The challenge of RFA negotiations

Updated: September 16, 2013, 2:58 PM ET
By Craig Custance

A couple years ago, a GM was asked about the contract status of one of his restricted free agents in early summer. You know how it goes, he answered, these things don't get done until training camp is close.

A deadline, in this case, is a powerful thing. And we saw that power firsthand last week as deals for players like Nazem Kadri, Cody Hodgson, Jared Cowen and Alex Pietrangelo all got completed, which prevented having those players miss significant time at the start of training camp.

Kadri and the Maple Leafs went with a two-year bridge contract. Hodgson got a six-year deal, Cowen a four-year deal and Pietrangelo the biggest one -- a seven-year pact worth $45.5 million.

With apologies to Cody Franson, that leaves Rangers center Derek Stepan as the most prominent restricted free agent without a deal. On Sunday, the New York Post reported that Stepan and the Rangers were about $1 million apart on a two-year bridge deal. But one could make the argument that he's done more to earn a long-term deal than some of the other young players signed to extensions this summer.

In Stepan's case, he's been building off a successful rookie season (2010-11) in which he scored 21 goals. His point total grew from 45 to 51 the following season, then last season he had his best of the three, with 44 points in 48 games (which projects to about 75 in a full, 82-game slate).

USA Hockey thinks very highly of him: Stepan has been identified as a guy who could get a shot at a top-six forward spot in the Olympics. At the Olympic orientation camp this summer, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said Stepan's growth should continue.

"I expect him to take even more strides. He has the ability to do that," Callahan said. "To have a guy that was kind of homegrown and has grown up with the organization and has that much success means a lot for the organization, and means a lot for our success as a team."

But how much is it worth?