The St. Louis Blues and their star forward got some unwelcome news right after the season ended. Now, both team and player might face a no-win scenario.
In addition to following the St. Louis Blues, I tend to be more of a Star Wars fan than Star Trek. However, I do know a little bit about the Trek side and part of their lore might apply to the Blues now.
The Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko might now face the Kobayashi Maru. For those unaware, the Kobayashi Maru was a test used by Starfleet to test the decision making skills in an ultra-tense situation for cadets.
It was also unwinnable, or originally designed to be. It was not meant to be beaten, but have the taker face a scenario where they might not win but have to make a brutal choice anyway.
For those that saw either Star Trek II or the Star Trek reboot in 2009, they would know that only one man has beaten the test. James T. Kirk cheated, changed the parameters in the computer system, so he could actually find a winnable solution.
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How does this apply to hockey? The Blues have to basically hope that Tarasenko can cheat the system.
Right now, Tarasenko is scheduled to have another surgery on his shoulder in the first week of September. That will be his third surgery in the span of roughly four years.
Having that many surgeries, that much scar tissue built up, on a joint that is generally unstable to begin is not a recipe for a long career. In fact, the team and fans might need to face the idea that Tarasenko’s career may essentially be over.
There is little doubt he will suit up again. Based on his contract and mere potential, the Blues are not going to simply discard him.
However, how realistic is it to think someone can be a 40-plus goal scorer when they can’t really take any punishment? The little yank on the arm against the Los Angeles Kings that dislocated it in October, plus whatever re-injured it during the 2020 playoffs, was nothing major as far as impact goes. Yet, it was enough to damage the shoulder enough for surgery both times.
It doesn’t matter who you are or how skilled you are. You have to be able to take a hit or a slash or have someone yank on your arm to slow you down.
If Tarasenko can’t make it through early season competition or “playoff” games that were essentially exhibition games, it seems doubtful he will play meaningful time in the NHL again.
We know he will try. Beyond the money he might lose, Tarasenko has too much pride to give up.
He knows he can be a physical beast, which he proved by getting into good shape following the surgery in October. That didn’t seem to matter.
“He was very limited (when he returned),” Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said, as reported by Chris Pinkert. “He had shoulder surgery obviously at the start of the season. He rehabbed, he came back, we had to do another MRI (because) he wasn’t feeling good. That surgery [in October] didn’t take the way that we had hoped. It wasn’t successful. He’s going to go back in and have more surgery next week, and it’s serious in the sense that he won’t be with us and he won’t be re-evaluated until five months after the date of the surgery.”
Thus, the no-win scenario for all involved.
Tarasenko will try to come back, but we cannot expect him to recover at this point. We can hope, but that’s about it.
The Blues are really in a bind. They won’t trade Tarasenko because nobody would take that contract, firstly, and also based on the hope that he could eventually being himself again.
Despite being here forever, Tarasenko is only 28. Just from a physiological standpoint, he has a better chance of recovering than someone in their mid-30’s. He’s confident that will happen.
“To take some speculation away, no, I’m not done, (my) career is not done,” Tarasenko said, in Pinkert’s article. Now I am more motivated than ever to finally get healthy and play. I hope and believe that the doctors will do their job, fix the problem and there is a solution for it.”
The timeline also causes a big problem for St. Louis. The NHL season is tentatively slated to start sometime in December.
Tarasenko will not even be reevaluated until January. That doesn’t mean he will be ready or even begin practicing. That means he will be looked at by a team doctor in January.
So, the Blues have to start under the assumption he could miss half the season or more and hope for less. But they don’t have cap space to attempt replacing his production.
If they try to put him on LTIR, you do get cap relief but that relief is not permanent. If the Blues put Tarasenko on LTIR and sign a forward for something around $5 million, then they have to clear that amount off their roster somehow for Tarasenko to return.
That was part of the reason the Blues did not make a move at the 2020 trade deadline. If they added a piece then and Tarasenko was able to come back during the regular season, they would not have had the cap space to afford that.
So, everyone involved is now taking the Kobayashi Maru. It’s an unwinnable scenario at the moment.
The Blues have to just wait, with no guarantee they’ll ever get the player we all dreamed might make a run at team scoring titles. Tarasenko has to rehab again, not knowing if the shoulder will ever full heal.
The only thing we can hope for now is that either Doug Armstrong or Vladimir Tarasenko can channel their inner Captain Kirk. If Tarasenko can defy the odds and come back stronger, that’s a win. If Armstrong can somehow maneuver money around and find extra scoring to help replace Tarasenko, that’s a win.
Beyond just the bad news of the injury, this is all very disheartening for the team’s future as presently constructed. St. Louis went from a solid pick to repeat as champion to a team that might have a vastly different roster in 2021.
In theory, this team could be without Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, Jake Allen, Tyler Bozak and/or Alex Steen. That is all on top of already losing Joel Edmundson, Pat Maroon and Jay Bouwmeester off the Cup winning squad.
Pro sports are a cruel thing.