Remember when Ales Hemsky was considered an elite prospect? Remember the last time the Edmonton Oilers were considered a well run franchise? The answer to both questions is probably a long time ago. Despite multiple lottery draft picks the Oilers have been ‘on the cusp’ of being a playoff team for too long (although this year may finally be the year they reach the post season).
How does the Oilers’ underperforming relate to the Rangers? Glen Sather has once again shown how a consistent strategy and sensible planning goes hand in hand with a successful franchise. With the announcement of Derek Stepan’s new deal – two years for $6.15m – the Rangers made a mockery of clubs such as the Oilers who appear in a constant rush to sign players to excessive deals before they’ve actually earned them.
Sather is right. When players such as Derek Stepan arrive at the point where they can justify ‘big contracts’, they will get paid. The Rangers have always paid well. The modern day Sather shows patience, he makes sure his franchise is well run financially and demands players prove their worth. Sather’s approach generates a level of motivation as players are challenged to earn financial rewards. The injury prone Ales Hemsky scored 20 points last year and hasn’t hit forty points since 2010 yet he’s making 5m. Hardly value for money and hardly the type of player and deal commonly found in a successful franchise.
While the likes of Ryan Nugent Hopkins and Taylor Hall are clearly elite, world class talents are they already deserving of 6m salaries? Do playoff performances no longer factor into salary justification? Nugent Hopkins signed his shiny new deal this summer on the back of a four goal season. Did the Oilers really need to throw 6m a year for seven years at Nugent Hopkins so soon? Is it a coincidence that clubs throwing money around like confetti are the desperate franchises, perpetually struggling to be successful?
Of course, there is an element of risk to the Rangers insistence on bridge contracts; players could outperform their shorter deals and subsequently, quickly become too expensive to retain. However Sather’s stance is the right one and quality, successful players are never difficult to move if the necessity arises. For $6.15m Derek Stepan is a bargain for two years. If he continues to produce around a point per game for the next two years no one will argue that he’ll be worth much more.
The Rangers have several potentially tricky contract situations to navigate in the near future and some of those could become painfully expensive but cost should be relative and an 80 point center (Stepan’s potential) is worth paying for. Stepan has been challenged to earn more by Sather and the Rangers and that’s exactly how it should be.
For years the Rangers – Sather in particular – have been criticised for their reckless spending and for lacking financial foresight but the Derek Stepan deal is an example of why the Rangers should be seen as an example organisation to the rest of the NHL.