Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg began to realize some of his potential on the ice last season. Stalberg is a UFA following the 2012-13 season, and the stakes are high for the speedy Swede.
Following a 22-goal effort in 2011-12, Stalberg is in the last year of a two-year pact with the 'Hawks. The deal wasn't much better than his entry contract, paying him $900,000 last season and another $850,000 this season. For the 26-year-old Stalberg, there could be a lot of money hinging on his performance.
Stalberg came to the 'Hawks in 2010 as a piece in the deal that sent Kris Versteeg to Toronto. With just 40 NHL games under his belt, Stalberg posted a 12-goal, 12-assist campaign in his first full season in 2010-11.
Last year, in just over 14 minutes a contest, Stalberg put up 43 points. Making that feat more impressive is the fact that Stalberg accomplished it with virtually no time on the power play.
Stalberg's speed creates a ton of scoring opportunities. What his future earnings may depend on is his ability to be a consistent finisher and his decisions with the puck.
Stalberg was prone to turnovers that limited his playing time. Eight of those 22 goals came at the expense of the Columbus Blue Jackets, including a hat trick in Columbus January 10. On the other hand, the rest of the 'Hawks had the same shots to fatten up their stats courtesy of the Blue Jackets.
On the whole, Stalberg saw his minutes increase in the latter stages of the regular season. He put up six goals and five assists in his last 13 games. Last year was definitely a breakout year for him.
Stalberg is not a complete player by any stretch, but this season figures to be huge in terms of his next contract. Versteeg turned in a 54-point performance last year in Florida and was rewarded with a four-year, $17.6 million contract from Dale Tallon.
It may be hard for Stalberg to match that payday. However, if he comes out and builds on last season, the 'Hawks may have some decisions to make.
Any jump in last year's numbers could have his camp looking for $3 million to $4 million a season. Is Stan Bowman willing to lock up Stalberg at such a cap hit for three to five years? If he excels early in the season, do the 'Hawks attempt to get his name on an extension or try to trade what could be a hot commodity midseason?
If Stalberg continues to improve his play in his own zone, gets a little more miserly with the puck and hits the 25-goal plateau, it's going to be hard to deny his skill set. The 'Hawks like to play up-tempo hockey and Stalberg has the jets to be a dangerous scorer if he can get a bit better around the net.
One big season isn't likely to net Stalberg the big bucks, but consecutive 20-goal seasons could draw interest around the league with his speed. Stalberg can help the 'Hawks by taking another step forward in his game. In addition, he can help his own fortunes as well.