2010 NHL Free Agency: What about … Lee Stempniak?

1 Comment

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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

austonmatthews
Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

matty beniers
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.