NEW YORK (AP) - Derek Stepan is back in the fold with the New York Rangers, agreeing to a two-year contract that should have him back on the ice in time for the season opener.
Negotiations had been tense in recent days as the sides worked on a deal to get the restricted free-agent forward signed and into training camp. A contract was finally worked out Thursday, one week before the Rangers start the regular season at Phoenix.
The 23-year-old Stepan, expected to be the Rangers' No. 1 center, led the team with 44 points last season and was second to Rick Nash with 18 goals while playing all 48 games of the lockout-shortened campaign.
He had been seeking $3.5 million per season, while the Rangers were offering around $3 million. The new deal is for a total of $6.15 million - $2.3 million this season and $3.85 million in 2014-15.
Signing Stepan was a critical move for the Rangers, who are starting the season under new coach Alain Vigneault without captain Ryan Callahan and speedy winger Carl Hagelin - both recovering from shoulder operations.
Stepan set career highs last season with a plus-25 rating and six game-winning goals. He tied his high with four power-play goals.
Stepan went over the 40-point mark for the third straight season, tying for the NHL lead with four short-handed points.
In 12 playoff games, Stepan had a career-best four goals - including winners in Games 3 and 4 of New York's first-round victory over Washington.
In 212 regular-season NHL games overall, Stepan has 56 goals and 140 points.