Lee Stempniak, 29, 5-foot-11, 196 pounds
Acquired via trade from Phoenix Coyotes Aug. 29, 2011 in exchange for Daymond Langkow
2011-12 totals: 61 GP, 14 G, 14 A, 28 P, 16 PIM, -2
2011-12 cap hit: $1.9 million
Lee Stempniak joined the Calgary Flames in the summer of 2011 in a trade with Phoenix that sent Daymond Langkow to the Coyotes. Stempniak has stated he wants to return for next season and because of his age, the Flames are left with one of their most difficult free agent decisions of the off-season.
Stempniak is a very smart, effective hockey player. In his first season with Calgary, he was utilized in numerous roles by head coach Brent Sutter and spent far more time in the offensive zone than not.
When profiling David Moss earlier this week, we pointed out his positive shot rate of 6.85 (a number totaled when calculating all shots towards the goal for and against). Only three regular Flames forwards posted positive totals by this metric during the 2011-12 campaign, and Stempniak was one of them (Moss and Mikael Backlund are the others). Knowing that this number is nothing more than an offensive zone proxy, it shows that Stempniak spent a good chunk of his time in the offensive zone.
While Backlund and Moss started slightly more shifts in the defensive zone, it’s not like Stempniak was heavily protected or was given a slanted amount of time offensively. He still had a sub 50 per cent offensive zone start (49.4 per cent to be exact), meaning that he was still very effective in affecting the play positively from one end of the ice to the other.
Stempniak also brings some skill and offensive ability to the table and it’s a good bet he would have been pushing 20 goals had he played a full season last year. He’s already put together two 20-plus goal seasons prior and fell one goal short during the 2010-11 campaign, so there’s a pretty decent track record there.
He scores a lot of goals because he’s smart and simple, but also has a good knack for scoring off the rush, something the Flames didn’t have a lot of last year. His goal at the Saddledome against the Chicago Blackhawks, where he undressed Duncan Keith in the process, is still a highlight from last season.
The largest negative I can see would be contract terms. The Flames do have cap space for the coming year, but no one knows what Stempniak is looking for. Now 29 years of age, this will likely be his last chance at a somewhat long-term contract. If he’s looking for a four- or five-year contract I just don’t see it being smart for Calgary at this point.
The team needs to get away from giving players in the middle of their prime years contracts longer than two or three years, because it can start to be a hassle towards the end. I don’t know if this is something Stempniak will be a stickler on, but if so, I don’t think it’s smart for the Flames.
Stempniak is streaky and has been his entire career. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad or ineffective player when he’s not scoring or putting up points, but his production does come in waves — and also disappears in waves. This past season, Stempniak had a 15-game goal-less drought between early December and early January, posting just two assists in the process. His peaks and valleys weren’t as noticeable in his first season with Calgary, but really showed in his season-plus with Phoenix.
During January 2011, Stempniak posted 11 points in a seven game span before a 19-game stretch with just two assists. The year prior, he had 14 goals in the 18 games he played with the Coyotes upon being traded from Toronto and then went stagnant for seven games against Detroit in the playoffs.
This is a tough one because it really depends on what Stempniak is looking for. If the Flames can get him on a two- or three-year contract at a good cap hit (under $2.5 million), then I say go for it. You know what you’re going to get, he is an effective middle six forward, and can give you a little offence. Much like Moss, he’s a good player to have in a transitional phase if the price is right. In this case, the dollar figure is less important than the term. If his camp his looking for anything more than a three year deal, then I believe Calgary needs to walk away.