When it came time to decide whether or not the Rangers should commit to a long-term deal with restricted free agent center Derek Stepan, the team's new general manager, Jeff Gorton, found a unanimous vote in the front office and on the coaching staff.
And that's exactly what the Rangers were able to do Monday morning, avoiding arbitration by agreeing to terms with the 25-year-old career-long Blueshirt, whom the Rangers selected in the second-round of the 2008 NHL Draft.
"We're really happy to get Derek locked up for the next six years," Gorton told BlueshirtsUnited.com in an exclusive interview Monday afternoon. "It's a really good thing for the Rangers and for Ranger fans. This is a 25-year-old player, who has played well for us already, and who now will play his prime years for us moving forward."
Obviously this agreement is also a very good thing for Stepan, who referenced his new deal as a "life-changing contract".
"I'm grateful," said Stepan, who has recorded 252 points in 362 regular season games and another 41 in 80 playoff contests over the past five years.
"I came into the league and was given an opportunity to be part of an Original Six team, an organization that has treated me extremely well, and now I get to go into my next six years with them," Stepan continued. "It's a great feeling...this is where I want to be."
Several times during a conference call with reporters Stepan mentioned how smoothly negotiations went, and he praised Gorton and his agent for handling things in such a professional manner. He also emphasized it was clear both sides wanted the Stepan-Rangers relationship to continue and to be a long-term commitment.
For his part, Gorton said he, his staff, and the coaches were all in agreement that they wanted Stepan to remain as one of the true cornerstones of the Rangers--along with other key Blueshirts who signed long-term deals over the past couple of years like Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and team captain Ryan McDonagh, Stepan's best friend.
"Derek is a player we know real well, and to see what he's done in this league, the success he's had, the leadership qualities he has, this is one of the guys we want to build around," Gorton said of Stepan, who amassed 55 points a year ago despite missing the first 14 regular season games of his career due to injury.
Gorton acknowledged that Stepan fills so many important roles within the team that the Rangers would be hard-pressed to find someone to ever replace him, much less a player who has the same character and leadership skills possessed by Stepan.
"Derek does a little bit of everything and everyone here is confident with him moving forward," Gorton explained. "He kills penalties and plays on the power play, plays 5-on-5, 4-on-4, 4-on-3, up a goal, down a goal. He's always out there. That's an asset for a coach to have a player like that."
Gorton then added, "You also want players who can play big in the big moments on the biggest stage--and there is no bigger stage than New York City. Derek has proven he can do that."
The Rangers new general manager had to look no further than last May 13 for proof. That night Stepan buried the game-deciding, series-clinching goal in overtime of Game Seven as the Rangers eliminated the Washington Capitals to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
That conference final was the third in the past four years Stepan has been a part of; and he and his teammates also played in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Being a part of so much success makes Stepan hungrier for winning the ultimate prize here in New York.
"We have a group of guys that wants to take the next step," stated Stepan, one of the team's alternate captains. "We've got a competitive group, and there's nothing but exciting things to come for us. To be able to be a part of this for the next six years and try to find a way to take that next step in our team's goals and getting over that extra hump, it's really cool and it's a special feeling to be a part of it."
Both Stepan and Gorton each said several times how excited they were to get this deal done; and now each can place his focus on the coming season as Alain Vigneault's crew once again takes aim at winning a Stanley Cup championship.
"It's a great feeling," Stepan summed up on Monday. "I can't be any more excited to be part of a team that I absolutely love. I love the city of New York. I'm grateful for the fans, grateful for the management there, and my wife and I are extremely happy to be there for the next six years."