Who won the trade?
My answer: That’s a stupid question.
In the belated fulfillment of a trade request that caused controversy and a considerable amount of caterwauling, the Blues gave Vladimir Tarasenko a ticket to midtown Manhattan for the opportunity to find a new purpose as a member of the New York Rangers.
Vladdy was accompanied by defenseman Miko Mikkola in a transaction that delivered a first-round draft choice for 2023, a conditional draft pick (most likely third round) for 2024, former Blues’ firecracker Sammy Blais and the warm body of a defenseman that has been falsely described as a prospect.
The Blues also agreed to digest $3.75 million of Tarasenko’s remaining salary this season. Tarasenko and Mikkola are playing on expiring contracts and can become unrestricted free agents this summer.
Who won the trade, Blues or Rangers?
* I repeat, it’s a silly question that suggests the Blues had favorable options that would lead to a “win” in this trade. This is nonsense. This trade was designed to clear a box from the attic, and take the collectible to the flea market to see if you can get someone to give you a few bucks for it. You don’t “win” a trade made under these circumstances. You just do your best to salvage what you can.
* The Blues have 31 games left in the regular season, won’t make the postseason tournament, and Tarasenko was out of here as soon as the team completed their schedule on April 13. As you know, there was zero possibility of a new contract for Tarasenko in St. Louis.
* Blues GM Doug Armstrong had no leverage. He had no muscle. He had no power. He had to answer to Tarasenko and his agent. Every factor was working against the Blues here. Tarasenko had a no-trade clause that gave him full veto power which eliminated all but a few teams – if that – which had interest in acquiring Tarasenko. The Rangers came out to trade play and trade hockey cards, and Tarasenko was amenable.
* Had Armstrong held onto Tarasenko’s ghost until the final remaining hours before the March 3 trade deadline with an ambition to seek a more generous return, three really bad things could have happened to ruin everything: (1) another Tarasenko injury; (2) the Rangers trading for Patrick Kane, Timo Meier or another splashy forward; and (3) No trade at all, with the Blues receiving nothing before Tarasenko floated off to sign with his next employer.
* Why am I referring to Tarasenko as a ghost? He was having a terrible season. His diminished goal total had reduced him to the level of a theoretical goal-scoring threat. Tarasenko had 10 goals for the Blues before the trade; 166 NHL players had more than that this season. Tarasenko had only seven even-strength goals; that put him tied for No. 198 on the NHL leaderboard.
* For perspective, consider this: Blues defenseman Calle Rosen has only two fewer even-strength goals than Tarasenko right now. And over the last four seasons Ivan Barbashev has as many goals (51) as Tarasenko.
* When Tarasenko was on the pond at even strength this season the Blues were outscored 45-29 for a goal share of only 39.19 percent. And Tarasenko’s embarrassingly weak expected goal share of 38.0 percent ranks 259th among 266 NHL players that have played a minimum 500 minutes this season.
* Tarasenko, 31, had an outstanding throwback season in 2021-2022, revisiting his past for 34 goals and 48 assists for 82 points. But he didn’t follow up with another show of firepower in his 38 games for the Blues this season. He didn’t follow up with much effort, either.
* Over a five-season period that began in 2014-2015 and ended in the Blues’ Stanley Cup run in 2019, only Alexander Ovechkin scored more even-strength goals (140) than Tarasenko. And during the same stretch of seasons Tarasenko ranked third in the NHL in total goals (182), behind Ovechkin (236) and John Tavares (183.)
* Limited by multiple shoulder surgeries and his own mood-swing fluctuations, Tarasenko has just 51 goals over the last four seasons. That ranks No. 159 in the league over that time. So when a player goes from ranking third in the league in goals over a five-season period to ranking No. 159 in goals during a four-season stretch — and with toxicity mixed in — well, never mind.
* The Blues didn’t deal the vintage, peak-form Tarasenko. They traded his phantom. And if Tarasenko thrives in New York, that’s more about him than the Blues’ decision to move on. If Tarasenko goes off for a goal barrage, it will only reaffirm his ambivalent attitude during his final weeks as a Blue.
* The Rangers believe Tarasenko will be stimulated and rejuvenated by the move to New York. He can use this opportunity to market himself for his next contract. Tarasenko will experience added joy in becoming teammates with Artemi Panarin, his BFF. Tarasenko has plenty of reasons to be inspired, and the Rangers were smart to take a no-sweat gamble on a Tarasenko resurgence. Good for the Rangers. And I would like to thank them once again for trading Pavel Buchnevich here in the summer of 2021.
This wasn’t a “winning” trade for the Blues, or a “losing” trade for the Blues.
It was a necessary, mandatory, obvious, get-something-done move for the Blues.
The two draft picks, especially the first-rounder, gave the Blues two assets that can be utilized in the franchise reboot. And unless Armstrong breaks from character and gets all sentimental and syrupy over Ryan O’Reilly, he’ll do the right thing by collecting more capital by trading the aging captain.
The era is winding down, and it’s imperative to get on with the challenging task at hand. Shipping Tarasenko off was easy after he mailed it in with half-hearted competitive character in too many games.
I don’t rip Armstrong for this trade. I would have ripped the GM only if he failed to get rid of Tarasenko. And I would rip the GM is he doesn’t make additional trades to speed up the future-based flow of talent.
Tarasenko leaves as the fifth-highest goal scorer in Blues franchise history. He has the fifth-most points in Blues history. Among all Blues, Tarasenko ranks second to Brett Hull in career postseason goals (41). For a long time he mattered.
Most of all, Tarasenko was a major force in the seizing of the Stanley Cup in ’19. During that magical and wonderful postseason he pumped in 11 goals with six assists. In a 17-game stretch that began in the second-round series against Dallas and concluded with a Game 4 win over Boston in the Stanley Cup Final, Tarasenko had nine goals and five assists, and the Blues won six of eight games when he scored.
I’ll always remember Tarasenko’s slick pass to set up Brayden Schenn for the second-period goal that gave the Blues a 3-0 lead in Game 7 at Boston. At that
Indelible moment, the Blues and their fans knew that the Cup would soon be on the way to St. Louis.
Years from now, no one will care about why Tarasenko wanted to leave or the hard feelings that may linger for a while. His name is engraved on the only Stanley Cup won by this franchise. That’s forever and transcends everything else.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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