First off, let me start by saying that I have no knowledge of what goes on inside the Blues locker room. Nor do I have any kind of access to any of the Blues players or coaching staff or the janitor that cleans up after them. I don’t have a mole deep inside the organization and I don’t have press credentials. I am just a fan with access to a computer and high-speed internet.
Secondly, I am fully aware that every locker room has some sort of drama going on at any given moment. Every team is made up of individuals from different backgrounds who have bounced from team to team their entire lives. There is going to be some friction, I get that. I’m not asking them to be best friends or even to like each other. However, hockey is a team sport and for their team to be successful they have to find some way to put all that stuff aside when they step on the ice.
Lastly, if the Blues were winning or at least not getting blown out of every other game we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. Also, relationships probably wouldn’t be as strained as they are. Nobody likes to lose, especially not the way the Blues have been losing.
All that being said, is it the losing that is leading to friction between Ken Hitchcock and Alexander Steen or is the friction causing the losing?
In the words that follow I am going to present to you some things I have noticed going on between the Swedish winger and the Blues head coach. Some are facts and some are assumptions. Some are hard to deny and some can be easily dismissed as coincidence or as something blown completely out of proportion. All I plan to do is show you a few examples and let you decide for yourself.
Here is a short video that was tweeted out by the Blues official twitter account during the Winter Classic. The video was either taken before the start of the game or before the start of a period. Pay close attention to who Hitchcock acknowledges and who he blatantly ignores.
As you can clearly see Hitchcock gives a physical and verbal acknowledgment to every single player in the lineup except for Ty Rattie and Alexander Steen. Those are the only two on the entire team who were overlooked.
And its not as if the coach’s hands were getting cold or as if he got distracted when those two walked by. He sees them coming, sticks his hands in his coat pockets, and totally ignores them.
Not only that but those two make no effort to acknowledge the coach. They walk right by him without so much as a sideways glance. The evidence is pretty damning.
I guess that someone could argue that Rattie was upset with the way the coach has handled his playing time and may have known that the team was about to place him on waivers which would either result in him being picked up by another team or sent back down to the minors. However, you would think the coach should still try to offer some sort of olive branch. This is after all one of the biggest regular season games any of these players have ever played in.
Also the fact that Steen and Rattie are right beside each other in line and both were snubbed by the coach leads you to believe there could have been some kind of relationship between the two that maybe the coach wasn’t to keen on. Maybe Steen was leading Rattie down a path that Hitchcock didn’t approve of. Maybe the fact that Rattie was placed on waivers was kind of a warning shot from the front office to Steen reminding him who was still in charge. I’ll admit it’s highly doubtful that was the case but man that is a hell of a coincidence.
Exhibit B: Steen’s Contract
During the off-season the Blues signed Steen to a 4 year 23 million dollar contract extension, keeping him on the team until the end of the 2021 season. That is the second longest contract on the team, right behind Vladimir Tarasenko and the same as Jaden Schwartz. That’s longer than team captain Alex Pietrangelo and Tarasenko’s setup man Jori Lehtera.
Granted there will be contracts later on that will exceed Steen’s current one but at that time the front office basically stated that heading into the future this is going to be Tarasenko and Steen’s team. They are the ones that, as of right now, will be on this team longer than anyone else.
Maybe Steen is unhappy with what Hitchcock is doing to his team. Maybe he never wanted the coach to return in the first place. Maybe he has voiced those opinions in the locker room which has led to a divide. Maybe he has caused some players to choose sides between him and the coach. Maybe he thinks he should have been made the team’s Captain. Maybe, maybe not.
Exhibit C: Hitchcock’s use of Steen this season
It’s no secret that Hitchcock has used Steen as a kind of patch for any line that has been struggling. Bouncing him between lines on a regular basis has obviously effected Steen’s production this year, something that I can’t imagine he is too enthused about.
Not only is it the lack of consistency but night in and night out Steen usually draws the toughest assignments as Hitchcock looks to exploit his defensive talents. Often using him in more of a shut down role against the opponents top players. Maybe those assignments coupled with the lack of goal scoring and the Blues less than impressive record has Steen openly questioning the Coach’s game planning.
I can’t imagine Steen doing anything other than what is best for his team. And I can’t imagine him shying away from any role that he was asked to play. But the pressure to justify his new contract maybe be getting to the veteran winger and if he thinks he could be better used in a different way it might be hard for him to remain silent.
The answer is, I have no answers. I have tried to reach out to people I know who are closer to the team than I am but haven’t made much headway. Most of them agree that there is probably something going on but disagree with its significance to the rest of the team. Sure, Hitch and Steener don’t get along but they are both professionals and should be able to work around any philosophical differences they may have. Maybe, maybe not.
The main reason I am writing this is because there is definitely something wrong with this team. Yes they are missing some key ingredients but this is the most undisciplined team that we have seen in the Hitchcock era and it can’t be just because David Backes isn’t here anymore.
It's as if the team is tuning the coach out or that the coach isn’t that dedicated to the team’s success anymore. Maybe Hitch has decided if they aren’t going to do it his way he’s not going to bother trying anymore. Maybe some of the players feel loyal to the lame duck coach while some others feel loyal to one of the veteran players who is suggesting they play a different way. Maybe some players are caught in the middle and don’t know what to do.
If there is an internal feud between Hitchcock and Steen and if it is leading to a divided team than I think the problem needs to be addressed. And it should be the job of the front office to make sure that happens. A team divided cannot stand. And right now this team is falling apart. Maybe the reason is right in front of us.