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What should the Blues do with Vladimir Tarasenko’s cap space?

If the winger leaves, the Blues have a spare $7.5 million to work with.

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

To be clear, Vladimir Tarasenko hasn’t been traded, and it’s not clear if Doug Armstrong will be able to do so. Last night, during game five of the Stanley Cup Final, Jeremy Rutherford dropped this bomb:

In his post, Rutherford discusses the pitfalls and problems with trading Tarasenko. The main issues are his injury history and the related drop in production. These may hinder Armstrong’s ability to deal Tarasenko, or at least might hamstring his ability to get a good return for his superstar asset.

Tarasenko, thanks to three shoulder surgeries (of debatable quality according to Rutherford’s sources) has only played in 34 games the last two seasons. His production in those 34 games is down - 7 goals and 24 points in 34 games is tough for a GM to see when they’re comparing it to Tarasenko’s pre-shoulder problem seasons. To contrast, in 2018-2019 Tarasenko had 33 goals and 35 assists, and was a key catalyst in the Blues’ winning their first franchise Stanley Cup.

The pre-injury numbers work in Tarasenko’s favor - the trick is that Armstrong needs to find a GM that believes that Tarasenko will reach those numbers again. If Armstrong can do that - and if that GM is on Tarasenko’s trade list - then the Blues might have some more cash to play with this off-season.

Much of how much cash the Blues will have freed up depends on what their return for Tarasenko is. Presumably any deal will include a roster player that Armstrong feels can contribute to making up for Tarasenko’s missed goal production. More than likely, no one that Armstrong will deal for will match Tarasenko’s previous output; GMs won’t want to trade someone with guaranteed (or as close as you can get) production for someone with a huge injury question mark hanging over their head.

If Tarasenko is traded as a solo deal and not part of a package, then the return won’t be high. Blues fans might want to temper their expectations.

The player that the Blues receive in return for a Tarasenko deal won’t be up to Tarasenko’s previous production, but the Blues more than likely won’t receive a player who costs as much as Tarasenko, either (unless, of course, Tarasenko is part of a package deal for one player - in that case, they may well be a point producer). The Blues are going to have some savings to work with. If they package Tarasenko with another roster player, they’ll have a few million extra to work with. On top of that, the expansion draft on July 21st will result in the Blues being short one contract.

So what do they do?

Let’s be generous and assume that any deal and the resulting new Blues will lead to a couple extra million in available cap space.

The Blues’ first option with this savings is to offer a comfortable raise to one or more of their UFAs: Tyler Bozak, Jaden Schwartz, and Mike Hoffman. An argument can be made for the value of each of these three players, and Armstrong may want to invest in who he already knows.

Their second option is offering a bit of a raise to Vince Dunn when they work toward re-signing the RFA defenseman. This may be something that Armstrong is hesitant to do, though, considering the fact that Dunn is drawing interest from GMs, and signing a RFA to a contract that involves a raise may cause other GMs to balk at dealing for Dunn.

Dunn could be tossed into a deal with Tarasenko to sweeten the pot, freeing up more cap space and rendering this a moot point.

Armstrong, especially if he deals both Tarasenko and Dunn, could use his savings both to offer a raise to a current UFA and sign one member of this off-season’s free agent pool. Gabriel Landeskog would be a valuable addition (though one that would probably happen if Armstrong deals Dunn and Tarasenko AND decides to not sign any of the team’s UFAs), but he could be a “replacement” for not just Tarasenko but for Schwartz and/or Hoffman.

Other, less pricy UFAs could be a priority, such as Brandon Saad or recent Stanley Cup winner Blake Coleman, but Armstrong would have to make multiple signings to replace Tarasenko and, if they walk, either Hoffman and/or Schwartz. Of course, Dougie Hamilton may still be available if the Hurricanes don’t re-sign him. His 32 assists last year were impressive, but he’d have to beef up his goal scoring acumen to be a replacement for an on-year Schwartz or Tarasenko.

It’s disappointing to even be having this discussion about Vladimir Tarasenko, just like it’s disappointing that his relationship with the Blues has gotten to the point that it has. Doug Armstrong will have to deal with upset fans who have now lost a marquee piece of the 2019 Cup team in successive off-seasons, but most importantly he’s going to have to walk a difficult tightrope of maximizing a return for a player that many general managers believe to be damaged goods. Factor in potential pot sweeteners to that deal and stir in some expansion draft, and next year’s Blues team is going to be significantly different than this season’s.