The relationship between Vladimir Tarasenko and the St. Louis Blues is coming to an end, and yes, breaking up is hard to do.
There’s the mercurial Tarasenko, who reportedly is upset with many things, and is blaming the Blues for everything, and doesn’t seem to have the IQ to understand that he isn’t helping Doug Armstrong’s attempt to trade him.
Not that Armstrong had any real leverage to begin with. That rather obvious point has been misplaced locally by the writers and talkers who apparently believe the Blues were in line to receive a cache of draft picks and a top prospect before Team Tarasenko ruined it by leaking their trade request to select media.
The Blues coming out of the trade market with a cart filled with assets was highly unlikely for obvious reasons:
1) Three shoulder surgeries.
2) Two seasons, 34 games, 7 goals.
3) A contract that will pay Tarasenko a salary-cap figure of $7.5 million in each of the next two seasons, and it comes with a full no-trade clause.
4) Tarasenko’s lackadaisical play when he returned from this third shoulder surgery in early March of the 2021 season. In his first 10 games Tarasenko scored one goal and was minus 9. With Tarasenko on the ice at even strength during his 24 games, the Blues had 47 percent of the shot attempts, 38% of the high-danger scoring chances and 37% of the goals. According to Natural Stat Trick the Blues were outscored 17-10 with Tarasenko skating at even strength. During the season I described him as “a ghost on the ice” — and that was one of my most polite thoughts.
5) The NHL has an active and productive gossip pipeline. The information network is impressive in scope, and few if any secrets are kept. And there were no secrets concerning Tarasenko’s pouting, his moodiness, his aloofness with teammates, his unpopularity with influencers in the locker room.
6) During times when Tarasenko had his mood swings set to “ambivalence” in 2021, Blues coach Craig Berube was up front — public and vocal — about wanting Tarasenko to give more, and do more, and get his legs moving. According to The Athletic, Tarasenko disliked how Berube positioned the winger during the power play — down low, near the net, where play gets physical and nasty. Translation: Tarasenko doesn’t like being criticized or told what to do when it’s something he doesn’t want to do.
7) The league gossip pipeline was filled with laughter when the story came out of Russia with Tarasenko stating his unhappiness over the team’s decision to give the captaincy to center Ryan O’Reilly. The idea of making Tarasenko captain is ludicrous. Scoring a bunch of goals doesn’t make you a captain, longevity doesn’t make you a captain, being part of the Stanley Cup champion doesn’t make you a captain. A captain must lead, he must work, he must set the example, he must be consistent, he must be dedicated and unselfish and at times inspirational. The captain’s job is to deal with teammates who are moody or moping. The captain can’t be the moody moper. Oh, yeah: a captain must play games instead of sitting out for nearly two seasons with injuries.
8) When a player puts out the word that the team medics are to blame for the two shoulder surgeries that didn’t hold, I don’t think the criticism will lead to some NHL general manager thinking, “We gotta get that guy, he’s just what we need, because we need more guys who want to dangle the team doctors from the rafters then run ‘em over with the Zamboni when they fall. Perfect!”
No, I don’t think Armstrong had any real leverage to begin with. And if there was any leverage, it’s melted away now.
There’s a way to salvage this.
No — not declining Tarasenko’s trade request and keeping him in St. Louis for another season or two. I’m talking about making a trade that the Blues can live with after parting with a superstar they can’t live with.
There’s got to be at least a few general managers out there that are willing to take a chance on Tarasenko. Why?
The change-of-scenery theory.
Needs a fresh start theory.
The our doctors had a chance to look at the reports on his shoulder theory …
And we’re confident that he’s healthy and sturdy and won’t suffer another shoulder injury theory.
He’ll be motivated again now that he’s away from the Blues theory.
Our coach will know how to handle him and get the best from him theory.
He’s a proud guy who will be inspired to prove himself and reestablish his prominence in the NHL theory.
The he’s only 29 years old theory.
The hey, this man was a big part of the Blues winning their first and only Stanley Cup theory.
The he’s got 35 postseason goals in 78 games and those guys are hard to find theory.
We think he can be the final piece theory. The he can get us within reach of The Cup theory.
Our doctors met with him and they really like the guy theory.
Hey, I know his people theory. The people closest to him. The people who grew up with him. After I talked to his people, I know he’s ready to go and is right for us theory.
So many theories.
If a player is talented and has a history of pumping in goals at a rate that only Alexander Ovechkin can top, then it gets the attention of the GMs and coaches that are convinced they can “fix” the player and benefit from his goal-scoring prowess.
Over five years — 2014-15 through the Stanley Cup season — Tarasenko’s 182 total goals ranked third to Ovechkin (236) and John Tavares (183.) In even strength goals only Ovie scored more (140) than Tarasenko (135.)
It’s about the exchange rate, of course. If you don’t have to load up a truck with a coveted young player and a couple early-round draft picks and drive it to St. Louis with Tarasenko coming your way, then a team will have less anxiety over taking the Tarasenko temptation. If that team has convinced itself that the shoulder is sound and no longer an issue — well, even better.
Tarasenko will turn 30 in December (still young), and he will likely be fired up to make the NHL fear him again — fear him as a scorer, and not for being an enigma. He’s wrapped in a contract for only two more years — which isn’t four years, or six years.
If Tarasenko can average 25+ goals with 60+ points over the next two seasons, then an interested team will see the reward more than the risk. Especially if you’re a team like the New York Islanders, who think they’re on the cusp of winning it all. Tarasenko for a couple of draft picks? Why not?
And let me say this: if Tarasenko believes the Blues screwed up his first two shoulder repairs, he’s entitled to his feelings. It doesn’t mean that he’s right, but that doesn’t matter. If this is what he believes, then he won’t have a change of heart, and none of us can change his mind.
If he doesn’t want to play for Berube, then he doesn’t want to play for Berube.
If he’s still being a petulant child over this idiotic captaincy controversy — which shouldn’t have been a story — then he’ll carry that resentment with him every time he enters the Blues’ locker room.
If he doesn’t like some teammates or senses that he’s disliked by teammates, then Tarasenko will only retreat deeper into his shell.
Tarasenko’s moodiness and his sulking aren’t going to stop if he stays with the Blues; those traits would only get worse.
And that’s why the Blues have to move him.
Because they need to move on, even if Tarasenko manages to revive his career elsewhere.
After a torment-filled 2021 season of unrest and injuries and frayed nerves, the Blues need to regroup and recharge and unify. They can’t come away from an unhappy season by lugging a prominent, unhappy, grievance-packed player into the new season. The Blues need to have to boost their morale. They can’t continue to live with a teammate that lowers morale.
Armstrong surely knows this, and he’s a decisive and aggressive fellow. As for what Army can get in return for Tarasenko … well, that’s his challenge and he’ll do his best to get something done. But this Tarasenko-Blues relationship is strained beyond healing, and it is coming to an end. So there’s no reason to drag out this drama and foment additional trouble.
Tarasenko has scored 218 regular-season goals for the Blues, and 35 more in the playoffs. He was a big part of nine playoff teams, scored 11 goals during the spectacular run in 2019, and his name is on the Stanley Cup. That’s enough of a legacy for me, and I loved watching No. 91 play.
Tarasenko did a lot for the Blues. Now the Blues can do something for themselves, and for him. Tarasenko helped take them to a special place they’d never been to before: a parade down Market Street. But present circumstances will lead him to another place, away from St. Louis. This is sports. This is life. People get hurt, feelings get hurt, and business or family disputes can get in the way of the happily-ever-after endings.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.