May 31, 2011
Steen confident Winnipeg will attract talent
By ROSS ROMANIUK, QMI Agency
A former Winnipeg Jets star is looking forward to a new crop of NHL players experiencing what this "fantastic" city offers, as he began to do 30 years ago.
"I just love it here, and the people here treat me like gold. I'm having a great time," Thomas Steen told the Winnipeg Sun.
"I played my whole NHL career here, and my kids were born here." Steen, a Winnipeg city councillor since last fall, is quick to brush aside any players' possible concerns about his adopted home, such as those expressed by the likes of Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
"Some players think that of every (city) in the league," Steen said of Bryzgalov's criticism concerning a supposed shortage of parks and things to do for his family, if he were to play for a Winnipeg team.
"There would be enough players who want to be here and who are really good, and could win the Stanley Cup. It's fantastic here, especially when you start a family and have kids. They would enjoy Winnipeg so much. And there is lots to do -- more than they can handle."
Sixteen years after retiring from the NHL following a 14-season career in that league, beginning in 1981 and all of it with the Jets, the Sweden-born Steen is as pumped as any other Winnipeg fan about the return of hockey's premiere circuit to Manitoba.
And at the age of 50, he's a fan himself -- one who might purchase a season ticket for the newly arriving franchise's games at MTS Centre.
"I hope to. I don't even know the prices yet," he said.
"I'll buy the tickets I can, that's for sure."
Steen, whose son Alexander is a forward with the St. Louis Blues, is confident that the NHL's more cost-conscious business model will allow the Manitoba team to thrive in a way that it couldn't when players' salaries escalated rapidly during the Jets' final few years at Winnipeg Arena until 1996.
"We have a very good future here for hockey," he said.
"It's a totally different situation today than it was then. It was really hard for the owners back at that time, because salaries were escalating and the dollar value was going down. There were a lot of things that pointed to it not surviving here. But a lot has changed the economy in Winnipeg, and there's a salary cap in the NHL."
Steen is elated and relieved to finally have the Atlanta Thrashers en route to Winnipeg, pending official league approval, after a few years of seeing his NHL hopes, and those of other local fans, raised and dashed.
"We've had our hopes up many times, so I'm cautious. These business deals change by the hour, depending on what happens. People can come out of nowhere with new money in the cities where the teams are, and you can never predict what will happen until it's a final deal," Steen said.
"It sounds really good this time. It's exciting."