Free-agent busts and breakouts

As teams approach the one-quarter mark of this season, enough time has passed to give context and texture to offseason free-agent signings. In some cases, the faith (not to mention dollar and term in various contracts) showed by GMs has been well rewarded. In other places, well, let's just say patience grows thinner. Here's a look at players on both sides of the ledger.

Faith rewarded

Lee Stempniak, New Jersey Devils

Stempniak was kind enough to join our Hockey Today The Podcast and it's hard to imagine a more pleasant surprise for Devils GM Ray Shero, who knew Stempniak when both crossed paths briefly with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Shero offered Stempniak a tryout and, after signing a one-year deal worth $850,000, Stempniak is playing on the Devils' top line with former Calgary Flames teammate Mike Cammalleri, producing 12 points in his first 16 games for the surprising Devils.

Joel Ward, San Jose Sharks

Disharmony is the order of the day -- again -- in San Jose. But credit GM Doug Wilson for snapping up the former Washington Capitals power forward in early July and signing Ward to a three-year deal worth $9.825 million. Ward's ultimate value to the Sharks will be in the spring if they can get their house in order and make the playoffs. But in the interim, Ward has had an immediate impact, tying for the team lead with eight goals, all scored in the past 11 games. Seven of his eight goals have been at even strength.

Justin Williams, Washington Capitals

Part of the reason Ward went elsewhere is because Capitals GM Brian MacLellan brought in one of the game's clutch players to help his team get over the playoff hump. Like Ward, Williams' value to the Capitals isn't really going to be calculated in October and November but rather May and June. Nonetheless, playing mostly with Nicklas Backstrom, the three-time Stanley Cup winner has found a nice niche with three goals and 10 assists in 15 games for the Cup-hopeful Caps.

Tomas Fleischmann, Montreal Canadiens

Like Stempniak, Fleischmann didn't have a job as the summer ended, so he accepted a tryout with the Habs. If Alexander Semin (see below) has not had the same impact, credit GM Marc Bergevin with finding another nice, economical depth piece for his top-of-the-heap Canadiens. The versatile Fleischmann, after signing a one-year deal for $750,000, has contributed to the team's strong even-strength play with 11 points in his past 14 games.

Johnny Oduya, Dallas Stars

Most of the headlines generated by the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars focus on the team's explosive offense. And with good reason. But if the Stars are to be a threat come playoff time, they believe Oduya can be one of the keys GM Jim Nill needs to stabilize his sometimes leaky defense. Enter two-time Stanley Cup-winner Oduya, who did not fit long-term for the Chicago Blackhawks after last season's Cup win. Oduya is averaging 19:46 a night in ice time and has brought a stabilizing presence to the Stars, who are one of the early season's biggest surprises and not just because of their offense.

Chris Stewart, Anaheim Ducks

Like everyone wearing a Ducks jersey, the big, oft-traveled power forward took some time to get in gear this season. But Stewart is currently tied for second in team scoring with three goals and three assists, all recorded in the past six games. If he can continue to chip in on the power play and at even strength, he might finally have found a permanent home after bouncing from St. Louis to Buffalo to Minnesota before signing a one-year, $1.7 million deal with the Ducks in the summer.

Anders Lindback, Arizona Coyotes

I must admit I was a bit surprised that Lindback actually found work this offseason, given his rocky past in Dallas and before with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But a strong, if brief, stretch with the Sabres late last season gave GM Don Maloney hope that Lindback could provide reliable relief to starter Mike Smith. That led to a one-year deal, and reliable relief is exactly what has happened for a Coyotes team that continues to surprise and impress. Lindback has appeared in five games and has a tidy 1.99 GAA and .928 save percentage. It's the kind of support from their backup goalie that playoff teams get.

Patience wearing thin

Alexander Semin, Montreal Canadiens

In spite of a strong camp and preseason that saw the oft-discussed Semin start on arguably the Canadiens' top line, the romance didn't last long. After scoring just once in 10 games, Semin, who signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal in the offseason, hasn't played at all in November, and it's hard to imagine with guys such as Fleischmann (see above) picking up the slack, that he will find his way back into head coach Michel Therrien's good graces.

Cody Hodgson, Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row after successfully reclaiming Mike Ribeiro last season. So far it hasn't happened for Hodgson, a former 10th overall draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks who was bought out of his contract by the Sabres and looked to revive his career with the Preds after signing a one-year, $1.05 million deal. Injuries limited his time in camp and so far he's managed just one goal and one assist for a team that will need depth scoring to make good on lofty preseason expectations.

Matt Beleskey, Boston Bruins

Let's just say this about Beleskey: We know he's a streaky scorer. The Bruins sure hope there are positive streaks in Beleskey's future after signing the former Duck to a five-year deal worth $19 million. Beleskey had a strong playoff with Anaheim while playing mostly with Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler. But things have been slow to materialize in Boston as Beleskey has just two goals and four assists in 13 games with the up-and-down B's.

Antoine Vermette, Arizona Coyotes

Vermette was dealt by the Coyotes to the Blackhawks at the trade deadline last season, won a Stanley Cup and then returned to the fold, signing a two-year deal worth $3.75 million annually. And while Arizona has been one of the feel-good stories of the first six weeks of the season, Vermette, who has been hampered by injury, has been slow to contribute, coming up with zero goals and two assists in his first 10 games.

Andrej Sekera, Edmonton Oilers

The feeling around the Oilers is that you should probably get more for a six-year, $33 million contract than they are getting from Andrej Sekera. Sekera, who was dealt from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Los Angeles Kings at the deadline last season, was never expected to challenge for the defensive scoring title, although he has had four points in five November games. But for an Oilers team that is still trying to prove it's better than all the previous Oilers teams of the past decade of futility -- Edmonton is 6-11 and has won just three of its past 10 -- Sekera needs to be more of a presence, unless of course he is destined to be one of those guys who simply can't live up to the enormity of the deal he signed.

Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames

So, the Calgary goaltending situation has been a bit of a disaster right from the get-go this season with Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio all in camp and looking for playing time. Ramo, who signed a one-year deal worth $3.8 million to remain with the Flames, had a chance to seize the starting job and was not very good and ended up in the minors. Then he got a second chance when Ortio wasn't very good and Hiller, who wasn't very good either, got hurt. There have been moments that reminded me of why Ramo ended up the starter at the end of the Flames' unexpected playoff run last spring. But they've been few and far between for a team that ranks 30th in goals allowed per game.