When the St. Louis Blues put Vladimir Tarasenko on injured reserve on January 2, most assumed it would be quite some time before his return. General Manager Doug Armstrong said he would be reevaluated in four weeks.
Reevaluated usually means they won’t even entertain the idea of a player’s return until then. They want that full time for healing and then they will reassess the situation after that.
Instead, the Blues might be getting a little early Valentine’s present. Tarasenko seems poised to return before the calendar switches to February.
Tarasenko will not play during the January 16 game against the Ottawa Senators. However, the report on the league website says that Tarasenko might be available as soon as January 19 against the Nashville Predators.
Even if Tarasenko does not make the roster by that game, the Blues still have five more January games after those two. It seems a sure lock that he will return to the team for game action prior to February.
That’s quite a bit above the timeline originally guessed. Tarasenko was injured on December 31 when a shot hit him in the hand.
When the team announced the four week evaluation period, most assumed it would be February at the earliest. Now, the Blues are poised to get back one of their best scorers as they are locked in a battle to climb back into the playoff race.
Despite what many fans think, Tarasenko is needed by this team. He’s never going to win the Selke award, but he does more for this team than just sit around and look for goals.
Though many claim he doesn’t get physical, that is not true. 40 hits in 34 games may not sound like a ton, but it’s more than several teammates that don’t get that same accusation.
Josh Leivo is on the third line and typically supposed to play a more defensive style. He has 40 hits.
Brandon Saad has 15 hits and nobody complains about his lack of physicality. Pavel Buchnevich has 36 hits in 35 games.
In fact, Brayden Schenn is the only other forward who regularly plays in the top six that has more hits than Tarasenko. If you want to include Ivan Barbashev in that mix, even though he rotates from third and second line, that’s still only two high-minute forwards that are taking the body more than Vladi.
Then there is the scoring component. While the Blues have not struggled with goals as far as season totals are concerned, they are feast or famine.
They win games 6-5, but cannot score when the game requires a 2-1 type of score line. You need that extra scoring threat to break down defenses and Tarasenko can provide that.
We have seen over the Blues losses to Calgary and Tampa that teams are more than willing to pressure St. Louis. The combination of too much passing as well as depleted scoring options has made it more difficult.
Jordan Kyrou has one goal in his last five games. That’s not for lack of trying, but teams have begun to focus heavily on shutting down the Robert Thomas and Kyrou connection, taking their chances with the ability (or inability) of the rest of the team.
Tarasenko practiced with the line of Schenn and Saad. Though he has not had too much playing time with either, that is a balanced trio on paper.
Schenn can do just about anything. Saad is responsible with the puck and has two goals in his last five – though he went without a point in his last three games.
Putting Tarasenko there opens things up for either of them and also forces teams to spread out their defense. In turn, that can open things up for Thomas, Kyrou and Buchnevich.
In a world where nobody can be happy, one side says the team doesn’t need him and the other side says they don’t want the Blues to rush him back. I understand the trepidation, after a failed shoulder surgery, but a hand injury is different. You’ll know what you can tolerate as far as pain and how much your grip strength is there.
One way or the other, the Blues need him back. The amount of games played now surpasses the games remaining, so there is no more room for error.
If the Blues are to make a playoff push, they need all hands on deck – no pun intended.
If you believe St. Louis needs to trade Tarasenko – an opinion I highly disagree with – he still needs to get playing. 10 goals and 29 points in 34 games is pretty decent, but even GM’s have a “what have you done lately” mentality. They need to see him playing and scoring if they’re going to give up a precious first-round pick.
Frankly, I hope the Blues keep him and ride the situation to the playoffs. We can talk about deep drafts all we want, but there’s no guarantees there.
As a franchise, the Blues likely gain just as much from some playoff attendance as they might in a trade. It’s a different kind of gain, but if you don’t have the dollars coming in, you don’t have the dollars to spend on a new player anyway.
This team is what it is. We should not expect a 2019 type of surge back through the standings.
However, this team is more than capable of making the playoffs and making some noise. They can contend with any team in the league when they set their mind to it.
Having a healthy Tarasenko is the best way to achieve whatever goals the Blues currently have. The fact that he should be back sooner than expected just gives them even more time to figure out what that goal is with the trade deadline looming on March 3.