In the darkest days of some of the worst seasons in St. Louis Blues history, Lee Stempniak offered one of the few bright spots. Now, nine years after leaving town, he may offer an efficient and effective solution for improving the forward group of this year’s team.
Stempniak made his season debut for the Carolina Hurricanes last night after missing Carolina’s first 43 games with a combination of back and unexplained-but-probably-a-concussion upper body injuries. He recorded an assist in 13:35 of ice time, seeing nearly two minutes of that time while his team was on the power play.
Those power play contributions may be of particular interest to the Blues, who have rotated Sammy Blais, Vladimir Sobotka, and even Beau Bennett through the second unit with little to no success.
Stempniak also has extensive experience on the penalty kill. That experience could allow the Blues to reduce some of their dependency on Magnus Paajarvi, who has only four points in 41 games played this season but has kept a firm grasp on his lineup spot due to his ability to play in shorthanded situations.
The logistics surrounding a Stempniak acquisition do add a wrinkle to the thought experiment. Carolina currently sits in a playoff spot, though they’re only one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and certainly would seem to be a candidate to fade in the second half. Still, after having their sale to Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon recently completed, the franchise may be more inclined to make splashy moves to improve rather than concede.
Stempniak is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and his $2.5 million cap hit is small enough that the Blues should have only minimal challenges in finagling it below the salary ceiling. He’s also no stranger to being moved in a deadline deal; he’s been traded at or near the deadline four times throughout his career.
Ultimately, the Blues have multiple forward spots in need of an upgrade. Stempniak, who recorded 40 points in 82 games last season, could be a tempting addition to stabilize a collection of bottom six forwards. A fourth line of Stempniak, Scottie Upshall, and Kyle Brodziak would allow for stability and leadership that could help guide a team that occasionally has seemed to be suffering from a lack of direction.
Looking backward as opposed to forward is rarely a wise strategy for a professional franchise, but in this case, Lee Stempniak’s past may offer the foundations for a future that could help guide a Blues team with a great deal of potential through the challenges of an NHL postseason.