Lee Stempniak flew under the radar in more than one way this season.
Certainly, there was a little but of hubbub regarding the manner in which he came to town – being traded for a player who’s both a fan favourite and someone coming off a major injury is never easy, as it tends to inflate expectations a wee bit. On the surface, Stempniak’s season may have been a little disappointing – 14 goals and a significant amount of time missed to injury both contributed to that perception. In reality, though, Stempniak was one of the Flames’ best forwards this season.
Since becoming an NHL regular, Stempniak’s goal totals (pro-rated to 82 games) have been remarkably consistent, averaging 20 per season over his career with peaks of 29 & 27 and valleys of 14 & 15.
Usually when we talk about outliers in the context of the type of perception around Stempniak, we look at the negative results and discount the positive ones. In Stempniak’s case, the positive results are actually the outliers – which is a good sign for a guy who should be a buy low player. Looking at this chart, it’s probably reasonable to expect a 20 goal season out of Stempniak next year.
While the leg injury that caused him to miss 21 games last year might be stuck in the mind of some Flames fans, it’s important to note that the injury, like most injuries, was the result of a fluky play and it marks the only time in his career that he’s missed significant (>10 games) time due to injury.
On the underlying side of things, the read is pretty clear – Stemps is a low 2nd/high 3rd line guy who can move the puck in the right direction quite effectively. He posted the 2nd best Relative Corsi rate amongst forwards (+10.5) last year while playing 3rd line competition (9th in Corsi Relative Quality of Competition) and starting in the defensive zone marginally more then in the offensive zone (49.4% Zone Start) while also finishing with a delta of +2.8% in where he finished his shifts (53.2% Zone Finish). He also had an average PDO (996).
On top of all that, Stemps drew more penalties then he took by a hefty margin. You can check out more numbers here, but trust me when I say they’re all pretty solid.
Due to that time he missed this season as well as perception of streakiness surrounding him, Stempniak will probably have a lower price than other 20-goal UFA guys out there. He’s definitely someone I would offer a contract to… so long as I had the roster space.
And that’s the issue there – the Flames are chock full of bottom sixers who can push the puck in the right direction. That, along with Jay Bouwmeester (yes, just Jay Bouwmeester) may be the only strengths the Flames actually have. Is it worth it to offer a 2.5 to 3 million dollar contract to Stempniak? Part of me says yes, and that’s only been reinforced by the hiring of Bob Hartley this afternoon. Guys like Stempniak are pretty much the perfect example of players you want when you’re entering a soft rebuild.
But part of me says no, because it’s not likely you’re going to get a ton of value from Stempniak’s contract. If we go all reductive using the 3-1-1 principle (3 goals is equal to one point is equal to $1 million in salary), Stempniak’s current deal of $2.5 million a season is basically just breaking even. Looking at his GVT from last year – which was a very similar season when it comes to production – Stempniak “created” ~6.1 goals more then a threshold player would. That same threshold player would be making about $550k-$575k in the NHL, and when you add that to Stempniak’s positive value of ~$2.05 million, you’re getting about $85k-$100k in positive value. If everyone on the team gave you that, you’d be getting max one point of extra value over the course of an entire season. That’s not enough.
So what say you? Does Stempniak deserve a new deal?