NHL Draft Day is always a hotbed of rumors. Some teams are looking to move up. Other teams are willing to trade their picks to get needed assets. And even teams that don’t want to trade draft picks are looking ahead to free agency and adjusting their team accordingly. It’s not often that every NHL team’s front office is in the same place, so it’s natural that these general managers view the draft as a key time to wheel and deal.
One of the hottest rumors of draft week was the shocking reveal yesterday by insider Frank Seravalli that Vladimir Tarasenko had not rescinded his trade request and would potentially be on the move this offseason. Tarasenko grabbed headlines when he demanded a trade last season, but the Blues were unable to find a trade partner. After a great season, many assumed he would be willing to stay. But if Seravalli’s report is to be believed, it looks like he still wants to move on.
Even so, there will be many advocates for the Blues keeping the star winger. He had a career season in 2021-22, with 82 points and 34 goals, his highest goal total since his last 82-game season in 2016-17. Moreover, he’s a hugely popular player. It would be tempting to keep such a tremendous player in town, but in this article, we’ll look at four reasons the Blues need to swallow the bitter pill and move on from their long-time superstar.
Reason 1: Honoring Tarasenko’s Wishes
The first and most straightforward reason to move on from Tarasenko is to honor the player’s desires. If Seravalli is right that his trade request is still standing (and there is little reason to doubt him), general manager Doug Armstrong needs to do this season what he was unable to do last season.
Despite a tumultuous summer, Tarasenko did everything right this season. As soon as he was back with the Blues, he was a professional, demuring when asked about his trade demands. And then, despite years of health struggles, he delivered one of the best seasons of his career. He brought a phenomenal presence to the team and never stepped a toe out of line, and he helped the team return to the playoffs and make a decent run. If, after all that, he feels his divides with the front office are still so significant that he doesn’t want to stay, he deserves to receive the respect of the organization and get his move elsewhere.
Reason 2: Capitalizing on Value
Of course, Tarasenko’s fantastic season is a double-edged sword. While it might increase the Blues’ desire to keep him, it will certainly increase the demand for him. And right now, the Russian’s value might be at a career-high. Yes, there is just one season left on his contract, but it gives the Blues the option to orchestrate a sign-and-trade, and at the very least, it gives the acquiring team total control of his contract future. We’ve already seen the solid return a player like Kevin Fiala can bring. The Minnesota Wild received a first-round pick and solid second-round prospect.
Tarasenko could demand even more than Fiala. Yes, he’s older and has an injury history, but the Blues are not in a position where they have to trade him. The Wild were with Fiala. Moreover, Tarasenko has a longer history of being an elite goal scorer. And we’ve already discussed the cap flexibility. It’s hard to know what the Blues could get exactly for a trade that hasn’t happened yet, but there’s no question that his value is as high now as it has ever been. And the Blues shouldn’t hesitate to capitalize.
Reason 3: O’Reilly, Thomas, and Kyrou
Tarasenko will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after next season. Even if he is willing to re-sign in St. Louis, he is arguably the team’s fourth-biggest priority. Team captain Ryan O’Reilly will also be a UFA, and young stars Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou will both be restricted free agents (RFAs) expecting massive pay raises. The Blues must prioritize keeping those three. As good and as important as Tarasenko is, he is distantly behind those players in terms of priority. O’Reilly’s game will age well and he’s the team’s leader. They cannot let a center of his caliber walk away for free. And Kyrou and Thomas are the centerpieces of the Blues’ young core. All three will require significant average annual values (AAVs), and keeping those three-plus Tarasenko would be extremely costly, and leave the team without much flexibility. Trading Tarasenko maximizes his value and gives the team more salary flexibility for these critical negotiations.
Reason 4: Age and Health
Everything we’ve learned in modern sports analytics demands that teams not pay for past performance. In other words, a team shouldn’t commit a big contract to a player whose best days are behind him. Tarasenko will be 31 when he starts his new contract, and 32 not long after. Even if he ages well, it’s hard to imagine he’ll remain a point-per-game player for long. Yes, some scorers have aged gracefully in the NHL, but many others have fallen off. Not everyone is Alex Ovechkin.
Of arguably greater concern though is Tarasenko’s durability. His resurgent season clouded the reality that the sniper had three shoulder surgeries in short succession. He looked 100% this season, but it’s impossible to know the effect those surgeries will have over time. Blues fans want Tarasenko to have a long career, but the team needs to be practical. If they can maximize his value now, with all these questions outstanding, they should.
Will Tarasenko Remain a Blue?
We’ve looked at four reasons the Blues should trade Tarasenko. If he wants a trade, they should honor it, especially for a player they might not plan to keep long-term, whose age and health are a concern, and whose value is sky-high right now. But pulling the trigger on trading a franchise superstar is never easy. If Armstrong wants Tarasenko’s $7.5 million in salary cap room to play with this summer, he’ll need to make a move quickly. Tarasenko’s days in a Blues’ sweater could be numbered in the single digits.