Thursday, December 19, 2013

Players offer huge approval to Steen signing

Respect in locker room, with management made forward's extension easy

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen signs the new three-year contract on 
Thursday morning.
 
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The approval voice from his Blues teammates reverberated throughout the locker room when word spread regarding Alexander Steen's contract extension.

Steen, a pending unrestricted free agent at season's end, squashed all doubts whether he will remain with the Blues beyond this season when he signed a three-year extension for $17.4 million that breaks down to $5.1 million next season, $5.8 million in 2015-16 and $6.5 million in 2016-17 that includes a full no-trade clause that immediately kicks in.

"He deserves everything he gets," right winger T.J. Oshie said of Steen, the team's leader in goals (22) and points (36). "He's a huge part of this team. He's the main nucleus as far as work ethic, as far as doing the right things, as far as guys that want to win. Army did the right thing there in locking him up.

He's one of our No. 1 guys in every aspect, whether it's anywhere on the ice, whether it's in the locker room. If the right words need to be said, Steener suually says them. He's just a great guy. There's a lot of smiles on guys' faces knowing he's going to be here for three more years."

Added defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who locked up a seven-year, $45.5 million contract of his own prior to the season: "We can talk all day about his on-ice stuff, but it's the way he carries himself off the ice, too, that speaks volumes to his teammates and his professionalism, the way he trains off the ice, the way he takes care of himself. More importantly, a great guy to have around. Great around the community. I can talk all day of how great Steener is on the ice, but the off the ice stuff is just as important to us.

"He just gets it. He gets the game, he gets how to be successful in the game, takes care of himself. It's not a surprise to us the success he's having. He deserves everything he gets."

This was a marriage that was never in question if it would be consummated but when. The Blues wanted Steen, and Steen wanted the Blues.

"I always felt comfortable that this was going to get done because I felt he wanted to be here and I knew for a certainly we wanted him here," Blues president of hockey operations and general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Negotiations can go different ways. This actually took four phone calls. As soon as he said he was interested, I called. I talked to (team owner) Tom Stillman and he talked to his ownership group and gave us the go-ahead. We called and made one offer. He made a counter. Next phone call, we both moved a little bit, got a little more uncomfortable and the deal was done and it happened in two days. I wish they could all go this way, and they do go this way when you have joint interest. We want the player here, the player wants to be here. When you're part of building something, it's exciting when someone wants to be here to see it all the way through.

"We tried to keep an open dialogue. When he was ready to talk, we were ready. With the season that we're having, I think that he understands that even though we don't want it to be an issue, it was becoming more of a conversation every city we went into because of how well he was playing. I wanted assurances that we were starting it to finish it, and he gave me those assurances. A lot of credit goes to Alexander and his representative to get this done quickly."

Including this season, the Blues now have Steen, Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Oshie and David Backes locked up for at least the next three seasons. While some teams spend, spend and spend some more and eventually regret lengthy, high-dollar contracts, the Blues have spent wisely and Armstrong and the rest of the management team have constructed a feasible plan of action moving forward.

"We just have to do what's right for our franchise, short- and long-term," Armstrong said. "One of the things I always believe is good players get their money. We want to pay players fairly, we want to pay them market value, but we don't want to be giving them retirement contracts or we certainly try and avoid contracts where a player plays for a small portion of it and then you have to buy them out because you've realized that you made a bad business decision. I was taught early that there's no bad player contracts, there's bad player evaluation. We try and have good player evaluation.

"We had talked about a maximum we would go on term. The dollar value was going to be consistent on what term (Steen) chose. We let him decide on the final year number. We weren't going to go to those max contracts where it just doesn't fit in. We have Alex Pietrangelo (close to a max contract at seven years), but I just don't believe that that's the way to go to have a franchise as having too many players on extended deals on into the seven and eight years."

Count Blues coach Ken Hitchcock as many of the pleased.

"We’re grateful. I think this is a great fit for Alex," Hitchcock said. "He’s an outstanding player that’s really developed his 200-foot game. He never had a problem defensively, but he’s developed the accuracy with the shot, he’s seen the value of checking and creating chances off of checking. He’s really done a great job in making himself a full 200-foot player. He came kind of as a checker and now he’s developed into a complete player and he’s going to get rewarded and so are we because of it."

To Steen, who has 339 points in his career, including 213 as a Blue since being acquired in 2008, signing was a no-brainer. he Blues are pointed in the right direction, and that direction is north.

"The way that the team has been built and the direction we're headed definitely factored in," Steen said. "I'm a competitor and badly want to win. I definitely think we're on the right direction to doing that.

"It's nice to have something done where you're able to plan for the next three years away from the rink, but as far as what happens at the rink, nothing changes."

The new ownership group has made a viable commitment to making this franchise a contender for years to come, but doing so in a reasonable fashion without crippling the long-term future makes it even more admirable. And it gives players a reason why they love St. Louis.

"It speaks volumes of the ownership and how they're committed and the city of St. Louis that guys are willing to stick around here and guys feel comfortable living their life and being a part of the St. Louis community," Pietrangelo said. "Now that we have a lot of of our core pieces locked up for at least the next three years, it's going to be fun to continue to grow with these guys."

Oshie added: "First, you've got to prove to them that you want to be here through your play, through your work ethic and Steener did that. In the off-season, look how strong he comes back on the puck, literally every aspect of his game got better this year. He's a leader, and I'm sure they were as happy as he was to get that deal done."

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