Time ran out for St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong as he looked to trade long-time Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft trade freeze, leaving the 29-year-old right-wing exposed to the Seattle Kraken. On July 7, 2021, The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford revealed Tarasenko requested a trade out of St. Louis earlier this offseason after nine years with the Blues.
Tarasenko has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, only playing 34 regular-season games since winning the Stanley Cup in 2019. After three shoulder surgeries, the former superstar is looking for an opportunity to re-establish himself as a dangerous offensive weapon for whichever team he ends up on. The only issue? His contract, which carries a hefty $7.5 million cap hit for two more seasons. With an underwhelming crop of talent exposed by the Blues, it would be in the Kraken’s best interest to select Tarasenko on Wednesday, find a solid return in a trade and finish what Armstrong started.
At Least Four Teams Interested in Tarasenko at Full Cap Hit
It is unclear why Armstrong couldn’t trade Tarasenko before exposing him to the Kraken, as Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reports there were at least four teams interested in acquiring him at a full cap hit with no salary retained. Outside of the anonymous four teams Seravalli mentioned, other teams were interested in deals with retained salary. If Seattle selects Tarasenko in the Expansion Draft, they will almost certainly find a return with more value than any of the other players available from the Blues.
It is extremely encouraging for the Kraken to hear multiple teams are willing to acquire Tarasenko at a full cap hit. Salary cap management will be important for Seattle out of the gate with multiple high-contract players potentially suiting up for the team this season. Among them could be Montreal Canadiens star goaltender Carey Price, who carries a $10.5 million cap hit for five more seasons and is being seriously considered for selection by Kraken general manager Ron Francis. Tarasenko likely has the ability to fetch some high-quality draft picks and prospects in a trade, which could be extremely valuable to Seattle in the long run. If they can get his $7.5 million cap hit off the books, it seems like a no-brainer that Francis should select him in the Expansion Draft and exchange him for franchise-building assets.
Tarasenko Shows Potential to Return to Regular Scoring Ways
Although Tarasenko’s sample size has been minimal over the past two years, he has shown glimmers of hope that he may be able to return to his normal form now that he is healthy again. In 2019-20, he only managed to suit up for 10 games but matched that with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) for a point-per-game average. Returning to the ice again last season, he tallied 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 24 games. Before his past couple of injury-ridden seasons, he scored more than 30 goals in five consecutive seasons spanning from 2014-15 to 2018-19.
If the Kraken wants to receive a premium in a Tarasenko trade, the receiving team will need to feel confident in his playing ability, especially with a relatively high cap hit. He has shown promise over his past 34 games, but obviously, some teams may be worried about his performance over an 82-game season. Thankfully, his contract expires after just two more seasons, so there is no long-term risk involved for potential suitors.
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Tarasenko’s contract includes a no-movement clause, so if the Kraken do indeed decide to select him in the Expansion Draft, they will likely have a limited list of teams to negotiate with. It is very promising to hear that multiple teams were interested in acquiring him from the Blues, so there shouldn’t be much worry for Seattle.
With the number of times we see teams overpay in trades nowadays, there is almost certainly a team out there who is willing to cough up a nice bundle to acquire the 2019 Stanley Cup champion with playoff appearances in eight of his nine seasons with the Blues. Tarasenko has the potential to be an instant difference-maker on any NHL team, and the Kraken will have the opportunity to take advantage of that if they pick him on Wednesday and trade him elsewhere.
Tom Pepper is an NHL columnist at The Hockey Writers.