The St. Louis Blues got the worst kind of news today when it was revealed that star winger Vladimir Tarasenko would require shoulder surgery and miss at least five months.
It’s a terrible blow to a team looking to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, and will set them back no matter how you slice it up. Without Tarasenko, the Blues are missing an expert goal scorer who can change a game with one shot. His mere presence on the ice forces the other team to reload their strategy. It sucks, but according to weather reports, the sun will come up tomorrow and the world as we know it will not end.
Here’s the thing. You don’t replace a guy like Tarasenko. It’s just not happening. That’s like recasting Iron Man with Ashton Kutcher after Robert Downey Jr. stepped down. Forget about it. Scrap it. The Blues will need a few players to pick up their game and take it to the next level.
They can contend with solid goaltending and a defensive scheme that strangles other team’s more often than not, but they will need goals to keep up with a conference that is only getting more competitive. Forget the standings that tell you the Blues are a few points off the conference lead. That’s just misleading. In order to stay alive in the division, the Blues will need some enlivened performances. Here are three players who can step up.
1) Robert Thomas
The kid is a pure talent. He can do things on the ice that turns other human beings into pretzels or mere traffic cones on the ice. Spinning with the puck, carrying it from dot to dot, and dictating the pace of play. Remember Pat Maroon’s double overtime winner against Dallas in Game 7? That play was all Thomas, who won the took a dish from Maroon, crashed the net, got Ben Bishop’s attention, fired a shot that hit the post, thus setting up Big Rig’s finishing tap-in.
Pure and simple, Thomas came into the season deserving more time, more reps, and a bigger role. Here is your chance. He’s been seeing between 10 and 15 minutes so far this season, but you can pump that up to 18-20. Turn him loose and see what he can do. The Blues need the 20-year-old to become something else soon.
2) Robby Fabbri
Go ahead, let me have it. The former young gun who once scored 18 goals in the 2015-16 season is now a guy who simply hopes to make the game roster, much less play over ten minutes. He’s been a healthy scratch on multiple occasions already, painting a picture that shows his time in St. Louis could be coming to a close. But man, he could change all of that. The goal-scoring, play-making ability is still there, somewhere. Just watch this goal from two weeks ago.
Fabbri may still have it in him to become a threat once again. His knees may be 33, but he’s still just 23 years old. There’s still time. He’s playing for a contract, so the hunger is there. Maybe the ice time comes with it. What more can you lose?
3) Klim Kostin
Call up the Russian. I don’t care if he punches the Uber driver, smashes the face of two opposing players, kicks the ref in the ass, and blows fire out of his ass all before the 18 minute mark of the first period. I want some fresh blood. It’ll probably be Jordan Kyrou, who has put up a ton of points in other levels/leagues-but damn do I want to see what Kostin can do. Right now, even if there is a tomorrow. It could be everything.
He may be exactly what this Blues team needs: an attitude adjustment and/or boost. He plays a physical, “go fuck yourself” brand of hockey, which is always fun to watch and can change game. There’ll be a learning curve for sure, but why not start that now during a time of need? He’s the kind of guy who would play without a helmet if you let him. He can make plays and finish plays. Insert all the hockey sabe lingo. Know this. It should be Kostin time.
There’s a fourth option, but it’s not exactly realistic. Use Tarasenko’s cap space, since he’s going on the long term injured reserved list, to make a trade. People have mentioned Chris Kreider and Taylor Hall, a couple very fine players. The Chicago Blackhawks and other teams have gotten hungry, using the LTIR cash to get better right away.
The only problem is that you pretty much cancel Tarasenko until next season---unless you can launch another salary off the books before the trade deadline to make space for the return of #91. At least that’s how I think the rule goes. If not, I am sure one of our rugged commenters will drop me a line below. It’s a risky play for a team to make, unless they know for sure the injured party won’t make it back.
I don’t see Doug Armstrong doing that. Unless the medical staff told him Tarasenko got polio, the General Manager is fixing this move internally. He knows the roster and minor league squad has the horses to at least try and solve the issue. Now, if February comes around and the team is stressing, he may look for an addition then. I don’t see anything happening for a while, if at all.
Tarasenko isn’t coming back until the playoffs, if the Blues make it that far. Nothing is a given in this league. It’s the same shoulder that hindered the Russian the last time the team missed the playoffs, which was two years ago. It’s a nagging limb that he hurt on a seemingly harmless play against Los Angeles. That’s how it happens for world class athletes and regular folks like you and me. Bend over to pick up that laundry basket, and throw your back out. You see, Tarasenko is sorta like us.
I look forward to seeing the Blues engage their youth more and more, using adversity like a tool to break down walls, showing off a resilience that won them a Cup last season.
Thanks for reading.