The Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues are bitter rivals. Since their series in the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the two teams and fanbases have been at each other’s throats. The recent history could get even more interesting with the announcement from Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic that a cornerstone piece of the team, Vladimir Tarasenko, has officially requested a trade.
Tarasenko, over his career, has been a consistent source of goal scoring for the Blues through both their good and bad years. In 531 career NHL games, he’s scored a total of 442 points. Of that, 218 were goals, which would place him first among all Predators players from the start of his career. The player we see today is not the player we know from the mid-2010s, but it’s a testament to what he can do when fully healthy. At 29 years old, he could be an excellent pickup for a team like the Predators to help in the forward core and team mentorship.
Pros to Trading for Tarasenko
As I mentioned before, his point and goal totals are better than anything the Predators have seen as of late. They lack scoring, and Tarasenko is someone that could provide it. Even though he has been injured over the last two seasons, he has scored points in the small sample sizes. He scored at a point-per-game pace in the 10 games he played during the 2019-20 season. In 2020-21, he upped the total to 14 points in 24 games. If he had played double the amount of games and scored at the same rate, it would have put him in a tie for third place among Predators players in points. That’s how dry the team point production is right now. Any form of scoring would be helpful, and he can bring it.
An additional factor is his experience. The Predators’ lineup will be full of younger players sooner rather than later, and he could connect with some of the Russian prospects when they come over to America. While the KHL is arguably the second-best league in the entire world, nothing can compare to the NHL on any level, which means adjustments are necessary. Tarasenko has a Stanley Cup to his name, and he was a key contributor to the incredible run that the Blues went on, as he scored 17 points in 26 postseason games and tallied 68 points in 76 games during the regular season. He has the pedigree, and acquiring someone with his talent to go along with the background could benefit all parties involved.
One final pro I’d like to point out is his trade value. No general manager will want to buy high on someone who hasn’t played half of 82 games in the last two seasons. Because of that, his market could be relatively small, or the buying price will be lower. If the Predators could find a way to minimize the package going out, it would be of great service to them considering the state of the organization.
He clearly still has the scoring touch and has shown that he can turn it on when playoff time comes around the corner. The experience is there, and with the trade request officially put in, the Blues management will need to move him out. The problem is that there are pretty large obstacles standing in his way.
Cons to Trading for Tarasenko
The apparent con here is his injury history. Tarasenko is regarded as a sniper, but the recent shoulder injuries that he has sustained are worrisome. You can’t shoot the puck effectively if you’re having shoulder trouble. Having an injury that could damage your effectiveness does not bode well for you on the trade market. General managers will want to be buying low due to the high-risk factors present. There is no guarantee that he will ever come back and be the same player that he was before the problems began, so front offices around the league need to be cautious.
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Another con is his cap hit. We all know the Predators’ situation with their underperforming players having some of the most prominent cap hits on the team. It’s awful, and no one would be surprised if David Poile tried to offload one of them to the Seattle Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft. It’s highly unlikely that Armstrong wants to retain salary if it isn’t necessary, and with almost $23 million in cap space, the Predators could be a team that they look to for help.
One potential issue is where Tarasenko might want to end up. It wouldn’t shock anyone if the Russian forward wanted a new start with a team that has a big chance to win the Stanley Cup, and the Predators are not in that position. While it could be its own reward to mentor young players and help them mature in the NHL, nothing beats lifting the cup over your head and yelling at the top of your lungs. He’s a premium player that most likely wants to go to a premium team, and heading to the Predators might cause some unrest.
There is an overall con here, and that is trading within the division. General managers are very tentative about trading within the division, and it’s for understandable reasons. If the Blues were to give up Tarasenko to the Predators, he would be playing against his former team four to five times per season. In contrast, if he were traded to the Eastern Conference or even the Pacific Division, it would only be twice or three times. In the end, it’s damage control. The same situation could be said for the package that the Predators would have to be giving up. It’s a logical line of thinking; however, sometimes, it is beneficial for both parties to move pieces around regardless of where they are in the league.
The Possible Deal
I’ve listed some pros and cons of trading for Tarasenko, but what could a potential deal look like? One interesting query I’ve encountered but can’t find the answer to is when the exchange will happen. It doesn’t appear as if the Blues know when it will happen, which leaves a lot up in the air. If talks were to ramp up in the next week, I would be interested to see if the Predators dangle one of their top three defensemen or overpaid centers for the Blues to take, although the latter might need some intense convincing. Had Tarasenko’s injury problems not have been as prominent, Ryan Ellis and a third for him sounds like fair value for both sides. However, I would be hesitant to give up arguably a top-20 defenseman and a draft pick for an injury-prone forward.
Another scenario is trading one of Dante Fabbro or Alexandre Carrier to alleviate protection concerns and make it easier to protect four forwards and four defensemen instead of the rumored three forwards and five defensemen.
These proposals are all assuming a deal happens before the expansion draft, and if it doesn’t, that shifts the package slightly. Either way, I think a fair package would be a player like Calle Jarnkrok — an impact forward (or defenseman) that can provide some scoring on a team’s second and even first line — along with one to two draft picks. Both teams get impact players, and the team paying for Tarasenko isn’t burned if his injuries keep resurfacing and taking him away from playing games.
I would love to see the Predators brass at least inquire about Tarasenko, if not acquire him. His games played total is not high over the last couple of seasons, but the point totals are there in that span. With a deteriorating reputation around the league, the price will have to be low if the Blues are going to move on from him, and that’s exactly what the Predators need. While there are some concerns with injury still and his contract is hefty, the reward is extremely high. If there aren’t talks involving the team, I would be severely disappointed not only because a once-elite player wouldn’t be coming here, but also because of the philosophy. Suppose Poile believes that the team can become a Stanley Cup contender again. In that case, he should be doing everything to call up younger players and acquire excellent talent with experience to help guide them.
Some might argue that trading for him would be the wrong move, and I can understand why at this point. Although, it could end up helping the retool at the end of the day. Tarasenko can offer advice that the core of the Predators can’t. While intangibles shouldn’t be the only reason you go out and acquire a player like Tarasenko, they could play a significant role with the influx of young players.
Jeff is a consistent source for Predators content here at The Hockey Writers. He enjoys watching all sorts of hockey from juniors to the pros, and playing hockey for his high school and local teams in Nashville. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here, or check out his contributions on his own Substack, or at Last Word on Hockey and On the Forecheck. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions you can message his twitter, @jjmid04.