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Give Props to Shero: Stempniak and Schlemko Were Super Signings

Ray Shero has been praised for some great signings and trades so far. He has not made major moves, but he certainly improved the New Jersey Devils. Everyone looks to the Kyle Palmieri trade, but the Stempniak and Schlemko signings were huge as well.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt that regardless of where the New Jersey Devils finish this season, they have already exceeded expectations.  Of course, overachieving could end up being a bad thing for this team's future development if they are the 17th team in the NHL come the end of the season.  This looks especially more likely with these last two huge losses against Metropolitan foes.  They were must win games that were lost, and lost badly.  Now the team is in quite a big hole, and they will need to play near perfectly moving forward to overcome both the point deficit and the fact that most teams have games in hand.  However, it is undeniable that the Devils have been way more interesting and fun to watch than most anyone figured they would be.  So no matter the outcome, it has made this year way more interesting and enjoyable.

One reason (I guess two reasons) for this unforeseen improvement has been the shrewd signings by new GM Ray Shero.  Specifically, I am referring to the low cost, team friendly one year deals that he handed to Lee Stempniak and David Schlemko.  Of course, the Kyle Palmieri trade is perhaps his most lauded move so far and rightly so, but that does not mean that signing these other two guys should be overlooked.  I am not sure that anyone would have guessed just how successful these signings would have turned out to be this year.  Both players have turned into vital cogs in the machine this season, with Stempniak regularly playing on the top line and Schlemko getting top 4 defensive minutes each night while also playing special teams.

Without anything else, just look at the offensive contributions from both of them.  Stempniak is leading the team in both assists and points so far this season, with 25 assists and 40 points overall.  He is also 3rd overall in the goal scoring, behind only Palmieri and Adam Henrique.  Without Lee playing quality top 6 minutes this season and showing up on the scoresheet more often than not, this Devils team would have no chance to make the playoffs.  That's undeniable.

Schlemko, however, has also been relatively productive from the blue line.  He is not an offensive force by any means, and in the overall environment of the NHL, Schlemko's offensive production is rather minimal.  However, in terms of the Devils' defense, he is far and away the most productive.  He has 6 goals and 11 assists this year.  Those 6 goals lead the defense, his 11 assists tie him for 2nd on the defense with Andy Greene, and his 17 points are the most on the blue line.  In fact, he leads all defensemen by 4 points, with Adam Larsson and Damon Severson both having only 13 points.  So while his offensive numbers may not be exceptional, they are very good on a blue line bereft of offensive capabilities.

Furthermore, both players have become staples on a fairly competent special teams.  Stempniak ranks third on the team in power play minutes with basically 141 minutes over 58 games played.  In that time, he has produced 12 power play points, 3 of those being goals.  Schlemko is not far behind in any of those categories.  He is 7th on the team in power play minutes with 93:29 over 50 games played, and has 1 goal and 9 assists while on the man advantage.  David's point production on the power play is 5th overall on the team, while Lee's 12 points put him at 2nd behind only Palmieri.  Clearly, both are vital cogs of a power play unit that ranked 6th in the NHL before last night's game.  Without them, who knows how good this power play would be.

Along with their clear importance to the power play, they also have roles on the penalty kill as well.  Stempniak has logged nearly 110 minutes while down a man, good for 5th on the team.  Schlemko is at nearly 72 minutes, 9th on the team.  Obviously, they are featured more on the power play, but those minutes on the kill are not simply trivial, especially for Stempniak.  They are also relied on to kill off penalties, something the Devils are also good at, being ranked 8th in the league before last night.

Through it all, what makes Shero look remarkably good is that the contracts that both are playing under are very team friendly.  Stempniak, who is clearly one of the most important pieces on the team this season, is playing on a one year deal worth $850,000.  Schlemko makes even less, taking home only $625,000.  In terms of dollars per point that the Devils are paying these two, it is exceptionally good.  Why is this important?  Well, amongst other things, it leaves the Devils with a lot of wiggle room under the cap.  For this season that does not mean much, as the roster will not significantly change, but next year there is a rumor out there that the salary cap could drop by as much as $4 million.  That would put teams right at the cap ceiling in a real pinch.  They would need to trade away some players or let other players walk that they would otherwise like to re-sign.  The Devils will not have that issue this offseason.  Shero can be a buyer in the offseason, adding more firepower and offense to a lineup that really needs it.  Why will he be able to do that? Because of shrewd contracts he gave out, like the ones to Stempniak and Schlemko.  The Devils will have lots of cap room to work with.

Of course, there will be a calling to re-sign both of these players, as they will be unrestricted free agents after the season is over.  And that is something Shero should certainly look into.  If both are re-signed as well, they will undoubtedly command more money than they are currently making.  However, how much more will be the question.  Both players have been journeymen for the last several seasons, playing with multiple teams.  New Jersey is Schlemko's 5th team, and it is 8th team for Stempniak.  There will obviously be interest in both players outside of NJ given their production this season, but it may be tempered to a degree given their past history.  As a result, while Shero may need to pay each of them more than they are getting this season, neither contract should break the bank.  Then, extra money left over can be used elsewhere.   Currently, the Devils have almost $9 million in cap space.  With many contracts coming off the books after this season, including the more expensive ones of Tuomo Ruutu and Patrik Elias, who knows where Shero can go.  But for certain, he will have lots of room regardless of how generous he wants to be with Stempniak and Schlemko.  And in the end, whatever contracts they do get (I would put good money on Stempniak getting re-signed, and there's a decent chance Schlemko does too), they will have earned it given their solid play this season.

So what I really wanted to point out today was that so far, Ray Shero has done good work for this club, and it is not simply just because he made an absolutely brilliant trade by getting Palmieri, but also because of his shrewd signings of Lee Stempniak and David Schlemko.  Without these two players, the Devils would not be nearly as interesting as they are now, and they almost certainly would not be as close to a playoff spot as they currently are.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts?  How do you feel about how Stempniak and Schlemko have performed for the Devils this season?  How would you characterize the signings of these guys by Shero?  What do you think Shero should do in terms of re-signing them come the offseason?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.