2010 NHL Free Agency: What about … Lee Stempniak?

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stempwhatabout.jpgAt this point in free agency, the focus shifts from the gems to flawed guys who can still bring some skill to the table. So, going forward, we’ll spotlight individual players who are flying under the radar.

Previous Entries: Slava Kozlov, Alex Frolov, Willie Mitchell

Today’s entry: Lee Stempniak

Name: Lee Stempniak
Height: 6-0 Weight: 195
Position: RW
Strengths: Speed, special teams, goal scoring
Weaknesses: Consistency, play without the puck

Who is Lee Stempniak, really?

At 27-years-old, you’d think the quick winger would have shown his true self at this point, but I’m not so sure.

Logic says that he’s just another mediocre player who caught lightning in a bottle for a limited time. His career stats are nothing short of middling; he averages .56 points per game in his career, Stempniak’s best plus/minus is 0 and he topped off at 52 points during the 06-07 season. It’s hard not to yawn at such pedestrian numbers.

Still, it’s difficult to ignore just how magical that post-trade-deadline run was. Once he jumped on the bandwagon with the Phoenix Coyotes, Stempniak transformed himself into a red-hot performer. His goal scoring, in particular, was the thing of genius: 14 of his 18 points in 18 regular season games with the Yotes were goals. Sure, he went ice cold in crunch time (0 goals, two assists in seven playoff games against Detroit), but still. That was an incredible run.

stempniakwhataboot.jpgThe biggest question, to me, is what the largest hold-up is. Are general managers worried that Stempniak is just a flash-in-the-pan or is he just another victim of the Eternal Ilya Kovalchuk Holding Pattern? That much is unclear, but if Matt Cullen can garner a $3.5 million per year cap hit then I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team roll the dice on Stempniak this summer.

For some reason, one name that keeps popping into my head is Edmonton Oilers’ forward Fernando Pisani. It’s not a completely fair comparison; Stempniak has actually had two nice seasons (28 goals in 09-10 and 27 in 06-07) while Pisani scored a few timely goals during the Oilers’ unexpected run to the Stanley Cup finals. Far-too-convenient timing isn’t the only reason I think of the two players, though; Stempniak’s risk factor increases when you consider how one-dimensional he can be. Neither player will not be much of an asset if they’re not scoring for you. (After all, Stempniak killed penalties for an average of three seconds per game in the Red Wings series.)

One thing he won’t be able to do is shoot the lights out like he did in Phoenix. According to hockey-reference.com, Stempniak’s shooting percentage was a staggering 29.2 percent in those 18 games with the Coyotes. His career shooting percentage is 11.8, so it’s obvious that he was extraordinarily lucky.

Now, that being said, most reasonable GMs probably won’t be crazy enough to expect a point-per-game player. If that general manager instead snags Stempniak for a reasonable price and expects 15-20 goals, he could be very happy with what he gets. It’s been feast or famine in his career; he scored 14 goals twice and 13, 27 and 28 goals once in his five seasons. So perhaps the optimistic (yet even-keeled) approach is to hope that the truth is somewhere in between.

For a player as hot-and-cold as him, a one-year deal might be the perfect thing for both Stempniak and his prospective team. The team could give him a nice deal that reduces their long-term risk while Stempniak would gain an opportunity to prove he can consistently score in the 20-goal range. Either way, his free agent situation is unusual, to say the least, so stick with PHT as the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place this month.

Julien says Lundqvist’s acting ‘doesn’t need to be on the ice’

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The goalie interference penalty called on Brad Marchand late in Friday’s Thanksgiving Showdown didn’t sit well with the Bruins.

Marchand, whistled after making contact with New York’s Henrik Lundqvist midway through the third, said he thought “it was a bit of a weak call,” adding “[Lundvqist’s] out of the crease, and he lightly gets touched.”

While Marchand took issue with the call, his head coach took issue with King Henrik.

(In Julien’s defense, Lundqvist does have a pretty lengthy IMDB page.)

The interference penalty was nearly disastrous for the Bruins, as J.T. Miller scored on the ensuing power play to given the Blueshirts a 3-2 edge.

However, Boston replied with a power-play goal of its own — Ryan Spooner, at the 16:14 mark — which set the stage for David Krejci‘s dramatic game-winner with just under two minutes to go.

So, to recap: Today’s game had the Beleskey hit on Stepan, the Marchand-Lundqvist theatrics and a dramatic come-from-behind victory for Boston.

And so, to answer your next question:

These two teams next meet on Monday, Jan. 11, at MSG.

Related: Yep, Alain Vigneault went there — ‘I remember Aaron Rome in this building’

Video: Peluso, Gabriel throw down in spirited heavyweight tilt

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The big boys got after it early in Minnesota today.

Wild forward Kurtis Gabriel — all 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds of him — picked one of the toughest opponents in hockey on Friday, throwing down with Jets enforcer Anthony Peluso early in the first period.

And it was a pretty good tilt.

Peluso, one of the league’s most feared fighters, was coming off two pretty heavy scraps — one against Columbus tough guy Jared Boll, and another in which he landed some serious shots on overmatched Canucks d-man Luca Sbisa:

Of course, Gabriel’s no slouch.

He had one previous fight in the NHL this year (against Peluso’s teammate, Chris Thorburn) and five in the American League, where he’s spent the majority of this season.

Given the fisticuffs that occurred earlier in the Bruins-Rangers game, it seem the NHL has really gotten into the spirit of Black Friday.

(All videos courtesy HockeyFights.com)

Yep, Alain Vigneault went there — ‘I remember Aaron Rome in this building’

Matt Beleskey, Derek Stepan

Alain Vigneault remembers a late hit that happened in Boston one time.

The Rangers’ head coach referenced it today after one of his top centers, Derek Stepan, was injured on a check that the NHL may need to review with a stopwatch.

“I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” Vigneault said, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News.

For those that need their memories refreshed (nobody in Vancouver does, that’s for sure), here’s Rome’s late hit that knocked Nathan Horton out of the 2011 final with a concussion:

Now here’s the hit that Matt Beleskey put on Stepan:

According to Vigneault, Stepan has some broken ribs and is out indefinitely.

Over to you, Department of Player Safety.

High-flying Bruins (sounds weird to say) beat Rangers for fifth straight win


Somebody tell the Boston Bruins there’s a goal-scoring crisis in the NHL.

This afternoon, for the 14th time this season, a Bruins game featured at least six goals. The final score was 4-3, as Boston came back to beat the Rangers in a wildly entertaining Thanksgiving Showdown on NBC.

David Krejci scored the winner with 1:43 remaining. Krejci’s goal came just 2:03 after teammate Ryan Spooner had tied it on the power play.

The win was the Bruins’ fifth straight. Though the defensive mistakes remain…

…Claude Julien’s troops have been finding ways to overcome them.

The running and gunning Boston Bruins.

When was the last time you could call them that?