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Coyotes happy to have Stempniak back at fair price

Monday, 08.30.2010 / 1:16 PM / NHL Free Agency 2010

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Coyotes happy to have Stempniak back at fair price
Lee Stempniak waited for a while, but the offer he got from the Phoenix Coyotes was enough to keep him in the desert for at least two more seasons.
Lee Stempniak was forced to wait it out and let the market set itself, but in the end the offer he got from the Phoenix Coyotes was enough to keep him in the desert for at least two more seasons.

Stempniak, who had 14 goals in 18 games as a Coyote at the end of last season, has signed a two-year contract that reportedly pays him an annual average salary of $1.9 million, with a lower dollar figure in year one ($1.5 million) and a higher figure in year two ($2.3 million) so it matches up with the Coyotes' 2010-11 budget.

The money is less than what Stempniak made last season (reportedly $3.5 million), but Coyotes GM Don Maloney, who traded for the right wing at the deadline, pointed out the market is vastly different this summer and Stempniak was caught in the middle.

"Maybe a past market would dictate somebody like Lee and his production would receive one of those three- or four-year deals at $2.5-to-3-million per season contracts and we didn't have that available to us," Maloney told NHL.com. "As the offseason progressed, it started off fast and it slowed to a trickle and Lee was sort of caught in a situation where the teams that could spend to the cap spent the cap and other teams were trying to cut payroll like we were last year."

Maloney said he learned Stempniak was negotiating with another team as recently as last week, and when he found out the figures being discussed he told Stempniak's agent that the Coyotes could make those numbers work. Maloney already knew Stempniak wanted to stay in Phoenix.

"He wants to be here and we want him here, and if that was the best deal he could find, we felt we could find a way to make that number work, to get there," Maloney said. "It's less than he would have expected, but he's not going to be needing food stamps any time soon either."

Stempniak, who was married this summer, is not thinking about the what-ifs of the market.

"It certainly was a different market than years past, but I guess you can't really worry about what would have happened in the past or anything like that," he said. "I'd be lying if I didn't say I wish it all would have been over three months ago, but at the end of the day it is done before training camp, I'm not going to miss any hockey and I've been working out just the same."

He added that he's looking forward to getting to Phoenix for training camp, and why not.

Stempniak thrived in the desert after Maloney got him from Toronto for a minor-leaguer and two late-round draft picks. He was so good in March, scoring 13 goals in 14 games, that he was named the NHL's First Star of the Month. In his 18 games with the Coyotes he had an unheard of 29.2 shooting percentage (14 goals on 48 shots).

Stempniak credits Coyotes coach Dave Tippett for giving him a chance to flourish offensively.

"I spoke to Dave Tippett right before that first game against Colorado and he said he felt they had a good team and they were looking for people to score goals, and that's why me and (Wojtek) Wolski were acquired," Stempniak said. "You get that vote of confidence from the coach, and then I was put in a position to succeed in an offensive role. From there I was able to score early and get on a role. I wasn't a different player from March 2 to March 3, but my role changed a little bit."

Although his production went dry in the playoffs, as he was held without a goal in the seven-game series loss to Detroit, Maloney said Stempniak wasn't doing anything differently.

"I went back and watched his shifts over the last five playoff games -- and his stick ran cold in the playoffs, but his shifts were the same," Maloney said. "It was going to the hard areas, bumping guys off pucks. He wasn't all of a sudden pulling up or shying away from conflict."

It was Stempniak's first go-round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He knows he'll be better for it.

"There are going to be swings in momentum but you can't let that dictate how you play the game and how you approach the game," Stempniak said. "I also learned how adjustments are made from game to game when you are playing the same opponent and you learn their tendencies. It's a mental chess match out there."

Maloney wanted Stempniak back because he feels with the right people around him he can thrive for an entire season and potentially could score 30 goals. He scored 28 last season, but remember 14 came over the final 18 games when Stempniak caught fire.

"When the agent gave me an idea what another team was prepared to sign him for, I thought it was a deal that was a terrific value signing for us for a guy that will get us 25-plus goals and fits into our culture," Maloney said. "He's a quiet, hard-working kid that competes in his own way and a no-issue player. I'm really happy to get it done. It gives us secondary scoring options that we didn't have really until we acquired him last year."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl




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