When the St. Louis Blues acquired Justin Faulk just days prior to the start of the actual 2019-20 season, it was kind of a shock. Doug Armstrong had made plenty of big deals prior to that, but most trades in the NHL come in the early to mid part of the offseason or sometime deeper into the winter months.
It’s not uncommon to get early-season deals, but it’s rare. That’s what added to the shock of acquiring a big name, but also sending away a piece from a championship team.
Fast-forward a couple years and the Blues may be hoping to do something similar. The public perception of the Vladimir Tarasenko situation has not improved, but neither has the availability of a deal.
People who are in the know keep saying it has to happen. People like Jeremy Rutherford and Jamie Rivers fall just short of calling it unfathomable that Tarasenko begins the 2021-22 season with the team.
In a vacuum, their thought process is completely understandable. Tarasenko and his agent did not sugar coat their feelings about how the surgery process was handled, so any injury sustained by Tarasenko would cause an odd situation where you have to go to the very people you blamed for your prior situation.
However, this idea that he’s an outcast in the locker room seems overstated. While there is little doubt Tarasenko has his teammates he probably doesn’t care for and vice versa, that happens in a lot of locker rooms. Locker room factions is one of the things Craig Berube had to clear up when he got put as head coach.
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You can’t tell me that Tarasenko doesn’t still have friends though. As well as we’ve seen him get on with guys like Ivan Barbashev and Ryan Reaves before that, you’re telling me 22 other guys have now all turned their back on him? I don’t buy it.
As said, in a vacuum, you don’t want a guy that doesn’t want to be there. But, we do not live in a vacuum.
I’ve said it many times and if I have to be the only fool shouting on the hill, so be it. The Blues cannot give Tarasenko away just for the sake of it.
Everyone focuses on the team chemistry aspect and that’s a big part, if he’s really that disliked in the locker room now. However, it’s not cut and dry.
Just about every piece you read on this situation, whether it’s from national media to local beat writers to fan columns like this and others, the Blues have zero leverage. If possible, they have negative leverage because none of the rumors involve any team taking on all or even a substantial amount of Tarasenko’s salary cap.
Take away your personal feelings about how Tarasenko has handled this situation. Take the name out or perhaps apply it to another sport.
Your star scorer or star quarterback or whomever, had some injuries and lost some of his value. Your team wants to trade him, but they are not receiving anything approaching fair value, even for an injured player. Additionally, the other teams want you to pay for most of the rest of the contract. Are you going to do that?
Are you, or we, or any of us so certain that Tarasenko is completely washed up that you’re willing to get nearly no cap relief? At this point, that’s what we are talking about.
Name any team that Tarasenko is willing to go to and they either don’t have the space or want the Blues to retain 50% or more of the contract. That makes absolutely no sense no matter how you slice it.
Give or take, the Blues have roughly $14 million coming off the books for the summer of 2022. However, you would think they would like to bring back David Perron, albeit on a slightly lower price perhaps, and also probably have to give Colton Parayko a raise. You will also need to either re-sign Ville Husso or find another backup goaltender and your RFA defensemen are both guys you probably want back too. Depending on the deal Robert Thomas gets this summer, you could very well need to re-sign him again too.
Once you figure all those numbers in, assuming at least a slight inflation, you don’t have a ton left over for free agency. If you only add in another $3.75 million or less because you’re paying most of Tarasenko’s contract, then you really gain very little.
It’s a hard line to tow when you have the prospect of locker room turmoil to deal with, but it makes no sense for the Blues to retain anything over 25% of that contract. Really, the Blues need to receive some sort of NHL-level talent in return too, but nobody seems to think that likely.
It does make sense all around. Other teams don’t want to pay $7.5 million for someone who might miss the rest of his season or his contract if he gets another shoulder injury. They don’t want to give up prospects or talent for an unknown either.
From the Blues perspective, there’s just too much risk. If you trade him retain a huge chunk of salary and he has a bounce-back year, then you have an entire carton full of eggs on your face. You’re basically paying another team for his success with little-to-no net gain for yourself.
Call Armstrong foolish if you want. Buy into the chatter if you need. The cold heart of the matter is that the Blues either need to gain the entire cap relief Tarasenko’s absence would provide or they need him to buy back in and show other teams he’s worth it.
Neither seem likely right now, but that’s what the Blues have to hold out for.