The 2021 St. Louis Blues are struggling to score with any consistency and struggling to field a team with depth and NHL experience right now. We should all welcome the potential return of Vladimir Tarasenko with open arms, right?
As Lee Corso often said, not so fast my friend. In a vacuum, Tarasenko’s return could not come at a better time, but nothing exists in a vacuum except those things floating through deep outer space.
The reason this issue even comes up is because the team announced his return will be sooner rather than later. While some, including myself, penciled him in closer to April, Tarasenko could now return at some point in the next six games, while the Blues are on the road.
As mentioned two weeks ago, Tarasenko’s return at any point in the regular season raises some interesting questions. Doug Armstrong will need to find answers quickly if 91 is about to take the ice.
First and foremost, the Blues have to figure out how Tarasenko fits into the cap. Their current injury situation might help, with a little over $7 million currently on injured reserve.
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However, that’s injured reserve, not Long Term Injured Reserve. I don’t pretend to know every detail about cap relief, so whether those spots being available gives the Blues enough room to put Tarasenko’s $7.5 million on the roster or not is a big question. If that does not provide enough space, the Blues might have to trade someone, thinning out an already thin roster.
Questions that springboard off that is whether this is an indication of how long certain players could be out. Tyler Bozak has resumed skating, but you never know with head injuries. Robert Thomas and Ivan Barbashev both had surgery, so they are likely to be out for months.
Perhaps the return of Tarasenko, beyond just needing the scoring, is an indication that some of those names are nowhere close to returning. If the Blues would not have to worry about their cap considerations, that’s one less thing to consider with 91’s return.
The bigger question for many, and one that cannot be answered until he does return to play, is whether Tarasenko will be ready. We all have varying degrees of doubt whether a player can sustain multiple shoulder surgeries and be anything close to what he once was.
Will the shoulder easily pop out of place again? Will that snapping wrist shot have the same power? Can Tarasenko put those questions out of his own mind, regardless of how fans feel?
Those are all things that no amount of practice or rehab will ever tell you. He has to take the ice in an NHL game, take a hit or defender grabbing him and come out the other side no worse for wear.
The current situation takes a lot of the joy out of this potential return. In a perfect world, the Blues would be healthy and could have afforded to hold Tarasenko out until the playoffs when there would be no cap worries at all.
Instead, you cannot help but wonder if this is being pushed by the player or team simply because the Blues are teetering on competitiveness due to high-profile injuries all sustained at once. Is it too soon, or is this the perfect time?
I hope it’s the latter. However, with the current stability of the team’s forward lines, even the return of Tarasenko might not be enough.
The offensive pressure they generate lately would not be vastly improved, even with Tarasenko on the ice. But, maybe we’ve forgotten how good he can be.
Let us not forget that amazing drive down the ice against the New York Rangers. He might not do it often, but Tarasenko is still capable of taking on almost an entire team.
For his sake and the sake of the team, let’s hope this is the right time and the right decision. If this is rushed in any way, it would be a shame for a career to end over less than half a season.