In case you somehow missed it, Vladimir Tarasenko is going to be out for five months with a surgically repaired dislocated left shoulder. This is, obviously, less than ideal.
Since losing Tarasenko to injury on January 24th, a 5-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues are 4-1. Three of those wins have come in overtime. The Blues’ victories against the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Minnesota Wild were all see-saw affairs that saw the Blues hop out to a strong lead, fritter it away, come back in the third, and win it quickly in overtime. Two points are two points, but they’re not coming easily right now (and one could argue, they haven’t been coming easily all year).
It’s easy to understand why Blues fans are speculating that general manager Doug Armstrong might want to make a deal to shore up the offense. It didn’t help when Elliotte Friedman tossed out Chris Kreider’s name as someone that the Blues could be kicking the tires of. He’s set to be a UFA at the end of this season and his $4,625,000 cap hit is reasonable. He put up 28 goals and 24 assists last year. He wouldn’t completely make up for a lack of Tarasenko’s production, but it would be a start.
Another pending UFA that people have been mentioning is Taylor Hall. He’s not having a good season in New Jersey so far (is anyone?) and his cap hit, at $6,000,000, is significantly higher than Kreider’s. In his last full season a couple years ago, he scored an impressive 39 goals, but would a trade to the Blues jump-start that production again?
Tarasenko has cracked thirty goals each of his last five seasons. The only other player to do that is his fellow Russian, Alexander Ovechkin. Tarasenko may have made it six years in a row before his injury, so it’s easy to understand why Blues fans are in the middle of a meltdown about how to replace that production. It’s a fair question.
Doug Armstrong’s answer, for now, is that he needs guys to step up - especially Robby Fabbri and Robert Thomas.
“Obviously he’s a top player in our game,” Armstrong said. “He’s gonna be missed. But our team is built as the sum of all the parts. It’s gonna be a great opportunity for some of our younger players.”
“I think the key for our group now is not taxing a small group of players,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think we can have (Ryan) O’Reilly and (Brayden) Schenn and (Jaden) Schwartz consume all this ice time. It’s gonna have to come from other guys and we’re gonna have to strength in numbers. And I believe that we can get it done.”
As a whole, this team is built to win, and they’ve shown that they can do it. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty with Tarasenko, and it won’t be pretty without him. It would be easier if they went out and snagged another 30 goal scorer, another marquee talent.
There are two issues with that: one, cap space and two, you have to make a trade deal.
The cap space issue is fine for now. Tarasenko’s $7.5 million hit is off of the books until he comes back, so the Blues can easily fit Kreider under the cap. But the second he’s cleared by team doctors, that cap relief goes away, meaning that the Blues would have to trade someone else off to make up for it.
Before anyone tosses Jake Allen out there as the first trade victim, yes, you could argue that the Devils need a better starter. He hasn’t shown himself to be worth the $4,350,000 cap hit. So yes, the Devils maybe could entertain a trade for Allen, but Hall isn’t coming back in that deal unless they package another large contract with him to ensure the team is cap compliant. New Jersey doesn’t want two years of Alexander Steen.
This is getting into issue number two - it’d be difficult for the Blues to move the large contracts that the’d need to here to ensure a deal works, and on top of that, a trade for a marquee talent like Kreider or Hall means you’re trading draft picks. No one wants a couple of questionable players for someone who won the Hart in 2018. The Blues have a first round draft pick this year and it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to hold onto it.
The younger guys are going to have to step up and follow Sammy Blais’ example. If they want to be a key part of the team and get top six minutes, they’re going to have to play like this is their goal. The Blues would be better for it and so would the young forwards’ careers.