Last week, we took a look at the three best contracts on the St. Louis Blues. But general manager Doug Armstrong’s record is far from spotless in that department. While he’s been able to unload some problematic deals in the past, there are still some that haunt him.
In a league where the salary cap rules all, bad contracts can kill a franchise. Of course, the Blues just won their first-ever Stanley Cup. But that doesn’t mean every deal they’ve made is a winner. Let’s take a look at the three worst contracts currently on the books.
1) Tyler Bozak (Two Seasons, $5 Million)
Okay, so the Blues don’t really have three “bad” contracts at the moment. But beyond the two we’ll cover later, they have a couple of players that are overpriced, and one of those is Tyler Bozak. The circumstances of his arrival in St. Louis caused the Blues to give him a higher average annual value (AAV) than he is worth, though not by a drastic amount.
The Blues hit July 1, 2018, in desperate need of center help. They had traded Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets at the previous trade deadline, and though Brayden Schenn had done well in his first year with the team, he was pretty much all the Blues had at the position. Rumors of a potential trade for Ryan O’Reilly were percolating, but nothing was finalized yet.
Options were thin in free agency, and Armstrong couldn’t risk leaving the day empty-handed. So he signed Tyler Bozak, a castoff from the Toronto Maple Leafs due to the arrival of young stars and the signing of John Tavares. The three-year, $15 million contract was a bit of an overpay for a player who had only passed 50 points once, but such overpays are common in free agency.
Bozak penned a letter in The Players’ Tribune expressing his strong desire to win a Stanley Cup in St. Louis. And he helped the cause by contributing 38 points in 72 games, with three of his 13 goals coming as game-winners. He added an additional 13 points in 26 games during the playoffs, including several critical assists and two more game-winners (a number matched but not surpassed by his teammates.)
The five million dollar cap hit is a bit of an overpay for a third-line center. And with the youngster Robert Thomas looking for an expanded role, many might rather have the roster space. But Bozak’s name will join his fellow Blues’ names on the Stanley Cup, and there is no price St. Louisans wouldn’t have paid for that.
2) Alex Steen (Two Seasons, $5.75 Million)
Alex Steen is a veteran and longtime Blues’ stalwart who made significant contributions to the Stanley Cup run. But they weren’t the kind of contributions you’d ideally pay $5.75 million a season for.
The Blues extended Steen, who finished the 2018-19 season sixth among Blues players in games played, before the 2016-17 season. The Blues had just lost veterans David Backes and Troy Brouwer through free agency, and Armstrong was likely desperate to lock up some veteran presence for his locker room.
Steen was 32 at the time, coming off his worst performance in three seasons, and signing a four-year contract that wouldn’t begin until the following season. Most fans recognized immediately that it was probably an overreach for the Blues.
Unfortunately, they were right. Steen has visibly slowed in the almost three years since signing the deal, and in the 2018-19 season, he collected only 27 points in 65 games. But he also became the first of the family Steen (Alex is the son of legendary Winnipeg Jets forward Thomas Steen) to play for and then the first to win a Stanley Cup.
Steen graciously accepted a diminished, fourth-line role late in the season and in the playoffs, and averaged over 13 minutes a night in the playoffs, collecting two goals and three assists. His contract is still far too much to pay for a fourth-line veteran, but happily, the post-championship glow should overshadow his contract for the foreseeable future.
3) Jake Allen (Two Seasons, $4.35 Million)
Jake Allen started the 2018-19 campaign as the starting goaltender. $4.35 million is middle of the road, perhaps even a little underpriced in today’s league for a primary netminder. But thanks to the meteoric rise of Jordan Binnington, Allen has been moved to a backup role. Unfortunately, his contract doesn’t change with the demotion.
Allen’s goaltending has been a growing concern for several seasons, as he never found consistent footing after the Blues traded his safety net, Brian Elliott, to the Calgary Flames, prior to the 2016-17 season. Regrettably, that was the same summer the Blues offered their young netminder a four-year, $17 million extension.
Allen has never lived up to his contract, and now, he’s been relegated to a clear backup role. Bafflingly, reports surfaced earlier this summer that the Blues were turning down trade offers for him, hoping to keep together the tandem that helped them capture a Cup.
While it’s valuable to ride the emotional wave of a Stanley Cup Championship, if those reports are true, they show a degree of foolishness in the front office. Allen’s contract is the worst on the team because he’s serving in a backup role. If other teams were asking to acquire it, the Blues needed to unload it. But perhaps, in this case, sentiment ruled the day. As with his peers on this list, fans won’t get too upset about Allen’s contract because of the sterling trophy on which his name now resides.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.