One of the best and also worst parts of free agency season is the speculation. Wading through rumors on social media while waiting for real news is addictive for some, frustrating for others. People treat free agency like they’re writing a wish list for Santa Claus, tossing out trade ideas that would get turned down in NHL 21.
Bad trade ideas - or at best, unfeasible trade ideas - abound. Personally, I don’t often speculate because let’s admit it: I have no idea what is happening in the Blues’ front office, let alone front offices around the league. I’m not privy to anything (just like 99% of fans). I’m very rarely correct (see: “the Blues would never trade for Ryan Miller”). I’d rather analyze something after it happens than before.
Vladimir Tarasenko’s situation is unpleasant, both for him and for the team, and it is going to take a lot of phone working by Doug Armstrong to get a deal that works for the Blues within the confines of Tarasenko’s list of teams he approves for a trade. No one knows what teams are on Tarasenko’s list, so to be honest, any fan trade proposal tossed out there could very, very well be completely impossible.
Speaking of completely impossible trade ideas, this one comes to me from the EiC over at Arctic Ice Hockey, Cara. What if, in a perfect world, the Columbus Blue Jackets were on Tarasenko’s list?
First off, the odds are slim that they are, though having John Davidson back to being team president of hockey operations for Columbus could be a draw for Tarasenko. Davidson, as well as Jarmo Kekäläinen (who was director of amateur scouting and assistant GM for the Blues under Davidson) would make for a welcome landing spot for Tarasenko, and the recent departure of coach John Tortorella could make Columbus appealing.
Patrik Laine, or at least the ability to play with him, would be a draw for Tarasenko as well. On the other hand, Laine is also a draw for the Blues. Last season was an off-season for Laine. He scored only 12 goals and 12 assists in 46 games played in Winnipeg and Columbus. Going into his RFA negotiations this off-season, his low production this year could tamp down the terms of his next contract. Laine’s finishing up a two-season deal signed while he was with the Jets worth $6,750,000 a season.
He’s due a raise, but he may not be able to work out terms that come to Tarasenko’s current $7,500,000 cap hit deal. Much like the Blues if they decide to hang on to Tarasenko, the Blue Jackets would be paying Laine a raise for hypothetical production. It’d also be factoring in previous year’s point totals, scored on an entirely different team with an entirely different system.
Long story short, both players have a proven track record, but next year’s numbers are up in the air. Laine seems to be more of a sure bet to bounce back than Tarasenko is, which makes trading for him appealing - and trading Tarasenko for him is even more difficult.
Tarasenko, thanks to his shoulder, will have to be part a package deal to make trade partners feel more comfortable taking on that contract and the question marks. If Laine wants out of Columbus - or if he’s not in their future plans (which is insinuated to be a possibility by The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline), then he would be an offensive upgrade for the Blues. His contract would potentially be less than Tarasenko’s next year, his goal production could be significantly higher, and he could either slip into Tarasenko’s spot on the right wing or onto the left-hand side depending on if the Blues are able to re-sign Jaden Schwartz and/or Mike Hoffman. Packaging Dunn and a pick with Tarasenko could be an attractive way of acquiring Laine or his signing rights, especially if Seth Jones’ time in Columbus is in fact over.
One of the best reasons to acquire Laine isn’t just his production, it’s his production against the Blues. In 2019-2020, Laine had two goals and two assists in four games against the Blues, which isn’t particularly high. The season before, however, Laine absolutely lit the Blues up. In four games against St. Louis, Laine scored six goals an an assist. With Columbus being in the Eastern Conference, there’s not much of a risk - but it would be better for Laine to be dealt to St. Louis than a team that plays St. Louis more than twice a season.
Do I think a Tarasenko/Dunn/Whatever Pick package to Columbus for Patrick Laine would happen?
No, I don’t. I don’t think that Tarasenko has much of an incentive to want be traded to Columbus, even with John Davidson there. I don’t feel like there’s much incentive for the Jackets to want Tarasenko over Laine unless their relationship with Laine is shot, and there hasn’t been much evidence to that end.
Would it be great if the Blues could get a former 44 goal scorer who is six years younger than Tarasenko at potentially a lower cost? Of course. Has Doug Armstrong surprised us before? Absolutely. Would getting Laine in return be a little bit of a balm on the wounds of Blues fans who are upset about losing Tarasenko? For some, absolutely.
Getting Laine would be nice. It’s also going to be tough to pull off, if it’s anything that’s being discussed in the first place.