Capped: UFA Signings That Paid Off in 2015
CAPPED: A review of some of the best signings from 2015, including Stempniak, Cullen, and more.
As you are reading this, we are well into the first round of the NHL playoffs, and there has been some fantastic hockey so far. That Chicago-St. Louis series has been nothing but spectacular to watch. If you haven’t seen any of those games, I highly recommend it. With that said, Chicago has their back against the wall, and it’s not looking good for the defending champs.
Speaking of spectacular, there were some really good signings to come out of last year’s UFA class of free agents. In this week’s Capped, I am going to review some of the better signings from the 2015 free agent class of guys who signed with new teams, and saw success.
In no particular order, here are some of the signings that stood out to me as good value for the money spent.
Lee Stempniak – New Jersey Devils/Boston Bruins
Contract: $850,000 one-year contract
The 33-year-old Stempniak has been part of nine different organizations in his 11-year NHL career, and surprisingly had a hard time finding a team to take him on last summer. He didn’t land a contract until the week leading into the 2015-16 NHL season, even though he had scored 15 goals the previous season.
The Devils, needing offense, took a shot on him, and Stempniak rewarded them by turning it into one of his best NHL seasons of his career. This year, Stempniak reached the 50-point-plateau for only the second time in his career; the other time being way back in 2006-07. That year, Stempniak scored 27 goals and 52 total points. The 33-year-old Stempniak has been part of nine different organizations in his 11-year NHL career, and surprisingly had a hard time finding a team to take him on last summer. He didn’t land a contract until the week leading into the 2015-16 NHL season, even though he had scored 15 goals the previous season.
The Bruins, also looking for an offensive boost, went out and acquired Stempniak at the trade deadline, sending the Devils a fourth round pick in 2016 and a second round pick in 2017. It’s funny because Stempniak actually attended the Bruins training camp in the fall and was offered a PTO, not a full NHL contract. Obviously he went out and signed with the Devils so this ended up being a costly mistake by the Bruins in hindsight.
Either way, Stempniak was one of the biggest surprises to come out of the free agent class of 2015.
David Schlemko – New Jersey Devils
Contract: $625,000 one-year contract
Schlemko was signed late in the off-season last year, and was brought in to be a depth type of defenseman on a team that seemed to be deep on the blue line with quality young assets. Little did they know he’d turn into a top-four guy for them.
The 28-year-old has been had a bit of an up-and-down NHL career, most of it spent with the Arizona Coyote organization. His 67 games played were the most he’s ever played in any given NHL season so it’s no surprise he put up career numbers in pretty much every statistical category.Schlemko was signed late in the off-season last year and was brought in to be a depth type of defenseman on a team that seemed to be deep on the blue line with quality young assets. Little did they know he’d turn into a top-four guy for them.
As mentioned, the Devils seemed to have excellent depth on the blue line heading into this past season. Guys like Damon Severson, Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and John Moore were all expected to carry the load from the back end. Somehow, Schlemko ended up being the only Devil defenseman on the roster at season’s end with more than five goals scored and his 12 power-play points were far and beyond the next closest to him, who was John Moore with six power-play points.
Matt Cullen – Pittsburgh Penguins
Contract: $800,000 one-year contract
At 39 years old, not many expected much out of Matt Cullen when the Penguins signed him last summer. With limited depth down the middle in the organization, Cullen was brought in to basically take over the fourth line duties and hopefully use what speed he had left to kill penalties.
Once injuries happened to Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino, the center position became even shallower, and Cullen was thrust into a more prominent role and he really stepped up, reaching his highest goal total since the 2008-09 season with the Carolina Hurricanes. He didn’t get much for power play usage, but he still was an excellent penalty killer and faceoff guy for the Penguins. The fact he also managed to stay healthy through all 82 games (only the second time in his NHL career he’s done that) was a blessing for the Penguins as well.
Cullen brought stability to the Penguins when they needed it most. He was an inexpensive signing for GM Jim Rutherford and quite possibly, the best one he’s made during his tenure with the Penguins.
Thomas Greiss – New York Islanders
Contract: $1.5 million, one-year contract
The 30-year-old career backup was nothing short of a god-send for the Islanders this past year. Their regular starting goalie, Jaroslav Halak, missed significant time this past season due to various injuries, with the latest being a groin injury that has kept him out for over a month. That left Greiss to carry the load down the stretch as the Islanders battled for a playoff spot. Now Greiss is getting the job done in the playoffs against the top-seeded Florida Panthers.
In the past four seasons, Greiss has been with four different organizations, never seeing more than 25 games played in any one season.
This season, he put up career numbers in GP (41), Wins (23), and save percentage (0.925). In fact, his save percentage was one of the best in the league for goalies with more than 30 games started; trailing only Brian Elliott and Ben Bishop for that honour.
I am sure when GM Garth Snow signed Greiss he knew he was getting a solid NHL goalie. I just doubt he expected to need him nearly as much as he did. Good thing for Snow, Greiss was up to the challenge.
A few honourable mentions worth noting: Justin Williams, P.A. Parenteau, Joel Ward and Michal Neuvirth were certainly noteworthy in their initial season with their respective teams. All had solid years all things considered.
*Salary information from Cap Friendly.
As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to mention any UFA’s that you feel are worth noting as well.
You can follow me on Twitter here. @chrispudsey
Also from Chris:
Capped: Leafs sign Kadri and Rielly
Capped: Early Off-Season Shopping
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