I hate both). Nonetheless offer sheets are a tool that can be used to, dare I say “steal” a player from a team that refuses to make a qualifying offer to that player whose contract has expired, and is too young, or hasn’t played enough to qualify for unrestricted free agency. Offer sheets like shootouts (and broccoli for me anyway), can cause the involved parties to become quick enemies based on the end result. Remember the Dustin Penner incident when Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke called Edmonton’s GM, Kevin Lowe gutless? Good times.
While the unrestricted free agent pool has produced over 60 signings, there are a few restricted free agents that are quite intriguing. For the sake of the Florida Panthers future, none of these players is more intriguing than New York Ranger center Derek Stepan. Stepan is a former second round pick, who was taken 51st overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft, and has been not only a dependable player, but a durable one at that. Stepan hasn’t missed an NHL game in the three seasons that he’s played, and his point totals have increased in each of the three seasons he’s been in the league.
While this season was abbreviated due to the lockout, Stepan compiled 44 points in 48 games, which likely would have translated into 70 points over an 82 game schedule. The Florida Panthers haven’t seen a player with 70 points since Olli Jokinen scored 71 of them in 2007-2008. And that was a “down” year for the former Panther captain. Then he lost an internal battle with Jacques Martin who promptly traded Jokinen to the Phoenix Coyotes for the occasional hip checks and baseball swing of Keith Ballard and the slow feet of Nick Boynton. More good times.
Since then, the Panthers have lacked a “true” number one center. In a very short time, Derek Stepan could be that player. His progression in point totals suggest that the production will be there. Imagine Stepan on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann, or even Kris Versteeg. Stepan isn’t tall at an even 6′, but his thick 196 lb frame suggests that he’s strong on the puck, which he is, and he’s also strong at both ends of the ice. He’s a career plus 47, has 11 power play goals, 25 power play assists, which would be a significant help on a team with a struggling power play. One of the more telling statistics for Stepan is that last season he scored 6 game winning goals.
Stepan who doesn’t appear to be making progress in talks with the Rangers won’t come cheap, and as much as I despise offer sheets, this could be one that I “live” with if the Panthers can pull it off. The compensation to the Rangers would be as follows: If Stepan is signed to an offer sheet that pays him between $1,552, 794 and $3,105,684 the Panthers give up a second round pick in 2014. If the numbers were to fall between $3,105,684 and $4,658,356 the compensation to the Rangers is a first and third round pick in 2014. I don’t see the Panthers willing to go higher than that, so no sense in looking at those numbers.
Imagine of the Panthers found a way to get the numbers right to rope Stepan in, I think they have to do it. Even if the Panthers do manage to pick up Stepan, and decide they would rather go with Barkov as their first line center (which I’m okay with too), then Stepan would be arguably one of best 2nd line centerman the Panthers have ever seen. Putting Stepan between Bergenheim and Versteeg could make for one very complimentary first line. With Bergenheim’s scoring ability, Stepan’s 3 zone playing style, and Versteeg’s quickness, the Florida Panthers could now be dealing with 4 exciting lines.
The Panthers have a good amount of pieces that work well with our system, but now it’s just about filling in a few of those vacant spots with raw talent to really give us some “true” depth on each of our 4 lines. If the Panthers want to stay young and build from the draft, that’s fine. However the Chicago Blackhawks built a team that has won two Stanley Cups in four years by drafting skilled players, sprinkling in trades, and utilizing free agency to round out their roster. Derek Stepan is an up and coming player who could really make a difference here in South Florida. With that I say “It’s your move”!
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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