Vladimir Tarasenko has proven he's an elite scorer in the NHL, but with the team's recent struggles, it might be time to explore trading the former 40-goal scorer. Here's why.
Photo: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
On January 19th of 2013 Vladimir Tarasenko took the ice for the first time in his NHL career. Being a 21 year-old prospect that was selected 16th overall in the 2010 draft, it goes without saying that the expectations surrounding him were extremely high.
The NHL was in a lockout at the beginning of this season, but over in Russia Tarasenko was dominating against men, recording 32 points (14G, 18A) in just 31 games. Fans in St. Louis were excited, as they should be, and Tarasenko’s performance in his debut made expectations explode even more. Just six minutes into the opener, Vladi snuck behind the defense for a breakaway and fired his patented wrist shot low-blocker side past Jimmy Howard. He wasn’t finished, though, as early in the second period he scored a goal that to this day is one of the prettiest goals I’ve ever seen. He received the Kevin Shattenkirk pass, danced around two defenders and went top-shelf on the stunned Detroit goaltender. His teammates went nuts, the crowd went nuts, and of course Kelly, Pang and Federko went nuts. He finished his rookie season with 19 points in 38 games, which was followed up by a 43 point sophomore season. These numbers weren’t breathtaking, but there was no reason to be concerned. It takes awhile for players to get used to the grueling NHL schedule, and it was also the first time Tarasenko played consistently on North American ice.
Fast forward almost six years later and Tarasenko is looked at as one of the best scorers in the league. He had three straight 70+ point seasons from 2014-2017, and he’s the first Blues player since Brett Hull to have four straight 30 goal seasons. It’s very impressive what he’s been able to accomplish, but with his and the team’s major struggles this season, the Blues may need to move forward. I don’t hate Tarasenko, nor do I think he’s a poor hockey player, I just think there are several reasons why looking to trade him would make sense.
#1: Tarasenko has been declining
Saying Tarasenko has been in decline seems to trigger a lot of people, but whether you want to believe it or not, his production has taken a dip. Here is a look at his 82-game goal and point pace since the 2015-16 season (as of December 20th, 2018):
A player seeing a slight dip in production for a season or two isn’t that big of a deal, but when it happens for four straight seasons it starts to become a concern. His even strength production has always been something people rave about, but this year he’s only on pace for 10 even strength goals, which is the eleventh best total on the roster. Tarasenko just turned 27 years old, this should be the prime of his career not his worst season yet. Some people will point to his shoulder surgery in the offseason, but I’m not sure that has much to do with his struggles. In training camp the Blues spoke about how he looked better than ever, and Tarasenko himself said that his shoulder felt fantastic. I’m not saying there’s no chance his shoulder has been a factor in his struggles this season, but if it has I think it’s been a very small part of the issue.
The decline I’m talking about isn’t just with his production, it’s with his overall game too. Now I’ll give him credit, he’s clearly put in more effort this season in improving his overall game, but he’s still at times a liability on the ice. As with most forwards on the Blues this season, he looks completely lost in his own zone. He’ll stray away from his point man when he should be out high, while at the same refusing to go after a loose puck. Personally, I don’t think this has to do with a lack of effort, I just think he doesn’t have much hockey sense in his own zone. Plus/minus is an outdated stat, but he’s a -14 so far this season which is the worst on the team - that’s a problem. Offensively, he’s definitely improved his work ethic, but the amount of dumb decisions he makes with the puck ceases to amaze me. It seems like every night he has a glorious chance to shoot the puck, but instead he either passes it off or waits too long and it gets blocked. Not only that, but too many times he gets caught trying to force a pass across the ice, especially on the powerplay. Every player will make mistakes on a given night, but with Tarasenko it seems to happen way too often.
#2: He’s part of the leadership and core that needs a shakeup
It’s no secret the Blues are majorly under performing this season and are open for business. Blues insider, Jeremy Rutherford, mentioned a week ago that the Blues are “listening” to offers for everyone, including the main pieces of the core. Steen, Pietrangelo, Schwartz, and Tarasenko are the players I believe are part of the “long-term core”, and I’d be shocked to not see at least one of these guys dealt before next season. Personally, I’d be willing to trade all four of these players at the right price, but I think Tarasenko gives the Blues the best shot of winning a trade. Here’s why:
Steen: I think he’s definitely a player Armstrong is looking to move out, but it’s going to be very difficult due to Steen’s NTC. I highly doubt teams are lining up to trade for him, and the ones that are interested may not be places Steen is willing to go. And even if Armstrong is able to find a team Steen agrees to, the return will be minimal. I’d be surprised if the Blues receive anything more than a mid-round pick for him, so what difference would that make? I know he’s rumored to be a problem in the locker room, but moving out one player for a small return won’t be enough of a change.
Schwartz: When he’s healthy Schwartz is arguably the most valuable player on this team. He’s the hardest worker, has an underrated shot, and his ability to escape in the corners in exceptional. People want to trade him because he’s injury prone, which makes sense, but I’m not sure the Blues would get a nice enough return for him. It’s rare that teams give up a haul for a player with a history of injuries, especially when the player is not a big name. Blues fans know about Schwartz’s impact game in and game out, but I’m not sure the rest of the league does. Overall I just don’t see a trade for Schwartz happening.
Pietrangelo: This one is interesting. Petro would definitely get a massive return, and he’s been the player rumored the most to possibly be on the move, but I’m not sure it’d be the smartest thing for the Blues to do. If the Blues are looking to contend for a Cup in the future, they’re going to need a guy like Pietrangelo that can play heavy minutes at a high level. People have seemed to attack him for his struggles this year, but many forget that last year he was phenomenal. He was a legitimate Norris trophy candidate in the first half, and recorded a career-high 15 goals and 54 points in 78 games. Another thing to keep in mind is that, like Steen, he has a full NTC. I’ve got a feeling that unless he has a shot to compete for a Cup, he’s not going to move his family and accept a trade. Toronto has been rumored to be interested and is one of the few teams I think he’d accept a trade to, but the pieces the Leafs are willing to part with don't excite me. It’s a nice idea to trade Pietrangelo, but I think it’s going to be much more difficult than people think.
So that leaves Tarasenko. He’s been a leader on this team for awhile, and he’s the player management basically built this team around since 2014. What better way to completely shake things up than trade our “franchise player” that’s under performing? Out of the four core players I mentioned, there’s no doubt he’d be the easiest to move. His NTC doesn’t kick in until July 1st, so all 31 teams would be in play. Not only could he go to a contender, but he could go to a team that’s trying to hit the reset button, much like the Blues are doing.
#3: Tarasenko will get a massive return
As mentioned before, Tarasenko is the face of the franchise and is seen as the best player on the Blues. Fans that have watched this team on a consistent basis these last couple years will know that’s not the case, but many people outside the organization still believe he’s our biggest asset. Now, teams have scouts that have watched Tarasenko this last month and are probably not impressed, but I have no doubt there will be teams that are willing to overpay for him. They’ll remember the 40-50 goal potential he was once supposed to have. They’ll remember that the Blues marketed him as their next Brett Hull. They’ll look at his remaining contract (4 years, $7.5 million AAV), and realize that’s a steal for a potential 40 goal scorer. Not only that, but since any team is an option the Blues might be able to start a bidding war for him.
A good gauge for what people outside of the organization think of Tarasenko is a recent article written by Boston insider, Joe Haggerty, of NBC Sports. He talks about how Tarasenko is one of the few elite snipers in the game, but that the “marriage” between him and the Blues might be coming to an end. When talking about what the Bruins might have to give up, he mentions this, “One would imagine it would take Jake DeBrusk and perhaps Torey Krug along with the appropriate treasure trove of draft picks and prospects”. The fact that an insider for the Bruins would be willing to give up that much for Tarasenko is eye-opening. Debrusk is a 22 year-old highly-touted left winger that has 26 goals in 98 career games. Krug is a 27 year-old top four defenseman that’s coming off a 59 point season last year. This, along with the “treasure trove” of draft picks and prospects he mentions would be a sensational return for Tarasenko. I’m not saying this trade is going to happen, but it at least gives some insight of how the rest of the league values Tarasenko.
At the end of the day the Blues have to do something to shake-up this team. They can’t sit around and do nothing after spending to the cap and having a disaster first half of the season. If the Blues pull off a trade with Tarasenko it’ll be tough to swallow at first, but once people get over the sentimental part of losing a fan-favorite, I think they’ll understand it’s the smartest thing for this team to do.
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