Just over a week ago, St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko requested a trade out of St. Louis. The 29-year-old star winger has been a key contributor for the Blues since his 2012 NHL debut, consistently scoring 30+ goals per season. But after a series of injuries, including multiple shoulder surgeries, which Tarasenko claims were mishandled by the team, Vladdy may have played his last game in a Blues sweater.
Here, I’ll be taking a look at how things got to this point, where Tarasenko could go from here, and what the Blues should expect in the trade market.
Tarasenko’s prolific goal-scoring touch is unquestionable. With a nose for the net, a deadly accurate yet somehow heavy wrist shot, and a knack for creating space for himself and his teammates, Tarasenko has been one of the more lethal offensive players in the league over the last decade.
However, one has to wonder what his career might’ve looked like if he hadn’t needed surgery. Tarasenko needed hand surgery in March of 2014, and though it looked like his season was over, he returned for the playoffs, scoring four goals in the series against the Chicago Blackhawks, including this beauty to force overtime in the dying seconds of the third (the Blues went on to win 4-3 in overtime):
As Tarasenko’s career continued, so did the injuries. There was the time he lost a tooth after a high stick, but he was all smiles once he found it:
Or a 2013 concussion on a big hit against Colorado:
He underwent his first surgery on his left shoulder in April of 2018, and things seemed fine for a while after that. Tarasenko scored 33 goals and 35 assists in 76 games in the 2018-19 season, tying a career-high with 12 power-play goals.
But perhaps the weirdest thing about his most recent shoulder injury is how the play where Tarasenko is believed to have been injured didn’t have any particular oddities. There was no massive collision or crunch into the boards. No awkward fall on the ice. No pulling things out of place in a post-whistle scrum. Just an awkward tie-up that seemed inconsequential at the time:
Tarasenko had his second shoulder surgery in October of 2019 following the tie-up with Walker. To that point in the season, he had played 10 games and scored at a point per game pace (three goals, seven assists) before the injury. Because the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the season and the start of the playoffs, Vladdy was able to return for postseason play, but he did not score a point in four games in the bubble and re-aggravated his injury.
After undergoing a third surgery, Tarasenko missed half the 2021 regular season, playing in just 24 of 56 games. He did manage to score four goals and add 10 assists, but there was something noticeably off about his game.
Despite scoring two of the Blues’ eight playoff goals, Tarasenko was a -8 for the series. St. Louis, as a team, was dealing with a myriad of illnesses and injuries down the stretch and limped their way to the playoffs before bowing out in four games.
According to sources close to the team, there is no longer any trust between Tarasenko and the Blues medical staff, who performed the first two of the three surgeries. The ligament damage Tarasenko experienced wasn’t corrected in either of the first two surgeries, which was a major factor towards the third.
Beyond that, Tarasenko feels the team has burnt the bridge of trust by not only failing to perform adequate medical procedures to heal his injuries but also by failing to take ownership of the botched medical procedures. No representative of the team has responded to those allegations.
Is The Hot Stove Heating Up?
There are a few major factors that will limit St. Louis’ abilities to trade Tarasenko. First is the upcoming Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, scheduled for Wednesday, July 21. As teams try to finalize their protection lists (which must be submitted by Saturday, July 17), a trade ahead of the expansion draft seems unlikely.
While Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong could opt to expose Vladdy to the Kraken come draft time, perhaps kicking in a draft pick or two to incentivize taking Tarasenko, it seems unlikely St. Louis would get any sort of reasonable return.
This brings us to another issue. What kind of return should the Blues be looking for?
If past history is any indication, it’s tough to trade any player with a significant injury history. Even currently, the Buffalo Sabres are running into a complicated trade situation with star center Jack Eichel largely due to Eichel’s need for neck surgery before being cleared to play again.
Furthermore, Tarasenko has a $7.5 million cap hit each of the next two seasons, after which point he becomes an unrestricted free agent. That’s a substantial amount of money and cap room to take on for a player coming off three shoulder surgeries in three years.
With a flat salary cap expected for at least the next three years (and possibly longer), that could be too much for teams to take on. St. Louis will either need to work out a deal where they’re taking in nearly the same amount in a dollar-for-dollar cap hit (which may result in a bad contract or two), or they may need to retain some of Tarasenko’s salary and cap hit.
Another option (though this is likely the least desirable) would be to buy Tarasenko out of his contract. Doing that would give the Blues $7 million in cap savings in 2021-22 and $3 million in 2022-23, with a $2.5 million dead cap hit in 2023-24 and 2024-25. While it would be the cleanest way to break off relations between the two sides and allow Tarasenko the freedom to pursue a fresh start somewhere else, St. Louis has to get something in return for a player of Vladdy’s skill set, especially if he’s finally back to full health.
So, where will Tarasenko end up? That’s still an incredibly difficult question to answer, and it won’t get any clearer until after the expansion draft.
Tarasenko has expressed interest in the New York Islanders, though, with their salary cap situation, this would be an incredibly difficult trade to maneuver. Getting Andrew Ladd (two more years at $4.375 mil each year) would start to get the dollar amounts closer, but the Isles would need to come up with at least $3 million more headed back to St. Louis OR have the Blues retain roughly that much before working out ancillary pieces to the deal.
Another possible landing spot is with former teammate Alex Pietrangelo with the Vegas Golden Knights. To me, this option seems unlikely, given Vegas’ true need is for a top center, not a winger. Also, it seems counterintuitive for St. Louis to trade Tarasenko to a potential playoff opponent.
The option I think makes a ton of sense is for St. Louis to strike a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia will likely be losing a scoring winger to Seattle in the expansion draft, either in the form of Jakub Voracek or James van Riemsdyk. Tarasenko could be the offensive spark the Flyers need to fill in that cap and to be the new face in the locker room that shakes up the organization after a down year. This would also avoid a scenario where the Blues trade Tarasenko to a conference rival.
While it won’t be easy, and it almost certainly won’t be before next Thursday, Tarasenko will be gone before September, one way or another.