The opening training camp sessions have started, and the Blues have their first pre-season game tomorrow night against the Minnesota Wild. Hockey is back, and with it, distractions.
One individual who has made it clear that he does not want to be a distraction is Vladimir Tarasenko. You may remember his trade request that Doug Armstrong revealed back in July.
Whatever the reasons for that request, the general feeling from those in the hockey world has been that Tarasenko just needs to get back out there and do his job. It’s a net benefit for him, clearly, to have a great season. If he truly wants out of St. Louis, he’s going to have to prove to general managers across the league that he is truly in playing condition. It’s beneficial for Doug Armstrong and the Blues as well for Tarasenko to be playing well. If Armstrong doesn’t want to get saddled with part of Tarasenko’s salary, and if he would prefer to get a decent return on the forward, he needs to have a product to advertise to other teams.
Most importantly, and most obviously, if Tarasenko’s producing it’s good for the team in the standings. Last season the Blues struggled at times in the scoring department; a Tarasenko on track for 25 goals, even if it’s for part of the season, is production that they need.
Yesterday after the practice sessions ended, the Blues held interviews with players and media. Tarasenko’s session was predictably about the trade request and what his situation is with the team this season. According to The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford (subscription required), Tarasenko joked with the press about how they hopped directly to questions about the trade request without even so much as a polite “how was your summer?” But really, the trade request and the lack of trade materializing is the only thing he was going to get asked about, and he knew it.
The theme of questions either to or about Tarasenko yesterday was one of “he’s not a distraction,” or “I don’t want to be a distraction,” and that’s what you want to hear. That’s also what you expect to hear as well. After all, is Craig Berube supposed to come out and say “yeah, no, I’m not going to coach him and I don’t expect him to play?” Is Ryan O’Reilly going to say “we were really hoping that he was gone after that trade request leaked out?” Of course not.
The cohesiveness of the responses to the letter doesn’t point to collaboration to satiate the media, though. These players, coaches, and front office staff have a job to do, and Tarasenko’s never demonstrated that he feels any other way. He was here well before camp started, skating with his teammates.
The most telling response of Tarasenko’s to the media questions is this one:
“Happy to be with the guys. I have a good relationship with the guys. It’s been a weird summer, but it’s going to stay between us — between me and (Blues general manager Doug Armstrong). I’m here to work. As long as I play here, I will work 100 percent. I’m 100 percent healthy.”
“It’s going to stay between us.” Frankly, the whole situation probably would’ve been better served staying between Tarasenko and the team, and hopefully it will be between those two parties going forward. Part of the issue with this situation have been insider leaks, speculation, social media posts, and foreign media reports. Instead of handling everything in-house, Doug Armstrong has been forced to be public with the situation. Tarasenko doesn’t seem to feel comfortable discussing specifics with anyone save for members of the team’s front office.
Right now, dealing with everything in-house is the way to go, but once speculation’s out there, it’s not going away. If the Blues, Tarasenko, and management stay true to their words in today’s media interviews, the only people who can turn Tarasenko’s trade request into a distraction are the media and fans.
Tarasenko stated: “I receive a lot of support, but I also receive a lot of bad messages and articles. I have a big motivation to prove it wrong and this is it.”
If the bad messages (seriously, fans, back off) and the critical articles are motivation for Tarasenko, that’s great. It would benefit the Blues if he proved the whole world wrong and had a bang-up season. As long as the distractions stay out of the locker room, that’s what matters. It may be best for the fans, and it certainly is best for the team, if everyone just sits back and watches the situation play out.