When the Devils brought Lee Stempniak in on a tryout during training camp last season, not many people expected him to be one of the Devils top point producers throughout the season. Mostly expected to play a depth role, he found success playing on a line with Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique for most of his time in New Jersey. Stempniak’s play increased his trade value dramatically and allowed Ray Shero to trade him to the Boston Bruins for a 2016 fourth round pick and 2017 second round pick. Between Boston and New Jersey, he finished 2015-16 with 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists), which was his best total since 2006-07.
Stempniak has quietly been one of the more effective players over the last couple of seasons. In 2015-16, he scored at a rate 1.76 points a game, the same rate as Kyle Okposo, and better than Andrew Ladd (1.50 pts/60) and David Backes (1.35 pts/60). All three of these players will undoubtedly end up making a lot more than Stempniak come July 1st. His production at even-strength wasn’t a flash in the pan either. In 2014-15, he scored at a rate of 1.84 points per 60. While his point totals were not as gaudy in 2014-15, he still was more than an effective player.
Stempniak’s success wasn’t limited to his time in New Jersey last season. While he only played in 19 games for the Bruins, he had 10 points and was a 56.1% possession player. However, it’s quite clear that his best moments came with the Devils, specifically when he played with Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri. The line was, by far, the Devils most dominant last season. In just over 375 minutes together, they were on the ice for 22 goals for and 9 goals against. Their goals for per 60 was 3.51 as opposed to their goals against per 60 of 1.43, which is a great positive differential. Considering Henrique and Cammalleri will be around next season, slotting Stempniak on their right wing would make perfect sense if they choose to bring him back.
Stempniak was having one of the best seasons of his career with the Devils until he was sent to Boston at the trade deadline. Adam Henrique isn’t going anywhere and if Mike Cammalleri can stay healthy, the trio could be reunited next season. Aside from the potential of reuniting Stempniak with his old line mates, his play over the last three seasons (specifically the last two) has been good enough where the Devils would not be taking on a huge risk by signing him. He’ll likely cost less than David Backes or Andrew Ladd, both of whom will most receive bigger pay days than Stempniak when they hit the open market on July 1st.
With Ray Shero unlikely to go on a free agent spending spree, Stempniak is the type of signing that makes sense for the Devils. They need scoring and he will give them a bit of that. He may not have the season he did in 2015-16, but at worst, he’ll give them some much needed depth, which is something they are in desperate need of. Given his age, I doubt Shero will throw out a long-term deal to Stempniak. If the Devils are able to get him back on short-term deal, they should be fine. Bringing him back makes the team competitive for the near future and will help them avoid taking on a bad contract while they’re still in rebuild mode. Given that, I think there’s a good chance we see Stempniak back in New Jersey for next season.