Craig Custance informed us recently that Thrashers GM Rick Dudley has “touched base” with the agent of Lee Stempniak. The 27-year right wing is still an unsigned UFA who is coming off a three-year contract that paid a total old $7.5 million.
So, is this a “where there is smoke, there is fire” situation? I mean, why would Dudley & Co. let something like this leak out if there wasn’t not any “there” there? And certainly general managers “touch base” with agents all the time…right?
Adding some fuel to the flames of speculation is that the Thrashers are looking to replace the two-dozen or so goals that boarded a plane with with Maxim Afinogenov and flew off to Russia. So, it reasons that the 6’-0” 190 lb Stempniak could conceivably fill such a void.
Between Toronto and Phoenix last season he amassed 28 goals and 30 assists during a total of 80 games played. He had an EVEN +/- rating…-10 in 62 games with the Maple Leafs, +10 during 18 games played with the Coyotes. The season before that he had 14 goals, 30 assists and was a –12 while splitting time with the Leafs and St. Louis Blues.
Stempniak grew up in western New York, graduating from St. Francis High School in 2001. His parents insisted he attend college, so he went to Dartmouth where he majored in economics while playing hockey. In his four seasons with the Big Green he scored 63 goals and 88 assists in 135 ECAC games played.
In the summer of 2003 he was drafted 148th overall by the St. Louis Blues.
After four years of college hockey, Stempniak joined the Blues for the 2005-06 season. He was sent down to the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL around New Years, but returned to St. Louis a month later after the Blues traded away Doug Weight and Mike Sillanger. In his first game back, he scored the tying goal during regulation then the game-winning shootout goal in a 3-2 win over Calgary. He played in a total of 57 NHL games that year, scoring 14 goals and 27 assists.
The next season Stempniak played in all 82 games for St. Louis. That year he led the Blues with 27 goals while playing on a line with David Backes and Jay McClement.
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In November of 2008 the Blues dealt Stempniak to Toronto in exchange for Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo. He played there for remainder of that season and into last year’s campaign, plying in 123 games for the Leafs, scoring 25 goals and 36 assists. He was traded by Toronto to Phoenix on March 3 of this year for Matt Jones and a pair of draft picks.
Stempniak didn’t exactly wander aimlessly in the desert, though, as he netted 14 goals and 4 assists. He earned NHL player of the month honors for the month of March. And last April he experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in his career while with the Coyotes. He had 2 assists in the seven game series loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
For his career, he has 96 goals, 113 assists and is a –24 in 374 NHL games.
What would it cost to acquire Stempniak? As stated above, he is coming off a three-year $7.5 million. Last season he earned $3.5 mil, the season before that his salary was $2.5 mil and $1.5 mil in the first year of the contract.
According to CapGeek.com, the Thrashers are still about $20 million under the cap. So even if he commands similar compensation, Atlanta has more than enough room, (DUH5).