Canadiens' Fleischmann, Devils' Stempniak the PTO feel-good stories of the season
The big names get all the attention when the NHL's free-agent market opens on July 1. But it's contracts signed late in the summer that can sometimes be the most significant to a team's playoff hopes.
During what was a professional tryout contract-heavy offseason, with multiple proven veterans in their early 30s looking for work, Tomas Fleischmann and Lee Stempniak are standing out a quarter way through the season.
Both are contributing to their teams - and are making very little money to do so.
Fleischmann was one of numerous depth forwards to sign a pro tryout contract during the offseason. He was certainly no guarantee to make the Montreal Canadiens, but a strong camp - three points in four preseason games - put the winger on the map, and he was signed to a one-year contract worth only $750,000 on Oct. 4.
For a contending Habs team mostly unchanged from 2014-15, Fleischmann has been an excellent addition. The 31-year-old veteran has been around, is a two-time 20-goal scorer, and is enjoying a resurgence in Montreal.
Fleischman's only a goal away from tying his total from the past two seasons, and while his 17.9 percent shooting percentage will certainly drop, he's contributing in other areas. The winger's being relied upon: His 492 shifts are fourth among Canadiens forwards, and he'll soon rank third, with Brendan Gallagher out indefinitely with two broken fingers.
Michel Therrien is using Fleischmann on the penalty kill regularly; the winger's averaging 1:10 a night shorthanded. And to top it all off, he's got three game-winning goals, tied for tops on the team with David Desharnais.
Fleischmann's an excellent skater, and looks right at home in Montreal.
Not bad, Marc Bergevin. Not bad at all.
Stempniak stepping up
Lee Stempniak is another feel-good PTO story.
The 32-year-old is a proven scorer. He potted 25-plus twice early on in his career, and has finished with double-digit goal totals nine times in 11 seasons. And he goes where there's work: The New Jersey Devils are his eighth team.
Signed to a one-year, $850,000 contract on Oct. 3, the Devils are getting their money's worth and more. Stempniak is playing on the first line with Adam Henrique and a resurgent Mike Cammalleri, and contributing, with four goals and 16 points in 20 games, good for a tie for second in team scoring.
On a thin - and surprisingly competitive - Devils team, Stempniak is being relied upon heavily by head coach John Hynes. He's playing a whopping 19:05 a night, third among New Jersey forwards, and on special teams (2:36 on the power play, and 2:13 shorthanded).
Stempniak's always been a good shooter, as evidenced by his career 12.9 shooting percentage, but his facilitating contributions - his five power-play assists are second on the team - through a quarter of the season while the Devils wait for Patrik Elias to get healthy have been monumental.
Ray Shero, who traded for Stempniak when he was the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, nailed this one.