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.

PHT Morning Skate: Zdeno Chara shot catches emergency goalie in a sensitive spot

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–Sean McIndoe looks at five players who became the unlikeliest first 50-goal scorers in their franchise’s history. McIndoe chose Rick MacLeish (Flyers), Rick Vaive (Maple Leafs), Vic Hadfield (Rangers), Guy Chouinard (Flames) and Mickey Redmond (Red Wings). (The Hockey News)

–A lot of people think hockey players are the toughest athletes, but Islanders forward Anders Lee is here to tell you that they aren’t tough at all. In his story for The Players’ Tribune, Lee writes about a tough, young friend, who is battling cancer. “In the seven years since he has been diagnosed, he has gone through multiple surgeries. He’s had countless radiation treatments. He’s gone through chemotherapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplants. And he does it all with a smile on his face. So when I hear people refer to me as tough because I play hockey, I think of Fenov and kids like him.” (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Boston Bruins needed an emergency goalie for their practice yesterday, and they settled on Massachusetts state trooper Kevin Segee. Surely, it was the experience of a lifetime for him, but it didn’t come without pain. Segee was clearly shaken up after getting a Zdeno Chara in the…well, you know. (CSN New England)

–Blackhawks forwards Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Tanner Kero each had multi-point games in Wednesday’s 5-1 thumping of the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–What was the world like the last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs? Thanks to Sports Illustrated, we don’t have to wonder. In 1990, J.K. Rowling had just started writing the Harry Potter series, Donald Trump walked out of an interview with CNN because they were asking tough questions about his casino, the first known webpage was written and much, much more. (Sports Illustrated)

–Edmonton Oilers players and their significant others came together to make 400-500 bowls of homemade soup for charity. It’s pretty cool to see most of the team be involved in such a nice event, even though the onion chopping station gave some of the guys a hard time. (Edmonton Oilers on Twitter)

–Sportsnet has assembled the top hits of the week for your viewing pleasure. Hits from that Toronto, Columbus game made the video a couple of times:

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.