The Curious Case of Alex Steen, or Why I’m Thankful Hockey Isn’t Baseball

*Originally published by Kolby Solinsky with Black Press newspaper group…

I’m not American, so November for me and 33 million others is essentially the month between Halloween and Christmas, but I still have something to be thankful for: hockey.

St. Louis Blues forward Alex Steen has 20 goals. That has him tied with Alex Ovechkin – who, unlike Steen, is known for scoring – for the NHL lead, and only through 24 games. Before this year, Steen’s single-season max was 24 goals, which he scored in 68 games in 2010.

But if this were baseball, we’d be suspicious.

Whenever a player comes from nowhere to challenge for the Majors’ home run title, we have to ask the question: is he on steroids? Or HGH? (If you haven’t noticed by now, whenever people froth at the mouth and bark, “HE’S ON STEROIDS!”, they really mean “He’s on Human Growth Hormone.”)

If Alex Steen played baseball, we’d wonder when and how often he was juicing and it would only be a matter of time before there would be evidence arising. We’d wonder what possibly could explain his sudden outburst. It couldn’t be his talent. Oh, no. That just couldn’t be it.

No, if this were baseball, we’d be questioning him on national radio shows even when he isn’t a guest, writing about him with an attitude like, “Hey, I’m not accusing him… I’m just saying, what if?” (So, yeah, you’d be accusing him.)

Ask Chris Davis. Ask Jose Bautista. Ask Joey Votto, who had to admit to suffering crippling depression before people felt guilty enough to ask him whether he had “steroid withdrawal” anymore.

If this were baseball, Alex Steen would have to worry about a Home Run Derby, that annual All-Star festivity that destroys the seasons of individuals feasting on opposing pitchers with momentum, groove, and a lack of fatigue.

If this were football, Alex Steen would have to worry about Madden curses and Skip Bayless.

If this were football, Alex Steen would be Nick Foles.

If this were football, Alex Steen’s first few years – labelled as disappointing in Toronto, either because of inconsistency on his part or utterly terrible play on his team’s part – would have cast him out of paradise, banned from ever returning. He would have blown his chance before it even started, the Canadian equivalent to Vince Young or Willis McGahee.

If this were anything but hockey, all we’d be talking about are the distractions. Sideshows. Things that don’t matter.

Take even college football, where quarterbacks and one or two running backs start out the season already on Heisman watch. They haven’t played a game, and they’re already the MVP. And, if they don’t win it, they’ve blown it. Naturally, as the season takes its toll, preseason favourites fade away – a la Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, or De’Anthony Thomas – and deserving challengers rise – A.J. McCarron and Jameis Winston this year, Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o last year.

College football players have to deal with cyber/fake/dead girlfriend hoaxes. College football players are banned from even having dinner with their idols, just because it looks suspicious to the rest of us.

I’m thankful for hockey, one of the only sports left where the players can actually play, where we can enjoy Alex Steen’s 20 goals without having to cut each tally into criticisms or something less than what they are.

The reasons for Steen’s outburst are actually obvious: even in his worst years, say in those in Toronto, Steen was still putting up respectable point totals. 45 points in his rookie season, 35 the next. (And, remember, the Maple Leafs were terrible.) In full seasons with one team since then, he’s never put up fewer than 40 points, the exception being 2009 when he shared time between Toronto and St. Louis and finished with 28.

Last year, he had 27 points in 40 games.

And, he’s only 29. Despite being a nine-year veteran, he’s only just entering his prime, which means his totals are sure to jump.

Sure, 20 goals in 24 games is a shocking increase but, as Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert points out, Steen is scoring on 25.3 per cent on his shots. That’s significantly higher than Ovechkin’s 15.9 per cent or Patrick Kane’s 18.8 per cent. (Kane is third in NHL goal scoring with 15.)

In other words, Steen isn’t wasting his chances. And, with just 10 assists so far, he has essentially just changed how he contributes to the Blues’ offence, which is prolific for the first time since they had guys named Hull and Oates.

This is enjoyable, for as long as it continues. And I’m thankful there are only nice things to say.