Updates on Derek Stepan, Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles and Tomas Tatar.

No progress in Derek Stepan's contract talks.

No progress in Derek Stepan’s contract talks.

NEW YORK POST/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: report the NY Rangers will be holding their first intrasquad scrimmage of this year’s training camp without Derek Stepan, who remains a contract holdout. Larry Brooks reports “there’s growing doubt that when he comes back — if he comes back — that he can fit right in immediately.”

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, however, also noted some players can return from holdouts (like Montreal’s P.K. Subban last season) and fit in right away.  Stepan reportedly prefers a long-term deal but is willing to discuss a “bridge contract” of two years, though the dollars remain an issue as the Rangers only have around $3 million in cap space.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s why I think the Rangers invited Johan Hedberg to a training camp tryout when they’ve already got backup Martin Biron under contract for this season. If Hedberg outplays Biron, the Rangers could shop or waive the latter to free up additional space to put toward re-signing Stepan. Brooks, meanwhile, remains concerned Stepan could receive an unmatchable offer sheet. Given the reduction in the salary cap and the infrequency of such a ploy, an offer sheet seems unlikely, though it shouldn’t be fully dismissed.

TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons believes if Phil Kessel wants to remain a Maple Leaf – “and all indications are he does” – it shouldn’t be complicated signing him, speculating Kessel could get between $8.2-$8.6 million per season…Simmons suggests Dion Phaneuf’s contract negotiations could be more complicated, believing Phaneuf would be overpaid if he gets more than his current $6.5 million per season salary…Should the Maple Leafs re-sign Cody Franson and sign Mason Raymond, and if there’s no room for John-Michael Liles, Simmons wonders if the Calgary Flames might be interested, especially with Brian Burke now their president of hockey operations…”Six teams have started training camp over the salary cap: Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, San Jose, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cue the tiresome “Kessel isn’t worth that much” cries from the critics of one of the NHL’s most under-rated scorers.  Kessel has steadily improved every season, led the Leafs in scoring every season since joining the club, and among the NHL’s top-ten scoring leaders the past two seasons. In his post-season debut as a Leaf, against the Boston Bruins (his former team), Kessel was tied for second in team scoring. Still, his critics claim he’s “not worth that kind of money”. Look, every athlete is grossly overpaid, but the marketplace is what it is.  If the Leafs – the NHL’s wealthiest team – won’t pony up for Kessel, trust me, he’ll have no problem finding another club willing to do so. Good luck replacing Kessel’s offensive production. I believe the Leafs would be making a huge mistake letting Kessel walk next summer, one they would regret for  years.

As for Phaneuf, I agree he won’t get more than what he’s currently earning. The Leafs could offer him a long-term deal but for less money (between $5.5 – $6 million), but he could earn $6.5 million per season, maybe more, on the open market. The Leafs would have to find someone capable of playing big minutes if they intend to replace him, which won’t be easy.

Burke says he’s playing more of a background role with the Flames, leaving the day-to-day with Feaster, who appears keen to rebuild with youth. If the Flames were a playoff contender, maybe they would take a shot at Liles. I don’t see that happening now.

Of those clubs which have to shed cap space, the Flyers and Bruins will do so by placing Chris Pronger and Marc Savard on LTIR to open the season,  briefly demote waiver-exempt players (like Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton) for the opening day, then recall them the following day after Pronger and Savard are officially on LTIR. Those players won’t even have to leave town.  Others will get under via trades, waivers or demotions by the end of this month. If a trade takes place, it won’t be a major deal. 

MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan reports forward Tomas Tatar hopes to crack the Detroit Red Wings lineup this season. Returning to the minors isn’t a possibility as he’d have to pass through waivers. Khan believes Tatar could be traded if he fails to make the lineup.