We all know what happened last year after the Colorado Avalanche bounced the Blues in four first-round games. Vladimir Tarasenko, who had finally successfully returned from repeated shoulder surgeries, headed to the World Championships to represent Russia. That was a confirmation that his shoulder was improving, which should’ve made Blues fans breathe a sigh of relief.
Instead, fans got treated to a blockbuster trade demand that threatened to shake the core of the team: Tarasenko, in response to the two surgeries that didn’t take, wanted to be traded. His trust with the team had been breached, and he felt a fresh start elsewhere was the best idea. That scenario did not pan out for Tarasenko and the Blues, who had issues finding a trade partner that trusted in the healing of Tarasenko’s shoulder. Without a return that he felt could help the Blues, and with even the Seattle Kraken taking a pass on Tarasenko during the expansion draft, it looked like the Blues would be starting the season with Tarasenko on the roster and - depending on the team’s play - finishing with him on the roster.
That’s of course what happened, and it’s impossible to argue that this scenario was the one that needed to happen. Tarasenko wanted an opportunity to prove his worth to the NHL and to general managers, and he far surpassed any and all regular season expectations. Tarasenko led the team in goals with 34 and points with 82, returning to his pre-injury form. His line, centered by Robert Thomas and with Pavel Buchnevich on the opposite wing, was the Blues biggest scoring threat. Buchnevich finished the year with 30 goals, while Thomas finished with 20 and an incredible 57 assists.
Why in the world would Vladimir Tarasenko want to leave this set-up? Does he still?
It’s looking more and more that no, he’s not going anywhere this off-season. Doug Armstrong is confident in Tarasenko and his desire to play in St. Louis through the last year of his contract. Army’s season next year is not going to be an easy one, considering he will have to concern himself with re-signing David Perron before the year starts, and finding a way to ensure that his major scoring core - including Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, both of whom are in the last year of their contracts - doesn’t get broken up.
The window may be closing, though slowly, for this group of Blues players. A second round exit as the only team to beat the Colorado Avalanche (as of this publishing) in the postseason is a sign of improvement over the last two seasons. Both Tarasenko and O’Reilly are finishing up a contract that sees them have a cap hit of $7.5 million a year each: a decent chunk of change, but for the output they provide it seems like a bargain.
“I’ve already read some articles, local and national, ‘Well what about ‘23-’24 and these guys are all free (agents)?’” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Tuesday. “I’m going to worry about ‘23-’24, a year from now. Hopefully I’m not answering questions, ‘Are you going to trade Ryan O’Reilly if you don’t get him signed? Are you going to trade Tarasenko if you don’t get him signed? Are you going to trade (Ivan) Barbashev if you don’t get him signed?’ I’m not sure the concern of everybody worrying about two years from now, let’s just dissect this year, give us your information on how you think we did as a whole, get ready for next year.”
It’s not difficult to read between the lines of Armstrong’s statement. He’s not worried right now and neither is, apparently Tarasenko. It looks like trust has been rebuilt between the team and their Masterton nominee. Being on one of the best lines in the sport will do that for a player.