Lee Stempniak is as well-traveled an NHLer as you’re going to find on the open market, having played for nine different teams in the span of his ten-year career. In spite of all that movement, he’s quietly been a very effective producer of offence for the majority of his career.
After toiling away for a number of years as a bottom-six piece in Calgary, Pittsburgh, New York, and Winnipeg, Stempniak had something of a renaissance season in 2015-16. After joining the New Jersey Devils on a PTO, he would go on to lead the team in scoring for much of the season before being traded at the deadline for a third consecutive time.
After a brief period of relative obscurity, Stempniak’s name will be back on the radar come July 1st. His production last season has earned him a sizeable raise from the cap hit of $850,000 he boasted in 2015-16, but he’ll still be a relatively cheap option who should have plenty of suitors once free agency begins.
THE SCOUTING REPORT:
When I hear Lee Stempniak’s name, the first word that comes to mind is “deceptive”. He doesn’t possess any notable physical advantages, and he’s not particularly flashy, but he has a knack for getting open and using his quick wrist shot or slick backhand to fool the opposition’s goaltender. His ability to produce offence has often been called “streaky”, but outside of the very elite goalscorers in this league, that’s about what you have to expect. In spite of his small frame, he doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game either, having averaged over 1.3 hits per game last season.
At first glance, Stempniak doesn’t seem like someone the Canucks are likely to pursue. If they’re going to go out and sign a free agent winger at the expense of one of their younger forwards, it seems more likely they’d go after a younger player with a bit more name recognition.
Then again, it’s not entirely out of the question. The Canucks have been connected to Troy Brouwer, another player in the second tier of free agent wingers who’s hovered around the 30-40 point mark for most of his career. Obviously, Stempniak doesn’t have the size or physicality that Brouwer brings to the table, but he was a better producer of offense last season.
If the team is looking to add secondary scoring, they could do a lot worse than Stempniak. If they strike out on Ladd, Lucic, Eriksson, and Okposo, Stempniak would be at the top of my list of budget-friendly wingers to look at. Stempniak has always been able to put the puck in the net, something the Canucks struggled mightily to do last season. Stempniak can also play up and down the lineup, and since the team isn’t going to have to commit all that much money or term to him, he could be worth a look.
I’m a big fan of what Stempniak has to offer. he’s a versatile forward who can play both wings and even man the point on a team’s powerplay, and he’s a good bet to provide significant value in any team’s middle-six. That being said, it’s hard to see where a 33-year-old winger who’s likely best suited to a third-line role fits in on this club. A few years ago, he would have been a fantastic addition to the bottom of the team’s roster, but as the team is currently constructed, signing Stempniak would really only serve to take a spot away from a younger player. At this point, it would be very difficult to sell this market on another veteran winger creating an obstacle for the development of a player like Alex Grenier or Brendan Gaunce.
The only way I could see the Canucks pursuing Stempniak is if they elect to move Jannik Hansen in exchange for futures and are looking for some depth scoring to help replace him. If they choose to go that route, they may take a look at some of the lower-tier veteran free agents to insulate the younger players. If they really are interested in Troy Brouwer, it stands to reason that they could be looking at a player like Stempniak as well, especially if they want to add some scoring.
Overall, I’m not sure he’s a natural fit in Vancouver, but he’s definitely worth taking a look at, presuming that the price is right. If there’s a spot for him, he could turn out to be one of the better bang-for-your-buck signings of the summer.