Let’s run the diagnostics on Vladimir Tarasenko, the revitalized, reloaded winger who so far is the best story of the season for your St. Louis Blues.


Check. No problems there. The shoulder is holding up. We know this for several seasons: (1) his shot velocity is back; he’s absorbing more hits from opponents per 60 minutes at the highest level since his 2013-14 season; he’s delivering the most hits per 60 minutes since 2018-19; and his shots-blocked rate per 60 minutes (2.56) would be the highest of his career. Tarasenko isn’t just scoring and making plays; he’s physically engaged in ways we haven’t seen for a long time – if ever. He’s no longer tentative after two injury-torn seasons of hesitant play.


Check. The trade demand happened, and it still looms over Tarasenko and the Blues – but it’s in the background now. If you watch the Blues on a regular basis you’ve seen him smiling more than he has in years. If he’s pouted at all, it isn’t noticeable or reflected in his play. Tarasenko is bringing positive energy to his work. And the fans are showing him plenty of love. Unconditionally.

Blues coach Craig Berube said this early in the season and it still applies: “Things come out and players are unhappy at times. In the end, he’s here, he’s playing for the Blues, he wants to be here, we need him to perform at a high level, and he is. The fans are going to cheer for him.”


Check. It’s restored. Definitely. Tarasenko leads the Blues with 12 goals overall, and that includes a team-high 10 goals at five-on-five play. His overall rate of 1.33 goals per 60 minutes would be his best since the 2018-19 Cup-triumph season. And his goal-scoring rate at five-on-five – 1.45 goals per 60 – would be his most prolific rate in a single season.

How good is that rate of 1.45 goals per 60 at five-on-five? I have the answer: it’s currently tied for No. 3 in the NHL behind Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor and Detroit’s Kyle Larkin.

Sharing the third spot with Tarasenko for the highest goals-scored rate at five-on-five?

That would be none other than Alex Ovechkin.

Think about that one for a while. Not too long ago, concerns over Tarasenko’s shoulder and general attitude made NHL teams look the other way when they had a chance to trade for him. He was also exposed on the expansion-draft list, but Seattle ignored him and chose another player from the Blues, defenseman Vince Dunn. And here we are, a few months later, and Tarasenko is matching the great Ovechkin in five-on-five goals per 60 minutes. And Tarasenko’s 10 goals at five-on-five are tied for third in the league.


Check. Earlier we told you about Tarasenko’s more aggressive physical play. No need to repeat all of that. But let’s add this: Tarasenko has played the most minutes of any Blues forward so far. The tally is close, but that isn’t the point. He’s been there for the Blues, ready to go. Tarasenko’s superb conditioning has been noted by teammates, and by scouts from other teams. He’s in excellent shape, and it’s made a difference.


Check. And then some. In addition to his 12 goals, Tarasenko has set teammates up for scores with his 17 assists. Not counting the 2019-20 season – he played only 10 games – Tarasenko’s 1.89 assists per 60 minutes would set his new top standard for a single season. Moreover, Vladdy’s rate of 1.11 first assists per 60 would be his highest in a season. Tarasenko’s 3.23 points per 60 would be tied for No. 1 in his career; Tarasenko had the same rate in 2014-15. Here’s another thing that should be pointed out: Tarasenko leads the Blues this season with 11 rebounds created.


Check. This was an issue during the two-year shoulder troubles. But Tarasenko’s average of 11.9 shots per 60 minutes would be a very close second to 2017-18 for the highest rate in a season. His 11 shots per 60 at five-on-five would also rank second in his career. The shot volume is an obvious factor in his increase in goals. But at five-on-five, 13.16 percent of Tarasenko’s shots have resulted in goals; that would be the single-season rate of his career. Tarasenko is confident, and on the prowl, and on pace for another season of 30-plus goals.


Check. Unless the other Blues are lying to the media and fans, they’ve been impressed by Tarasenko’s play, and his demeanor. And there is no reluctance to praise Tarasenko; his mates are happy to do it. Hey, they need him to have a big season and it would be stupid to mess with that. But really this hasn’t been an issue since the Blues opened their preseason camp, and everyone turned the page. Right now the good vibes are obvious. As for Tarasenko, he’s honored his preseason pledge. “As long as I play on the Blues, I will work hard and play for a win,” he said before the start of the season. I don’t want to be a distraction in the room. I’m here to work. I’m healthy. I’m happy to play hockey again.”


Check. GM Doug Armstrong’s trade for NY Rangers winger Pavel Buchnevich was excellent for a number of reasons. The deal was a steal. Buchnevich quickly agreed to a contract extension at reasonable terms. Buchnevich is a terrific player and fits the Berube template. And Buchnevich established instant chemistry with Tarasenko.

Understandably there’s much fussing over the successful run of a line that has Ivan Barbeshev centering Bunchnevich and Tarasenko. And while I have no desire or reason to diminish Barbashev’s role in this, the most vital connection is Buchnevich and Tarasenko.

When Buchnevich and Tarasenko skate on the same line, the Blues have outscored opponents 21-7 at all strengths, 14-7 at even strength, and 12-6 at five-on-five. With Barbashev centering Tarasenko and Buchnevich, the Blues have outscored opponents 9-3 overall. But they also outscored foes 7-2 overall with Thomas centering the two Russian wingers. And the count is 5-2 in favor of the Blues when Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn or Dakota Joshua centers Tarasenko and Buchnevich.

Tarasenko has been compatible with most line combinations. But he really thrives when teaming with Buchnevich.


Check. Oh, some would push back on this. Hey! Berube just gave Tarasenko a look! Hey, Tarasenko’s minutes are down! Hey, did you see Berube talk to Tarasenko on the bench! Controversy!

First of all, Berube is straightforward and unsparing in what he expects and demands from players … all players. Second, if Berube believes Tarasenko should be doing more at times – well, what do you want him to do? Remain silent? Kiss up to Tarasenko with false praise? No, any good coach will hold his players accountable – including Tarasenko. Geez, how shocking.

When the Blues lost a 4-3 overtime-shootout game at Florida on Dec. 4, it was Tarasenko’s 10th consecutive game without scoring a goal. Tarasenko was minus two in the game. He played only 14 minutes and 20 seconds, his third-lowest total in a game this season. OMG! FRACTURED RELATIONSHIP!

“It’s just about playing, that’s all,” Berube told the media after the game. “He’s not generating any offense right now. He’s got to get on the inside more, get to the net more, things like that. We’ll talk to him about it.”

Since then, Tarasenko has five goals and five assists in seven games.

Berube sent a message, he challenged his player, and Tarasenko responded with aplomb.  How could this be? Two reasons (1) really good coaching; and (2) a player that knows all eyes are on him, and he has extra motivation to kick aside the lingering concerns about his tendency to sulk when things aren’t going well.

But I guarantee you this: the next time Berube feels compelled to set Tarasenko straight on something, it will be portrayed as a controversy. I suppose that isn’t a bad thing. Tarasenko will be heavily scrutinized all season, and if anything that help keeps him focused on what’s important. I don’t know if Tarasenko still wants to be traded – we’ll have to wait for the next leak to appear in The Athletic – but Tarasenko would be the fool of fools to undercut and weaken his own trade value.

Tarasenko’s renewal as a scorer, producer, good teammate and a highly-motivated and healthy performer is a fabulous development for the Blues. It’s surprising, and but Armstrong is winning the gamble of his calculations. He didn’t want to give Tarasenko away for coins in a trade. His calculation of Seattle’s intentions – to bypass the more expensive and risky Tarasenko and draft Dunn – worked out.

Sure, there was always a chance of Seattle grabbing Tarasenko. Army would have taken a lot of heat for his wager once No. 91 began pumping in goals for the Kraken. But no matter how we want to slice it up, Armstrong’s decision to stay the course with Tarasenko is paying off hugely. The Tarasenko comeback campaign is paramount in The Note’s 17-9-5 start and a 5-1-1 record in the last seven games. And Berube and the players deserve credit for doing their part to mend the overall relationship with Tarasenko. More than anything, Tarasenko is fully healthy and has rediscovered the joy of playing hockey. Perhaps he’s learned happiness is a virtue that can be converted into success. For the individual, and for the team.


I assume so and will feel that way unless Tarasenko comes out publicly to rescind his trade demand. But right now, I don’t care. Tarasenko is in the zone. He’s turned back the clock, becoming an elite scorer again. So why fret and stew? Enjoy this. Stay in the moment. We can worry about the future once we get there. Let’s agree on this for now: 2021 turned out to be be a Happy New Year for Tarasenko. And he’s still dressed in Blue, instead of being blue. And who would have imagined that?

Thanks for reading …


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Stats used here were sourced from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference.