Thursday, December 17, 2020

Back injury forces Steen to retire

Veteran who helped Blues to first-ever Stanley Cup in 2018-19, spent 
past 11-plus seasons in St. Louis, had one year remaining on contract

ST. LOUIS -- A persistent, lingering injury issue that hasn't seemed to alleviate itself enough has pushed forward Alexander Steen to look to the other side of his hockey life.

And in turn for Steen, who spent the past 11-plus seasons with the Blues, the team announced his retirement from the NHL on Thursday after 15 seasons.

Forward Alexander Steen holds up the Stanley Cup during a parade in
downtown St. Louis to honor the team's title. 
Today's a bittersweet day I think for myself and for the St. Louis Blues organization," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "First I'd like to congratulate Alexander Steen on a fabulous NHL career, getting to 1,000 games, winning a Stanley Cup, being a part of this franchise for as long as possible is fantastic. Everyone would like to leave the game on their own terms and unfortunately, Alexander's back is forcing him into retirement. That's a difficult spot. Also myself and the Blues organization would like to congratulate Alexander and Josefine on the birth of a bouncing baby boy last night and wish them nothing but the best.

"On the ice, he was a player that I think that management and the coaching staff, and more importantly, his teammates knew what they were going to get on a nightly basis. He didn't play a sexy game or an easy game, but he played a winning game. He was willing to sacrifice his body. In his prime, he touched both ends of your special teams, a player that would close games out for you by blocking shots, by winning those ugly wall battles to secure leads. He's had some huge playoff goals for this franchise and that's what I'll remember, just the way he played the game. He played the game "the correct way" every night. ... Off the ice, Steener became a spokesman in the locker room. He matured and because the voice of reason, someone that I could trust as a manager to get the organizational message but more importantly, the coaches could trust."

The 36-year-old Steen, acquired by the Blues from the Toronto Maple Leafs along with defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo on Nov. 24, 2008 for forward Lee Stempniak, played just one of the Blues' Western Conference First Round series games against the Vancouver Canucks because of what the Blues describe as "multiple levels of degenerative herniated discs of his lumbar spine" after playing in all three round-robin games inside the Edmonton bubble.

With Steen stepping away, the Blues save $5.75 million in cap space that brings them under the $81.5 million cap ceiling. Steen was going into the final year of a four-year, $23 million extension he signed Sept. 23, 2016 and was due a base salary of $3.5 million that will still be paid. 

It is understood that Steen will go down as an injured player for this season and thus be placed on long-term injured reserve after he comes in prior to the season and fails his physical; he would need to sign retirement papers for it to be officially considered a retirement but in that case, his contract is not obligated to be paid out. The Blues' projected cap hit, according to, was at $82,675,515 with Steen and forward Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) on LTIR and accounting for $13.25 million in cap space, but saving Steen's cap hit will give them flexibility to sign restricted free agent Vince Dunn, and the likelihood of Tarasenko and his $7.5 million cap starting the season on LTIR is probable. There could still be some flexibility to add another scorer, depending on how much Dunn will cost. One intriguing name that is in play is Mike Hoffman, who is an unrestricted free agent and had 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) with Florida last season, but with the cap savings, it puts the Blues at just over $4 million under the cap and when they resign Dunn, it doesn't leave much for prolific scorer like Hoffman unless the Blues shed more salary. They could also save on Tarasenko's $7.5 million cap hit at the outset but would need to account for it when he comes off LTIR.

"The positive on that is that it doesn't have to be spent in the next 48 hours," Armstrong said of the cap savings stemming from Steen. "There's in-season and off-season LTI room and it's quite complicated. I have Ryan Miller, who we just made assistant general manager, that's his field of expertise and we're walking through all those different things knowing now that it is a reality. But we could have some money to spend here between now and the start of the season when Alexander will go on LTI or we could potentially move some money and get more money if we do it in-season. I don't want to get too in-depth because it is complicated, but there could be opportunity for us to add players either prior to the season or into the season.

"What happens there, we've obviously gone through all the medical stuff with him. He's talked to our doctors, he's talked to doctors in Sweden. We've come to the conclusion that there's nothing he's going to be able to do to get his back ready to play again. That doesn't go on until he comes in and he fails the medical. Vladi will fail the medical. Vladi will fail the medical also, meaning they're not ready to start. At that point, you can put them on LTI and that's off-season LTI or wait to put them on in-season LTI, which clears up different cap spaces. It's a complicated formula, but he won't go on LTI either until training camp when he fails the medical or into the season and we do it. You can't do it right now basically is what I'm trying to say."

As for Steen, he played in 1,018 regular-season games (765 with St. Louis, 253 with Toronto) and will finish with 622 points (245 goals, 377 assists), of which 496 came with the Blues (195 goals, 301 assists). His games played is fourth in Blues history, ninth in goals and fifth in points. Steen has also played in 91 Stanley Cup Playoff games (all with St. Louis) and had 36 points (15 goals, 31 assists), and helped the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup championship in 2018-19.

However, Steen's role began to diminish and his points production also fell off the past four seasons from 52 points in 2015-16 to 51 the following season, then 46, 27 and a career-low 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 55 games this past season.

But Steen has never been able to shake the injury bug and only played all 82 regular-season games once in his NHL career (2006-07 with the Maple Leafs).

Steen tried to play through the back injury during the NHL Return to Play after the 2019-20 season was paused because of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) but only played in Game 2 against the Canucks before the Blues were eliminated in six games.

"I think it's a whole career," Armstrong said of the back injury and how it evolved. "... When you talk to the doctors, you do all the MRI's, you do all the work that they do and it comes back a certain amount of information you're given, I was shocked quite honestly how long he did. That's a testament to him."

Steen, who scored an NHL career-high 33 goals in 2013-14 and had an NHL career-high 64 points and 40 assists in 2014-15, played an important role, arguably the most important role, with Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev accounting for the Blues' fourth line during their Cup run in 2019.

"If it's a percentile, I'd say it's 100 percent," Armstrong said. "You're only as strong as your weakest link and I'm not saying Alex was our weakest link, but he made sure that winning was more important than anything for him personally. He and I had talked ... I remember a conversation we had at Starbucks once and we had traded Paul Stastny and he felt that we were closing the window on his chance to win a championship and he was honest. He said, 'I have to win, I want to win. I need that in my resume.' And we said as an organization, 'If you can just trust the process, we do have some ideas on how we can improve our team and he bought into that, and in buying into that, we brought in players that were going to take his ice time and he never batted an eye on that. As a competitor, he wanted to be out there at the end of every game; as a competitor, he wanted to be on the first power play; as a competitor, he wanted to be playing 19 or 20 minutes a night. But that never superseded his desire to be part of a championship and winning team, and when you saw the sacrifices that he made in 2019 allowing players like [Jaden] Schwartz to grow, allowing players like Tarasenko to grow and supporting them whether it was new players like [Brayden] Schenn and [Ryan] O'Reilly, bringing [David] Perron back, he was the voice that was telling everybody that if they sacrificed a little, we'll all have a memory for a lifetime. I'm so happy that he does have that memory that I hope will last he and his teammates a lifetime." 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (left) celebrates with teammate Alex Pietrangelo after
Pietrangelo scored in Game 7 the Stanley Cup Final.

Steen will take the necessary time to heal and continue his role as a father and perhaps one day, maybe get back into the NHL with the Blues or someone else in some form of capacity.

"We've discussed more importantly his health right now," Armstrong said. "When the season ended, the bubble ended, he wanted to get back and see his children in Sweden. He got back there, he was rehabbing hoping to play. He and I had a lot of conversations on how that was coming. I'm thinking, 'Give it some time, he'll come back,' and he says he can't get out of the car, he can't tie his shoes. So at that point I understood that we had to be understanding that sometimes the clock runs out. So then I wanted to work with him on what the next phase was. He's someone I could certainly see staying in the NHL, but he and Josefine just had their second child. There's a lot more in life than just hockey. I think if he wants to stay in the game, he has all the pedigree to coach, to manage, to really do what he wants."

Steen was originally selected by the Maple Leafs in the first round (24th overall) of the 2002 NHL Draft.

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