A month ago, a moderate portion of hockey lovers in St. Louis had given up on Vladimir Tarasenko. Or at least, the idea of him being elite ever again.
After a disappointing season that saw him rehab and return from a third shoulder surgery, Tarasenko embroiled the entire situation by requesting a trade in the offseason. Things grew more tense when Doug “I really can’t miss” Armstrong couldn’t find a match. In other words, the GM wasn’t giving up his formerly elite winger for scraps.
Flash forward a few months later-as the harsh summer humidity turns to harsh fall winds-and Tarasenko is touching elite status once again. Granted, the small sample size of seven games won’t cure all the dismay of the past two years, but the nine points and newfound ferocity on the ice is a wicked combo for the Blues at the moment.
Think about it. Tarasenko’s reemergence only deepens this already-deep roster. Even with a few players missing in action at times, the Blues run four hard lines at the opposition. They have been in each game to the end, storming back multiple times while outright demolishing the other side on occasion. They haven’t played a perfect game and do allow a few too many close encounters (lots of clear looks at goaltender Jordan Binnington), but the return of #91 makes the Blues look very dangerous.
Teams and coaching staffs have to worry about him again. They have given him bumps and tested the shoulder. Tarasenko has just come back meaner each time. It’s not working. The pandemic lockdown on game-changing talent on the wing has been released.
Just look at the shots. In just seven games, Tarasenko has already taken 31 shots. In 24 total games last season, he took 65. And let’s be honest with each other and admit a fair portion of those net offerings were weaker than fans have come to expect. The 2021-22 season begs to differ.
Early and often, Tarasenko is open for or taking a lethal wrist shot. He drove to the net the first night he scored. Once again, if he gets set on the dot, the goaltender doesn’t stand a good chance unless a crossbar gets involved. That deepens the attack and makes returning players like Oskar Sundqvist interchangeable for head coach Craig Berube when he’s drawing up lines. During this upcoming busy west coast road trip, Tarasenko’s early dominance will play dividends—and it’s not just on offense.
It wasn’t like Tarasenko was a defensive liability before his two-year injury-plagued drought. The man just looked like he didn’t give a shit at times on that side of the ice, like the kid who stole another kid’s Halloween candy and ate too much to care. He was late to pucks, off on shots, and just completely detached from his game. Now, being gun-shy, especially when you mentally feel like bubble gum is holding your shoulder together, didn’t help the situation. However, these days, Tarasenko is the kid whose Halloween candy was stolen and now he is out for revenge.
Turning the career-defining 30 years of age next month will throw a few more logs on the fire upstairs. Tarasenko does have his eyes looking ahead as he blazes a trail through the NHL early on, but it’s not pointed at the jersey being worn. He wants to get paid... again. This may very well be his last decent-sized contract during his playing days. Nobody in the game aspires to trip down the staircase of a series of one-year deals to finish their time out.
Tarasenko is hungry for more comfort of the commercial variety, as in money and a stack of papers getting married with some ink involved. Whether the Blues surgical team screwed his shoulder up or not, every game out there where he’s putting up 4-6 shots and 2-3 points shines brighter come next year when the Blues could reopen trade talks or talk extension.
After all, just shy of 30, it’s not like his talents would completely erode--but the next hard hit along the boards could shake the foundation. A good bet would be he plays elsewhere next year, especially if a young talent emerges or a trade proposal too good to be true comes about. But a just-as-solid proposal has him staying in St. Louis at least until the summer free agency period begins. Who knows... the Blues could be the only sports action in town if the greedy bastards in baseball can’t decide on a new CBA.
When it comes to Tarasenko, don’t worry about the future. It’ll play itself out. Anything can happen in this game, derailing best laid plans and launching new phases for teams. Think about it. The Blues and their star winger went from Stanley Cup cigar-chomping friends to trade talk adversaries.
Things change fast in this sport, so just enjoy the present day Tarasenko being a wrecking ball all over the ice for the Blues. He’s making teammates look better, beating goaltenders, and rearranging fan expectations.
Thanks for reading and always pack more bourbon,