On this important holiday, I would like to extend a personal thank you to everyone who has honorably served our country in the United States Armed Forces. I truly appreciate the risks that you take and the sacrifices that you make to protect our country.
Now 13 games into the season, we have seen a decent run of real hockey for Ron Francis’ summer additions. Here are first impressions and an early evaluation for each.
Though not from the top shelf of the free agency list, Stempniak was Francis’ biggest foray into that market. Thus far, the move is a good one. Stempniak is on pace for nearly 30 goals and nearly 50 points and has generally played a solid all-around game. Especially when you consider the modest $2.5 million annual salary and low-risk 2-year commitment, the deal looks good so far.
Stalberg was signed to solidify a fourth line built around Jay McClement that was not very good in 2015-16. My issue with the signing is that by signing a wing only player, it decreases the ability to substitute for Jay McClement. That said, Stalberg has been good for his role so far. He stepped right into a penalty kill group that has been strong, has been good on the forecheck and has 2 goals to boot. His offensive ability is that of a fourth-liner, but he looks to fit in that role.
He was obtained more or less as the cost to also add Teuvo Teravainen in salary cutting deal for the Blackhawks. As a player who could have been a complete write-off, Bickell has been okay. I do not think he is a great fit for a McClement-centered fourth line because I think the scoring upside that he has is wasted and it makes at least 2 out of 3 players who are mobility-challenged which can be dangerous for match ups. But Bryan Bickell has found a small but important niche as a long-needed net front presence on the power play. He has scored 1 goal and been a huge part of 2 others setting screens. Relative to the pure write-off potential, Bickell has outperformed.
Arguably the most exciting addition this summer, Teravainen has been underwhelming thus far. He has skill and can make plays either scoring or dishing with the puck on his stick, but my long-term concern is that he just is not a player who wins or drives possession or engages the puck regularly. This is a recipe for being a complementary role player with skill. Even if more scoring surfaces which I think it could, I continue to look for more dimensions to Teravainen’s game.
Thus far, Nakladal has looked like a serviceable #6/#7 defenseman and not much more. From my seat, the biggest issue with his game thus far is the size of the gaps he leaves especially when defending on the rush. Allowing time and space for good players is a recipe for trouble. In the end, the addition of Nakladal (and Dahlbeck) was about not forcing the issue with Fleury or McKeown, and it is hard to fault a near minimum salary for a player with previous NHL experience.
I thought Dahlbeck started fairly well and actually looked best while he was still settling in. Since then he has been adequate but not great finding his way into a few scoring plays against and picking up 4 minor penalties in only 7 games. His skating and mobility are NHL-capable, and he already meets the 70 games requirement for next summer’s NHL expansion draft (would have to be re-signed though) which in itself might be enough to keep him around.
It is important to note that 13 games is not enough time to make final assessments for these players. If Teravainen suddenly hits a 5-game point streak, his story is much different. I also think that the more interesting questions continue to be whether Francis made the right move bringing back (so not really an addition) Cam Ward and also if he did enough to give this team a chance for 2016-17. But we will save those for another day.