Former Coyote Lee Stempniak takes pride in nomadic career
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Lee Stempniak has no interest in achieving the one NHL record within his reach. With twin 3-year-old daughters and a 9-month old boy, he’d rather settle down in Raleigh, North Carolina as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes for the rest of his playing career.
“They’re young enough where their lives aren’t being uprooted yet,” Stempniak said Sunday before the Hurricanes faced the Coyotes at Gila River Arena. “But as they get into school, it would be nice to stay in one place.”
That hasn’t been the storyline of Stempniak’s career. In 12 NHL seasons, the 34-year-old former Coyote has played for 10 NHL teams, tied for the second most in NHL history behind Mike Sillinger’s 12 stops.
That nomadic existence is the most-often mentioned part of Stempniak’s narrative, but just as remarkable has been his consistent production everywhere he has played. He has only failed to reach double-digit goals in one of his 12 seasons — in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season with Calgary when he had nine goals in 47 games — and he has averaged 16.33 goals per season.
In 61 games this season, he has 12 goals and 29 points.
“He’s one of the better pros that I’ve ever coached,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “He comes to work and goes about his business every day. You know what you’re going to get, production wise. You can just basically count on it.”
Stempniak never wanted to be traded, not once, but he has learned how to navigate those difficult circumstances.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I’ve been able to find a way to contribute on a lot of different teams in a lot of different roles. I think a lot of guys, when they get traded once or twice, you sort of run out of opportunities if you don’t do well. That’s what I take a lot of pride in: being able to go and prove myself in a lot of different spots.”
One of those spots was Arizona. With his team on the cusp of its first playoff berth in seven seasons, then-Phoenix GM Don Maloney acquired Stempniak from Toronto for defenseman Matt Jones and fourth and seventh-round picks at the 2010 trade deadline.
“It was the second time I’d been traded and for me it was a breath of fresh air coming here, coming to a team in the mix for the playoffs,” Stempniak said.
Stempniak made Maloney look like a genius, scoring a whopping 14 goals and 18 points in 18 regular-season games to help the Coyotes go 13-3-2 down the stretch and record a franchise-high 107 points. He finished that season with a career-high 28 goals.
“He’s a great teammate, a true scorer and he’s done it everywhere he’s been,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan who, along with former Coyote Keith Yandle, still keeps in touch with Stempniak. “He’s a guy that everyone seems to love, everyone seems to know and everyone seems to have played with.”
The Coyotes made a glut of moves in 2010, and Stempniak said that made it easier to adapt to his new surroundings.
“It felt like there were seven or eight of us news guys staying in the hotel so we could do a lot of things together,” he said. “That helps you adjust when you’re away from the rink.”
Stempniak’s greatest professional challenge came last season. When training camps began, he was not under contract, but he was invited to the New Jersey Devils camp. He made the team, had 16 goals in 63 games, was traded to Boston late in the season, and finished with 19 goals — the most he scored since netting 19 for the Coyotes in 2010-11.
“Being in that situation, it forces you to take ownership of your confidence and believe in yourself,” he said. “That has been the big lesson for me, but I’ve lived in a lot of different places, places I never would have lived without playing hockey. There have been a lot of different experiences and a lot of great people along the way.
“Playing for different coaches and having all those experiences has made me a better player, too.”
Stempniak is under contract with the Hurricanes for one more season, but he knows he is just the kind of player GMs are looking for at the trade deadline. It’s happened to him four times.
“It’s water off a duck’s back for him and it’s really a compliment because he’s a guy that can help you when you’re at the trade deadline,” Peters said. “Without getting into it too deep, I’m sure there’s somebody that inquired about him even this year.”
Whether he stays or moves on to his 11th team, Stempniak is certain he’ll thrive in his environment.
“When you start out, you think you’re going to be some place for a long time and then it seems like once you’re traded you’re more likely to be traded subsequent times,” he said. “I’d like to stay in Raleigh and finish my career being a Carolina Hurricane but I don’t know what’s going to happen. Whatever does, I feel like I’ve got a lot of hockey left in me so I’d like to keep playing.”
Lee Stempniak is one of eight players to play with at least 10 NHL teams. Remarkably, six of those players have played for the Coyotes.
Mike Sillinger (12 teams) NSH, DET, VAN, CBJ, NYI, ANA, FLA, STL, PHI, OTT, TBL, PHX
J.J. Daigneault (10) VAN, MTL, PIT, PHI, NSH, MDA, MIN, NYI, STL, PHX
Jim Dowd (10) CGY, MTL, NJD, MIN, NYI, EDM, COL, VAN, CHI, PHI
Olli Jokinen (10) LAK, NYI, FLA, PHX, NYR, CGY, WPG, NSH, TOR, STL
Dominic Moore (10) PIT, MIN, TOR, FLA, BUF, MTL, TBL, SJS, NYR, BOS
Michel Petit (10) VAN, TOR, TBL, CGY, PHX, QUE, LAK, NYR, PHI, EDM
Mathieu Schneider (10) NYI, LAK, ATL, MTL, TOR, DET, VAN, ANA, PHX, NYR
Lee Stempniak (10) STL, TOR, PHX, CAL, PIT, NYR, WPG, NJD, BOS, CAR
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