For the first time since 1970, the St. Louis Blues are going to be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. This has been a long waited trip back, as the Blues made it to the Final their first three seasons as a franchise from 1967-1970, but up until now had not returned to the SCF since Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins scored the game winning overtime goal to send the Blues packing back in 1970. The franchise has come close a couple times since, coming up one win short in 1986, and most recently being just two wins away from a SCF appearance in 2016. But after defeating the Winnipeg Jets in six games, the Dallas Stars in seven, and now having beat the San Jose Sharks in six, the Blues have clinched their first birth in the Stanley Cup Final in 49 years.
For a franchise that has been dealt such a great deal of disappointment and turmoil in the playoffs throughout the years and to now be playing in the Stanley Cup Final, the journey has been even longer for Blues veterans Alexander Steen and Jay Bouwmeester. Steen made his NHL debut on October 5th, 2005 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, after being their first-round selection three years prior in 2002. Steen would spend three and a half seasons in Toronto, before being dealt to the Blues along with teammate Carlo Colaiacovo in exchange for Lee Stempniak back on November 24, 2008.
Steen has been with the Blues ever since and has spent 10 full seasons with the club. He played in his 700th regular season game with the Blues during the current season back on March 17th against the Buffalo Sabres. Since he has been with the team for 11 seasons, this means Steen has been with the team through every heartbreaking playoff loss since 2009, including losses to the Canucks in ’09, Kings in ’12, Kings again in ’13, Blackhawks in ’14, Wild in ’15, Sharks in ’16, and then the Predators in ’16.
During the Blues current run to the Cup Final, Steen accepted and fully embraced a role on the fourth line all throughout the season and into the playoffs. This move worked out incredibly for both the Blues and Steen, as that fourth line was a driving factor in the Blues conference final win over the Sharks. Steen netted a goal and added an assist in the series, but alongside linemates Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev, the Blues fourth line scored a goal in every game in the series except for Game 1. The fourth line has started out the last nine periods for the Blues, as head coach Craig Berube trusts them to be physical, forecheck, shut down the opponent, and now even score goals.
Another key veteran on the Blues run has been defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester has been in the NHL since the 2002-03 season, as the Florida Panthers selected him 3rd overall in the 2002 Draft. Bouwmeester was as good as advertised in Florida, as he was a shutdown defenseman and also had back to back 30-assist seasons along with three straight seasons with 12 goals or more. At one point, Bouwmeester even had 40 points three out of four seasons from 2005-2009. He was eventually traded to the Calgary Flames in 2009, where while his numbers would dip, but was still a top-notch defenseman. Bouw spent three and a half seasons in Calgary, before ultimately finding himself traded to St. Louis.
In the 2012-13 season that was shortened to 48 games due to the lockout, Bouwmeester was acquired by the Blues from the Flames in exchange for a first-round pick and prospects Mark Cundari and Reto Berra. The then 29-year-old Bouwmeester recorded seven points in 14 regular season games, prompting the Blues to extend his contract by a year. In his first full season with the Blues in 2013-14, Bouwmeester looked fully worth the draft pick and prospects the Blues gave up for him, as Bouwmeester played the top pairing with Alex Pietrangelo and recorded 33 assists and a total of 37 points, his highest point total since the 2008-09 season.
He was then awarded with a five-year, $27 million-dollar contract extension which at the time, seemed like a good signing. But as the years would go by, Bouwmeester’s age would catch up with him, along with some injuries. Bouwmeester at one point had the NHL’s highest ironman streak, with having played in 737 consecutive regular season games before suffering an ankle injury in the 2013-14 season. But during the 2014-15 season, Bouwmeester’s point total dipped below 20, the first time since his rookie year. He would go on to play at least 72 games over the next two seasons and once again finish below 20 points in both seasons. Fans began to feel weary about his contract and speculation grew on if the Blues would attempt to move him.
Entering the 2017-18 season, Bouwmeester was 34 years old and his play and his health was clearly not as it once was. Midway through the season, rumors circled that the Blues would buy out the last year of his contract in 2018-19 once the current season was over. But on March 3rd, 2018 in a game against Dallas, Bouw was tripped up and fell, injuring his hip. This injury would end Bouwmeester’s season. Since Bouwmeester was injured, the NHL’s rules dictate that a player’s contract could not be bought out when they are on the LTIR (Long-Term Injury Reserve). This meant Bouwmeester would be back in St. Louis for the 2018-19 season.
Like practically the entire team did, Bouwmeester did not start the 2018-19 season off great. Speculation once again begun, this time about his hip not being 100% healthy. Shortly after head coach Mike Yeo was fired by the Blues, Doug Armstrong spoke to the media about Bouwmeester, saying his hip had not completely healed. The Blues then scratched Bouw three games in a row, giving him almost two weeks of rest.
Bouwmeester at a crisp 35 years old, started to regain form during the second half of the season; his skating much was better as was his overall play. He found himself paired with Colton Parayko, a tandem that has worked out fantastic for the Blues to this point. Bouwmeester, as he has become known for over almost two decades, has regained his shutdown defensive form. In this current playoff run, he has five points total (all assists), a playoff career high. Bouwmeester’s defensive turnaround has helped the Blues defensive core gain solidarity and chemistry and was one of the underrated reasons as to why the Blues have made it to the Cup Final.
Steen and Bouwmeester have been around the block a few times in the NHL. In Steen’s career, (regular season and playoffs) he has played in 1,043 games and has logged 19,058 minutes on the ice. That is almost 14 days of being on the ice 24/7. Bouwmeester has played in 1,252 games and logged 30,331 total minutes, the equivalent of skating on the ice for three weeks straight 24/7. They are both 35 and tied for oldest players on either the Blues or Bruins to not yet win a cup.
If there are a couple guys that the Blues locker room is going to rally around and win it all for, it is these guys. Say what you want about Steen and Bouwmeester’s pasts, their contracts, etc. These guys have given their bodies night after night for years, and in Steen’s case, over a decade to this city to try and bring Lord Stanley to St. Louis. These guys and their roles have been important as ever during this playoff run and this may be the only chance Steen or Bouw get to hoist that 35-pound trophy above their heads. Win it for these guys.