Once the Blues started shopping Vladimir Tarasenko around the NHL, it became obvious that general manager Doug Armstrong would have to trade him.
The team can't let this issue linger. It does not want that distraction hanging over it in training camp. Tarasenko would not handle the scenario well.
No. 91 is a moody sort in good times, so that price tag affixed to his helmet would have bothered him greatly as he went through his motions.
But now that Tarasenko demand for a trade has been broadcast far and wide, Armstrong’s task got tougher.
Look at what Armstrong is up against:
- Other teams will use the Blues' urgency to deal against them. Armstrong's weak hand got even weaker.
- Tarasenko wants out, but he will only waive his no-trade protection for certain teams. That puts a pair of handcuffs on Armstrong.
- Tarasenko is coming off multiple shoulder surgeries, which diminishes his trade value to some teams and completely eliminates it to the others. Shoulder injuries are hugely problematic in the NHL.
- Although Tarasenko showed some life at the World Championships playing for Russia, his most recent work in the NHL was uninspired and ineffective. Scouts watched those games and opposing teams paid attention to coach Craig Berube’s blunt assessments of him.
- Tarasenko carries a hefty $7.5 million salary cap hit for the next two years – and the NHL has flat salary cap for 2021-22. Odds are it will stay flat for the season after that. Teams are not going to be lining up to gamble a big chunk of cap space on an iffy proposition.
- In terms of real money, Tarasenko will earn $9.5 million for the coming season before the salary drops to $5.5 million in the final year of his contract. Given the financial damage wrought by the pandemic, those real dollars would be problematic for most franchises.
All those factors will make it hard to trade Tarasenko . . . but trade him the Blues must, because, again, the team does not want the distraction and odds are Vladimir has already checked out on this team.
Armstrong has worked some miracles before, such as getting the Philadelphia Flyers to take the Ghost of Jori Lehtera in the Brayden Schenn trade and exploiting a lapse by Patrik Berglund’s camp to shuffle him off to Buffalo in the Ryan O’Reilly trade.
But this may be his biggest test yet.
Can he offload Tarasenko without having to eat some of his contract?
Can get anything in return? Or will he have to pay another team to take him, by offering prospects and draft picks?
And with Tarasenko heading out the door, can he use the trade and/or cap space to add some goal-scoring punch?
The situation seems to help Jaden Schwartz, whose value to the Blues increases. Although he is not a consistent goal-scorer, Schwartz can at least fill a Top 6 forward role here.
Subtracting both Schwartz and Tarasenko from the Blues would create quite a scoring gap to fill.
Mike Hoffman could fill some of that that void by re-signing, but he never won over Berube and he will almost certainly seek a more comfortable opportunity elsewhere.
On the bright side, if Armstrong can somehow move Tarasenko without losing assets, he could have the salary cap space to be a player in the Jack Eichel sweepstakes.
This was always going to be an interesting summer for the Blues. But now that Tarasenko's demands are out there, the intrigue is even greater.