Rangers

Hartnett: Sather’s Bully Tactics Could Prolong Stepan Negotiations

Sather Unwisely Lifts Lid On Contentious Contract Talks
Derek Stepan (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Derek Stepan (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather made a significant misstep when he publicly aired his dirty laundry for all Rangers fans to see during Monday night’s MSG Network broadcast.

Up to that point, Sather had played his hand calmly and patiently, holding all the power cards throughout tense negotiations with restricted free-agent center Derek Stepan.

It was unusual to see Sather open the lid on the fractious nature of prolonged negotiations between the Rangers and Stepan during a pre-taped interview with John Giannone shown during the second intermission.

Monday night’s 4-1 preseason loss was an afterthought given Sather’s barbed comments. It was clearly evident how bitter and distrusting Sather has become toward Stepan’s representative, Matthew Oates of O2K Worldwide Management.

“It’s unfortunate that Derek has decided to listen to his agent instead of realizing that he’s in a situation that he’s going to get paid; it’s just not today,” Sather said. “I hope he starts to get a little wiser about this decision. Every day he misses is going to hurt him.”

Sather has poisoned the water by directing comments that could be perceived as insulting to both Stepan and Oates in public light. There’s zero chance that Sather’s bully tactics will accelerate talks. There isn’t any good that could come from painting Oates as the bad guy and Stepan as foolish for holding out.

“I don’t think Derek is gonna let this thing linger that long,” Sather said. “I don’t think he’s big enough of a fool to figure that (he) would sit out for a year, and it’s going to do (his) career any good.”

Sather is 100 percent correct in his assessment that Stepan is harming himself by missing out on nearly two weeks of training camp and crucial preseason games that will help him adjust to new head coach Alain Vigneault’s uptempo style of play.

Under previous head coach John Tortorella, Stepan became the Rangers’ clear-cut number one center last season. Once he agrees to a new deal, he’ll have to earn his way back over Derick Brassard and Brad Richards.

Stepan enjoyed a tremendous statistical leap in 2012-13, as he lead the Rangers with 44 points in 48 games. Chances of him repeating that kind of production could be damaged if his decision to hold out affects his ability to learn Vigneault’s system.

Sather is holding out hope that Stepan wakes up and “smells the roses.”

“We have offered him a very good deal. When he turned down our qualifying offer, we have stuck with that,” Sather said. “He has to start smelling the roses and figure out what’s going on. I hope he does.”

Is Stepan foolish for prioritizing bottom-line monetary value over accommodating himself to Vigneault’s system? Perhaps. He’s a Group II restricted free agent without arbitration rights. Stepan never had any leg to stand on in negotiations.

Still, it’s easy to forget that negotiations are a two-way street. Sather hasn’t exactly rushed to clear cap space to pave the way for the two-year bridge deal that Stepan will, in all likelihood, eventually sign.

The onus is on Stepan to find a compromise after Sather clearly drew his line in the sand. The timetable of when a deal gets done is still unclear, and even moreso after Sather took some unnecessary shots at his best overall center while the cameras were rolling.

It’s one thing to bring a horse to water, and another to force him to drink.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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