St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko has reportedly asked for a trade and while it's not entirely shocking that the right winger would be looking for a fresh start after two consecutive injury-laden seasons (he's had multiple shoulder surgeries in his career), his name does still carry a lot of heft – players who have scored 40 goals in a season these days aren't that easy to find.
For the Blues, this is not necessarily a trade they want to make. Tarasenko was drafted by St. Louis and helped the Blues to their only Stanley Cup to date in 2019. And when healthy, he's a potent offensive force. But it sounds like the relationship is at the point where it's time to move on and Blues GM Doug Armstrong must now do what is best for his franchise.
So what are the pros and cons of a Tarasenko trade?
The pro for St. Louis is that they can get significant salary cap relief in dealing the star. Tarasenko has a $7.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons and in a flat-cap world, that's a big chunk of space for a player who has only been healthy enough to contribute 24 points total in the past two seasons. It would certainly make it easier to re-sign pending UFA Jaden Schwartz, while giving Armstrong the flexibility to see what else is on the open market to augment what has been a strong roster the past few seasons.
The cons for the Blues is that Tarasenko's situation likely dulls the return St. Louis can expect in a trade. Not only is he battling back from a serious injury, but Tarasenko has a no-trade clause, so the Blues cannot simply ship him anywhere. Before his shoulder surgeries, you definitely would have given up a first-rounder, a top prospect and a roster player to get Tarasenko (or do a 1-for-1 swap in the vein of Pierre-Luc Dubois and Patrik Laine; never mind that trade didn't yield immediate dividends for the Jackets or Jets). Now? I think you're lucky to get a couple of second-rounders or a high-end prospect, but probably not both. Also, you lose the services of Tarasenko, a player we've already established is hard to replace.
The pro for a team trading for Tarasenko are obvious: If his shoulder truly got fixed on the third attempt, you're getting an extremely motivated scorer who only turns 30 in December and is under contract for two seasons. If Tarasenko can get you 35 goals and 70 points, he's certainly worth the cap hit. And if you only had to give up a couple of draft picks, why wouldn't you make that move?
The con for acquiring Tarasenko is that he could be damaged goods. You hope the shoulder is fine, but you don't really know for sure until you see how he uses his release on the ice and takes his first bone-jarring hits from competitors who wish to do him harm. Even if he's healthy enough to be in the lineup, will he be effective enough to justify a top-line role on the right wing? And what kind of conditioning can you expect from a player who has been so limited in his game load the past two seasons? You hope that Tarasenko, who has always been incredibly strong, bounces back easily and is raring to go for an 82-game season. But you won't know for sure until, say, Game 56.
So is he worth the risk? I say he's worth the gamble if you're a good team trying to get to the next level, but not necessarily a contender looking for that final piece – because there is too much risk involved with that cap hit, unless the Blues retain salary in the deal (which is a possibility) in exchange for more trade assets. Just because of Tarasenko himself, who has always been a thoughtful and hard-working talent, I hope it works out for all involved.