The Alex Steen retirement due to a degenerative disc condition in his back leaves the St. Louis Blues with a couple of voids. He leaves behind a 15-year NHL career with tangible two-way production and intangible leadership. Steen also leaves the Blues with a few million dollars in cap space, thanks to complex cap maneuvering. With Vladimir Tarasenko‘s status for 2021 uncertain, some may want the Blues to invest in free agency. However, the situation isn’t that simple.
Alex Steen Retirement Leaves Blues With Cap Space
Sorting Out LTIR
What is long-term injury reserve? The NHL rulebook states that he can go on LTIR if he will be out at least 24 days and 10 NHL regular-season games. However, the money stays on the payroll and counts towards the salary cap. So where’s the benefit? Read below.
(iv) The replacement Player Salary and Bonuses for any Player(s) that replace(s) an unfit-to-play Player may be added to the Club’s Averaged Club Salary until such time as the Club’s Averaged Club Salary reaches the Upper Limit. A Club may then exceed the Upper Limit due to the addition of replacement Player Salary and Bonuses of Players who have replaced an unfit-to-play Player, provided, however, that when the unfit-to-play Player is once again fit to play (including any period such Player is on a Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan to another league), the Club shall be required to once again reduce its Averaged Club Salary to a level at or below the Upper Limit prior to the Player being able to rejoin the Club.
Sort of like the game Monopoly, this essentially serves as a “Go Over The Salary Cap Free” card. The Alex Steen retirement means he can go on LTIR. Doing so in the off-season frees up 80% of his $5.75 million cap hit, or roughly $4.2 million. Subtract the roughly $1.1 million in cap overage, and you’re down to around $3.1 million. Sign restricted free agent defenceman Vince Dunn to, say, a $2.5 million deal, and there go your Steen savings, right?
Well…not if you do this smartly.
When To Put Steen on LTIR
If you wait until after Opening Day, the Blues essentially get all of Steen’s $5.75 million as cap overage cushion. Plus, the Blues will get even more LTIR relief with the eventual placement of Tarasenko and his bum shoulder on LTIR, too. He’s not due back for at least two months into the season, maybe longer. In a Wednesday press conference, Blues GM Doug Armstrong stated Steen will go on LTIR after he inevitably fails his pre-season physical. As you can watch here, Armstrong also didn’t rule out signing someone with Steen’s LTIR money but did explain the complexities of in-season and off-season LTIR and how that can affect the signing of a new player.
Who They Could Sign
It doesn’t take a hockey expert to know 30-goal scorers don’t grow on trees. And yet, as the upcoming season approaches, Mike Hoffman still finds himself available on the market. He’s a shoot-first, pass-second, and occasionally plays defence type of forward. Still, those forwards have value, and Hoffman’s cap hit with the Florida Panthers last season was just over $5.1 million. Surely, he’ll have to take a pandemic-aided pay cut this season, but does Hoffman take a page off the Taylor Hall playbook and sign a one-year “prove it” deal? If so, he could do a lot worse than being centred by one of Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, or Robert Thomas.
Remember when Carl Soderberg was a St. Louis Blue? He never suited up in the Blue Note, but he was a second-round pick in 2004 by the Blues. Unfortunately, the Blues would send him packing in 2007 to the Boston Bruins for netminder Hannu Toivonen. He’s a veteran two-way forward who’s 35 years old and maybe better suited for a bottom-six role. But that might not be good enough for a Blues team seeking more punch. Soderberg would fill the void caused by the Alex Steen retirement, but the Blues need more than that.
A former ninth overall pick of the Minnesota Wild, Mikael Granlund appeared to be a part of the Wild’s core for years to come. He racked up 26 goals and 43 assists as a 24-year-old just three seasons ago. His production would soon tail off and a trade to the Nashville Predators didn’t work out for anyone involved. He’s a playmaker who looks to pass first and hasn’t had more than 193 SOG in a season. He may not be the flavour of forward the Blues are looking for to help replace Tarasenko’s production.
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