As the regular season winds down, Bruins fans are most likely paying attention to who Boston might be matched up against in the first round of the playoffs. But setting our eyes even further ahead, it might be time to start thinking about what the team will look like next season, and beyond. For a career journeyman who’s been traded more times than UFA contracts he’s signed, Lee Stempniak could end up sticking with Boston for more than just his rental stint.
Good hockey writer DJ Bean talks about Stempniak and how the 33-year-old winger has gone through the trials and pains of being traded several times during his career. Boston area native and Stempniak’s former teammate, Keith Tkachuk, discusses helping the current Bruin make his way into the NHL as a rookie with the St. Louis Blues, as well as the hard work and commitment that has made Stempniak an impactful deadline acquisition for several teams on multiple occasions. Tkachuk goes so far as to say Stempniak “fits in perfectly” with the Bruins, so we’ll see if a former 50-goal scorer knows what he’s talking about as GM Don Sweeney looks toward the 2016-2017 season.
With the likelihood of losing Loui Eriksson to free agency, there’s certainly room to retain or add a veteran winger who’s comfortable with top-six duties on the wing. After arriving from New Jersey in a trade for second- and fourth-round picks – a move I wasn’t a big fan of – Stempniak acquitted himself nicely playing right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Boston’s top line. He’s cooled off since his hot post-trade-deadline week, being held scoreless in his last six games, after contributing six points (1 G, 5 A) in his first four games in the black and gold. We’ll have to wait and see what Stempniak brings to the table for the last nine games of the season and in the playoffs, should the Bruins – and they should, but God help us all if they don’t – maintain in the race for a spot.
Stempniak wouldn’t cost the Bruins much in terms of cap space, certainly far less than what Eriksson would ask for, and the picks used for a perceived rental at the deadline would be less-bitter pills to swallow. The Bruins have the opportunity in the next couple years to slowly integrate promising young wingers, such as Frank Vatrano and eventually Zach Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk, as they have with David Pastrnak, but having a solid, smart, dependable veteran like Stempniak who they can shift up and down the lineup will just help in that youth development. If the price is right, the Bruins would look smart retaining Stempniak, who’s made his home with his wife and kids in Boston, even long before he even donned the black and gold.