2016 NHL Free Agency: Lee Stempniak, the NHL's Journeyman
Could Stempniak be the reliable and cheap winger we didn't know we needed heading into next season?
Born: West Seneca, NY
Height/Weight: 5'11" / 195lbs
Lee Stempniak is probably not high on anybody’s wish list, but don’t count him out just yet. He’s old(ish), he’s dirt cheap, and he’s American - the trifecta. Could he be this season’s one-year "veteran" contact? Plus, like everyone’s favorite baseball man Brad Ausmus, he is also an alum of Dartmouth College. Kenny, if you’re reading this, I know that second sentence and his right-hand shot got you excited, but hear me out first.
In 2003, Stempniak was drafted 148th overall by the St. Louis Blues, and led the Blues in goals his first season. After a few years with the Blues he was traded to Toronto, then to the Coyotes, the Flames, the Penguins, the Rangers, the Jets, the Devils, and finally to the Bruins. In total, he has played with nine different teams over the last eleven seasons and I’m assuming he lives out of a cardboard box and a backpack - and sometimes lives in the cardboard box. He’s the NHL version of the "Roxanne Challenge", it’s all good fun until you find yourself drinking your own tears as you fight to take a shot during the 12th "Roxanne".
Seriously, his journey makes Lord of the Rings look like a trip to the Starbucks inside your office building.
So What's the Big Deal?
He has generally stayed healthy, playing 70+ games a season with the exception of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 where he played 61 and 47 respectively. For you fancy stat folks, his Corsi tends to hover around 50%. He is a middleman, he’s not really a grinder and he’s not an elite forward. His role has often been that of a balance bringer, he can fit in with any pair of forwards and give some stability and safety to let the other two run wild. His primary strength is that he is reliable...and dirt cheap. His primary weakness is that one of his eyes is slightly lower than the other.
Do We Sign Him?
Is he a good fit for the Red Wings? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in the mix. We have lots of forwards - we have young forwards, we have forwards developing/languishing in Grand Rapids waiting for their chance, we have "mature" forwards. We have forwards galore. I’m not sure we’re in the market for a second- or third-line winger, but if we need someone to hang out with the kids, Stempniak may not be the worst idea. But is he worth the loss of a roster spot?
I’d think Stempniak is looking for a little stability to end his career and something like a three-year contract. I have no evidence to support that, but it’s my guess. Where is he headed next? A few rumors have the Devils, Rangers, Islanders and Flyers- and probably every team except the Bruins - in the mix.
Wherever he goes next, all roads may lead to Vegas...