There’s nothing worse than false hope.
While I would like to agree with what Game Time writer Ana Kieu wrote last week-Vladimir Tarasenko being here to stay-reality doesn’t stay away for long.
Everything is grand in the world of the St. Louis Blues at the moment. The team is finally (furiously knocking wooden desk with a Cam Janssen knuckle) getting healthy as the record remains strong. They are in first place and don’t sit too far off the top spot in the NHL. They’re five points back of the league-leading New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, who each have 48 points to St. Louis’s 43.
Tarasenko is having his best season in years, accumulating 33 points in 33 games with 14 goals. While his wrist shot is still deadly when he gets to that dot in the offensive zone, Tarasenko’s most impressive attributes this season are action and versatility. He’s getting back in the defensive zone more, using his underrated speed to defend just as quickly as he would pounce on a puck. He’s shooting a shit ton more, firing 116 registered shots on net so far this season, with the season still not having half old yet.
I don’t usually attach a ton of value to a +/- rating with a winger like Tarasenko, but you can’t ignore the trends. Over the last two shoulder-injury-riddled (and shortened) seasons, he was a combined -9 on the ice in 34 games. This season, he’s back to the guy who carried a very high plus rating. All that tells you is that his cherry-picking activity is down.
Comfortability could be a big factor. Imagine getting onto an NHL slab of ice with a banged-up shoulder. Every defender already wants your head for your ability, but now you’re also fighting yourself on a gamely basis. I do think Tarasenko got into his own head, especially on how far he could take it on the ice and how much physicality was too much. This season, he has zero hesitation going toward the corner, across the ice, or just about anything.
Tarasenko is reminding St. Louis and other teams that he’s still got it. While the days of putting up 40 may be a tad far-fetched, 30-35 is still very possible--to go with 35-45 assists. You can’t forget about the attention and game-planning other teams will do for #91, which opens up opportunities for his teammates: guys like Jordan Kyrou and Ivan Barbashev. He still requires a certain amount of focus when he’s out there.
30 years old and all, snipers don’t exactly exit the game first. If durable and effective, they can play for a while. As good as that sounds in St. Louis, I still think Tarasenko is wearing a different jersey by the end of the year. With the Blues collecting health and making a serious run at the Stanley Cup, it’s hard to imagine Doug Armstrong letting him go midseason. Unless you can replace what he’s doing, or getting a very good player elsewhere on the ice, it would be foolish to let him walk now.
However, if we’re talking or thinking about it, Armstrong has already eaten and digested the idea for a month. If there’s a fair deal to be made, it will be made. And trust me, it will happen.
With no offense-only reaction-to Kieu’s article last week, I don’t think Tarasenko is here to stay. In my mind, the plan is moving forward as smoothly as planned. The idea this season was for him to come in and reassure the Blues (and interested teams) that he could still produce at a high level. As good as that plan has gone, I still see a desire to leave that hasn’t exactly cooled.
According to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic in November, a source said Tarasenko’s intentions from the offseason are still the same: he does want a trade. If anything, he has bargained his way into an even bigger and better trade... which will only be good things for the Blues.
If Tarasenko departs, he’ll leave a nice return from another team in his wake. Maybe, a little help on defense to help re-stabilize the unit before next season. Whether it happens this spring or summer, Tarasenko will be traded.
Because, if the Blues wait, his value will drop. Let’s say he has a nasty injury this season or doesn’t exactly roar out of the gate next year, during his age 31 season. The more the Blues wait, the risk they run of coming right back to their position before this season.
It’s pretty clear Armstrong isn’t handing out fresh and long-term contracts to Blues players near or past 30 years of age. Just ask David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo. There’s certain avenues he won’t walk down, and #91 revival or not, he’s still a risk to bet as the years stack up, and the wear and tear on a chronically injured shoulder piles up.
So, Tarasenko is here to stay... for this season. Most likely. But he won’t finish his career here.