If you have not yet, please help us prepare for the 2017-18 season by taking a reader survey (will be shutting it down soon) and considering a modest financial contribution for our ‘coffee fund.’
Today’s ‘report card’ entry fits within a Thursday theme at Canes and Coffee that focuses on the Hurricanes second tier of top 9 forwards. Lee Stempniak is the fourth of four forwards (along with Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm) that I put in this category.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe addresses their place in the Hurricanes’ lineup and role in taking another step up and into the playoffs.
Following the same theme, the Thursday Coffee Shop also focuses primarily on Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen, Elias Lindholm and Lee Stempniak.
If you missed the previous entries in the 2016-17 ‘report card’ series, you can find a clickable menu of previous articles at the bottom of the page.
Lee Stempniak’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Lee Stempniak was Ron Francis’ largest foray into the free agent market thus far in his two summers as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes. On July 1 when crazy money often flies around and rewards good veteran players who are on the wrong side of their prime with huge contracts both in terms of salary and term, Francis quietly added veteran scoring depth in the form of Lee Stempniak. Stempniak’s $2.5 million annual salary over a 2-year commitment was a solid conservative move to boost scoring and fill at least one of the top 9 slots vacated when Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg were traded at the previous trade deadline.
After starting the 2015-16 season on a player try out contract and ultimately signing for a low $850,000, Stempniak had a strong 2015-16 season. Posting 41 points in 63 games (53-point pace for 82 games) with a scoring-lite New Jersey Devils team earned him a trade deadline deal to the playoff-bound Boston Bruins. His 10 points in 19 games there was slightly lower, but his 51 points raised his stock heading into another summer of 2016 as a free agent. “Scoring right wing who does not cost a fortune” would have been an accuarte description both of Lee Stempniak and an item on Ron Francis’ shopping list, and the two found each other during the free agent frenzy.
Lee Stempniak’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
Even before players arrived in training camp, Coach Bill Peters had decided his first lineup try would group the three youngest forwards (Aho, Lindholm, Teravainen). With the starting point including a reworked Staal line with Nordstrom and ideally Nestrasil who was recovering from a back injury, that pushed Stempniak to the right side of the familiar Skinner/Rask combination.
The trio looked good in preseason and started the regular season with a bang. Skinner fired immediately upon launch of the 2016-17 season, and Victor Rask and Lee Stempniak also started fast. Stempniak quickly collected 4 goals and 2 assists in his first 5 games in a Hurricanes’ uniform and seemed to be off to the races. But just as quickly as he caught fire, he cooled down going point-less in his next 7 games. In the middle of the short dry spell, Stempniak was sucked into Peters’ line shuffling efforts to try to get more than one line going. Stempniak would spend the rest of the season moving throughout the lineup in a variety of roles with a variety of line mates. He played a consistent even if not spectacular brand of hockey and notably played some of his best hockey in March when the team in total surged.
His quarterly scoring totals illustrated his consistently. He had 4 goals and 6 assists in the first quarter, 4 goals and 5 assists in the second quarter, 4 goals and 6 assists in the third quarter and then 4 goals and 7 assists in the final quarter for a pretty balanced season in terms of production. His level of play similarly exhibited consistency even as his role and line mates changed. All in all, Lee Stempniak had what I would term a good but not great season.
Grading Lee Stempniak
Graded as: Top 9 forward with the ability to play on any line and help boost the team’s scoring.
Grade: B. Following the theme for the other four top 9 forwards, I give Stempniak a B just like the others. (I promise; I am not going to give every single player on the roster the same B. :-)) From a half full perspective, I think Stempniak did exactly what he was brought in to do. He filled a top 9 role, brought depth scoring and showed flexibility playing across multiple lines. From a half empty perspective, he never really excelled in any line combination or boosted the level of play of anyone, and his scoring was a little bit light at 40 points in 82 games. For me, a B+ or A- would have required scoring more like his 2015-16 total of 51 points. Being more of a catalyst for his line and/or the Canes offense in general would also have been a ‘nice to have’ though not a requirement. Overall, good season – just not a truly great season.
Looking forward to 2017-18
Relative to the national NHL media, I am in the minority in terms of thinking that Lee Stempniak should and actually might be protected in the upcoming expansion draft. It would require exposing one of younger players Phil Di Giuseppe or Brock McGinn, but I would still do it. If the Hurricanes do in fact make it through the expansion draft with Stempniak still on the roster, I think he fills a very similar role again in 2017-18. Though not really elite in any specific area, Stempniak is a good all-around player who brings a balanced mix of finishing, playmaking, 2-way play and battling for/winning pucks. I also think he is the kind of complementary player who could thrive if he finds chemistry on a scoring line. If the Canes do add a skilled top 6 scoring center and pair him with Sebastian Aho, could Stempniak be just the player to benefit from all that they create and the attention they attract? Or if the Skinner/Rask duo suddenly gets less attention, could Stempniak be part of the mix that pushes that line to a higher level with a few more favorable match ups? Or might he just be the perfect flexible player who can be moved around and play on any line? Regardless of role (and if he returns obviously), Stempniak figures to play in the top 9 again with a complementary but still significant role in building a balanced scoring attack that can lift the Hurricanes offense to a higher level.
What say you Caniacs?
What do you give Lee Stempniak for a grade? And if you had to tag a minus or a plus onto my B, which would it be?
Do you think he will be lost to the expansion draft, or do you (like me) think Francis might instead expose a younger depth player (McGinn or Di Giuseppe) in order to keep Stempniak?
If he does stay, what are reasonable expectations for the 2017-18 season for Lee Stempniak?
Previous report card articles