The suspension of the NHL season has left a lot of NHL teams in limbo. However, one particular St. Louis Blues player is in between all his options.
As we St. Louis Blues fans, and sports fans in general, embark on this uncharted journey, we here at Bleedin’ Blue will be releasing a series of articles called “What Ifs”. The purpose is merely to be entertaining and stir a little debate.
We all know that the main focus is on safety and health of fans and players alike, but these articles are meant to take out the larger issue at hand. Our only focus will be on the sport itself and the possibilities.
With that in mind, our first topic involves the Blues best scorer in recent history. While Vladimir Tarasneko is often maligned for not scoring more or living up to our own perceived notions of what his ceiling is, the fact remains he is often the Blues best threat for offense.
He can snipe from almost anywhere in the offensive zone. He might not have that 0-60 mph speed ,but has the motor, once he gets going, to get past just about anyone.
Tarasenko is also one of only two scorers that have scored 30-plus goals every season over the last five seasons. 2019-20 will be the first season he failed to get 30 goals since his first full season and it was only due to injury.
As the 2019-20 season was winding down, the Blues showed a ton of faith in their team and in their star. They only made a trade for a defenseman due to the cardiac episode suffered by Jay Bouwmeester. If not for that, Doug Armstrong likely made no moves at the trade deadline.
Armstrong knew he had Tarasenko on the cusp of returning to the ice for game action. As he said, adding Tarasenko was better than anyone he was likely to acquire in the trade market.
Tarasenko had done all the skating he could do alone. He was finally skating with the team and, based on the Blues roster movement, Tarasenko could have returned to game action as early as March 15 against the Ottawa Senators.
Then, the league suspension came. With it came the shutdown of the league and no official practices.
To make a short story long, this shutdown came at the absolute worst time for Tarasenko (again, from a pure sports related line of thinking). The reason is because he was ready to begin contact practicing and really getting up to game speed.
Short of doing more personal skating and throwing himself into the boards, there is nothing Tarasenko could do to simulate NHL contact without practice with teammates. Officially, that is off the table, unless guys are buying up ice time and doing stuff on their own, which would likely cause a storm of unwanted attention if found out.
Regardless, many fans and radio hosts have commented that the extra time off might give Tarasenko even more time to rehab and recover. None of us wants to see him re-injured or rushed back, but anyone that has gone through surgery knows you reach a point to where it has to be tested or you will never really know where it is at.
Tarasenko needed to have those contact practices to see how sore he might get or whether he might have to actually shut it down. Suddenly, that’s been put off.
He needed time to reconnect with teammates like Brayden Schenn and Jayden Schwartz or whatever trio he got placed with.
Some might argue this levels the playing field. Tarasenko will get practice time if and when the league resumes.
Still, he’s gone months without actual hockey. The other guys will only need to work on conditioning, whereas Tarasenko might need to recoup on both the conditioning and the physical side.
It is also another mental hurdle to clear. Imagine working your butt off to be on the cusp of playing, only to have the rug yanked out. Take out the current world scenario and still imagine, such as if you work the entire few months to come back and then, perhaps you get re-injured or your team loses in a game that eliminates them from the playoff picture. It has to be difficult to get all ramped up and then have to hit the breaks.
Ultimately, if the league comes back, Tarasenko will find a way to be ready. If the NHL does resume this season, Tarasenko will be key to this Blues team’s chances.
For now, he has to be itching to get back out there just as we’re all itching to see it. It’s all just one big holding pattern.
Stay safe everyone.