Stempniak surprised by free-agent trend

July, 16, 2010
7/16/10
10:35
AM ET

While a star player like Ilya Kovalchuk remains unsigned 15 days into unrestricted free agency, perhaps lost is the fact that the second top goal scorer on the market also remains without a team.

Lee Stempniak's 28 goals in 2009-10 were second only to Kovalchuk's 41 among UFA forwards still on the market. What gives?

"I mean, I'm certainly surprised," Stempniak told ESPN.com on Thursday. "And not just with me, but with all the players that are out there right now, especially forwards. There's a lot of very, very good forwards that are still out there on the market. I'm just surprised by how slow it's been."

Stempniak and veteran agent Bob Murray just keep working away at it.

"At this point, Bob and I have had discussions with teams and it's ongoing," said Stempniak. "We just need to let it play itself out."

Well, that's easier said than done. This has been a summer like no other in recent NHL free-agent history. So many names still out there, so few teams with cap room. It seems all those long-term contracts signed in the first five years of this CBA are coming home to roost.

"You have to understand the situation, a lot of things can happen and affect the market," said Stempniak. "I'd like it to be resolved as soon as possible and know where I'm going to be playing in seven weeks or so [training camp]. I'd like to move on and get settled that way. But the big thing is to stay patient and let the process play out, let things unfold and make sure you find the right fit and explore all the options."

One has to think a team can use a player with Stempniak's offensive ability, especially a player who is only 27 years old. Of course, teams may be wondering which Stempniak will show up next season: the one who struggled at times in Toronto while scoring 14 goals in 62 games or the one that torched the opposition with 14 goals in only 18 games later in the season with Phoenix.

"It was a great change of scenery for me to go to Phoenix at the trade deadline," said Stempniak. "It was a team that was already winning and they were trying to add a few pieces. My role changed a little bit when I got there and I was put in a more offensive role. The big thing is that they really believed in me and the first thing [coach] Dave Tippett said to me was, 'We've got a good team and we just don't score enough goals and that's why we brought you and [Wojtek] Wolski in, is to try and create offense and score goals. We're going to try and put you in a position to succeed.'

"As a player, that's what you want to hear. You want a coach and a GM that believe in you. I was fortunate with how well it went right away. It was a great fit for me."

So, why leave? Well, by now, everyone knows the Coyotes don't have a lot of money to spend, hence the free-agent defections of top players such as Zbynek Michalek and Matthew Lombardi. Still, Stempniak has remained in contact with the Coyotes.

"We're still in discussions with Phoenix and I think we will continue to talk to them and see what happens," said Stempniak.

"We continue to have interest in Lee," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told ESPN.com via e-mail Thursday. "He played well for us and, at the right price, we would love to have him back."

While the free-agent business has been a drag, Stempniak's personal life certainly hasn't. He got married June 26 and followed the wedding with a honeymoon in Italy, a 10-day jaunt smack in the middle of the first two weeks of free agency.

"Obviously I didn't miss anything, and the trip was an unforgettable experience," he said. "That alone ensures it's been a great summer, getting married and going on our honeymoon. It's an exciting time in my life right now."

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