The St. Louis Blues’ 2020-21 season had its highs and lows, but ultimately ended in disappointment after the team fell in four games to the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1. In this series, we’ll look back on the season player by player, and evaluate each player’s performance as an individual, with an eye towards their future with the team.
A cornerstone player for the Blues since his debut in 2012, Vladimir Tarasenko had a difficult season. Battling constant nagging injuries, as well as adjusting to joining his team halfway through the season, he had a slow start to his 2021 campaign. Tarasenko played well upon his initial return to the ice, tallying four points in his first four appearances to begin his season, but dwindled in productivity afterwards. While his play may have been inconsistent, as the season progressed it was clear the Blues relied on him to run their offence game-in and game-out.
This may not have been a career year for Tarasenko, but it certainly highlighted his ability and importance to the Blues organization. Factoring in his overall individual performance and ability to contribute to team success, we shall dive into his 2020-21 season and decide a fair letter grade for the Russian winger’s efforts.
What Went Right: Still a Force With the Puck
It is clear to see, Tarasenko has no problem scoring the puck. With his quick release and rocket one-timer, his ability to impact the game on the offensive end is still paramount to the Blues’ success. With his ability to score at a high volume, he kept the team alive in several key games down the stretch of the season as they fought to clinch the final playoff spot in the Honda West Division.
The highlight of Tarasenko’s season may have come in a losing effort, where he rattled off two goals in the team’s season-ending, Game-4 loss to the Avalanche. He was seemingly one of the only Blues players able to get the job done with the puck on the end of his stick in that series, and was able to keep the Presidents’ Trophy winners on their heels over the course of the game.
Consistency was an issue at times when it came to his offensive output during the season, but this was to be expected after missing the majority of the season after having his third shoulder surgery in three years. When fully healthy, Tarasenko is a high-impact player, and he should be a difference-maker for the Blues moving forward.
What Went Wrong: Injuries/Defence
While his offensive abilities are at an elite-level, Tarasenko’s defensive skillset is mediocre. He struggled this season to keep up a physical play style and was easily blown past in the defensive zone, which led to several odd-man rush/breakaway opportunities for opponents. Part of this may be stemming from his overall health, as he demonstrated with his on-ice performance that he was still cautious when giving/receiving contact. His health was a major question mark throughout the season, as even after his return he still missed time due to injury unrelated to his previous shoulder surgeries.
Another aspect that played into his poor defensive output comes from his fit within head coach Craig Berube’s grit and grind system. Tarasenko has never been a player that centres his game around defensive ability or making hard nosed plays, which unfortunately is how coach Berube’s game plan requires his team to play on a nightly basis.
Tarasenko’s fit in Berube’s system has been cause for conversation for quite some time, and after this past season, it may be time to look for a change. With his output suffering as a result, neither the Blues nor Tarasenko are benefitting from his fit on the current roster. While it may be a major statement, it’s become too large of an issue to ignore — Tarasenko and Berube cannot both be with the Blues if they plan on making another deep playoff run.
- 14 points in 24 regular season games
- minus-7 plus/minus
- 6.2% Shooting (career low)
Final Grade: B-
Based on his up and down season both in health and overall production, a lacklustre B- seems to be a fair evaluation of Tarasenko’s performance this season. While his struggles to stay healthy are not a fault of his own, when given the chance to become a game-changer for his team, he failed to deliver.
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His offensive output was still solid and this helped the Blues immensely as they made their push towards the end of the regular season. Tarasenko may have been a source of life in a win-or-go-home game in the playoffs, but was essentially MIA in the first three contests of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What’s Next for Tarasenko?
Moving forward, Tarasenko’s time left with the Blues is certainly unclear. With his struggles to fit into the current team culture becoming not ignorable, something needs to change within the Blues’ team personnel, whether this is a change of pace/style from coach Berube or possibly in the form of moving on from either Berube or Tarasenko entirely. A change is desperately needed if the Blues hope to continue to compete for another Stanley Cup in the near future.
Tarasenko still has two years left on his massive $60 million deal signed in 2015, which leaves him time to adjust and find his game once again. With the Seattle Kraken looming over the league in hopes of finding unprotected stars in their upcoming expansion draft, as well as the Blues looking to free up cap space when looking into the future, Tarasenko’s future with the Blues is in every sense of the word, uncertain.
Originally from Owen Sound, Ontario, Matt Eichhorn has spent the past 4 years studying the field of Sport Media at Ryerson University. Eichhorn is a life-long hockey fan with experience working in a variety of media roles around the game. Currently, Eichhorn covers the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers.