Alexander Steen is a key member of the Blues’ core. But will they regret paying him almost $6 million through his 37th birthday given his recent injury history?
Alexander Steen wasn’t healthy enough to compete for Sweden at the World Cup. He’s evidently healthy enough to remain a major NHL contributor for five more seasons, though. That’s the message his St. Louis Blues sent Friday when they announced his four-year, $23-million extension. It carries a $5.75-million cap hit and pays him through the end of the 2020-21 season. Per Blues beat writer and THN correspondent Jeremy Rutherford, the contract is front loaded, paying Steen $7 million in Years 1 and 2, $5.5 million in Year 3 and $3.5 million in Year 4.
The deal makes a decent amount of sense from a pure, immediate hockey standpoint. Steen has been a key contributor to the Blues ever since they fleeced the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 and landed him with Carlo Colaiacovo for Lee Stempniak. Steen is versatile, capable of playing left wing or center. He kills penalties. He plays 20 minutes a night. He’s a good possession player. He’s one of the more underrated players of the last few years, really. Over the past three seasons, he ranks 25th in the NHL in points per game at 0.852, ahead of Matt Duchene, Jakub Voracek, Phil Kessel, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Toews, to list just a handful of big names. Steen is 23rd in goals per game at 0.354.
Retaining him is a nice morale booster for St. Louis’ fan base, too, since captain David Backes left for Boston as a free agent after he and the Blues couldn’t agree on the length of his contract. Steen is one of the team’s leaders and the second-oldest forward on the roster after Scottie Upshall. Even if this team now belongs to the young crop, including Vladimir Tarasenko, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Jake Allen, it’s nice to have a wily 200-foot player like Steen on board to rally the troops.
There’s no denying what Steen brings when he’s on the ice. But does that justify the financial commitment St. Louis just made? It’s debatable. Steen scores at a top-25 rate over the past three years, yes, but he also averages just 69.7 games over that span. He has missed at least 14 games four different times over his 11 seasons. He’s sustained multiple concussions in his career. He dislocated his shoulder this past February and returned after 15 games, but the shoulder required off-season surgery. The June procedure put Steen on a four-to-six-month timeline, knocking him out of the World Cup.
Steen is a tough son of a gun, having played through the injury during the 2016 playoffs, and he’s hoping to return to the Blues lineup in October. But that doesn’t change the fact Steen is (a) quite injury prone at this stage of his career; (b) 32 years old; and (c) proud owner of a shiny new contract that commences in 2017-18 and pays him until he’s 37.
Steen is an easy player to like. The contract is tough to like. At the same time, GM Doug Armstrong’s hands may have been tied. Waiting all season could’ve created distraction and friction if Steen was set to hit the open market in 2017. It’s not like he’s 35 now, so asking for a multi-year pact wasn’t unrealistic. Steen is almost guaranteed to decline steadily over the course of his extension, but the Blues did what they had to do to keep him. It was lose an important player or give him a slightly longer contract than they probably wanted to.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin