Tarasenko question lingers, but Blues make another solid signing in Saad

Tarasenko question lingers, but Blues make another solid signing in Saad
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At some point, the assumption is that the St. Louis Blues will trade Vladimir Tarasenko. That situation looms over the franchise, but in the meantime, they’ve been making some pretty solid free-agent moves. The latest happened on the second day of 2021 NHL Free Agency with the signing of Brandon Saad.

Blues make another solid signing in Saad

The Blues confirmed that they signed Saad for five-years, $22.5 million. That translates to a $4.5 million cap hit from 2021-22 through the 2025-26 NHL season.

There could be some drop-off in that deal, but the risk-level isn’t too high. Saad made such a quick impact early in his career (drafted by the Blackhawks in 2011, first full season in 2012-13), that some might assume that he’s older than he is. Saad’s 28, so those five years don’t signal impending doom like other free-agent deals with term.

(At least considering Saad’s affordable $4.5M cap hit.)

Some are framing the Blues signing Saad as, essentially, a Jaden Schwartz replacement. It might actually be better to view Saad as a big upgrade over Mike Hoffman. Both Saad and Hoffman are by far more effective offensively than defensively. Consider Saad’s player card for the last three seasons, via Evolving Hockey:

Tarasenko question lingers, but Blues make another solid signing in Saad evo
via Evolving Hockey

For a Blues team that’s generally well-equipped with defensive-minded players, Saad could provide a nice boost. That might come down to deploying him properly, and accepting the occasional mistake.

So far in his career, Saad’s scored 20-plus goals on five occasions, including a peak of 31 tallies in 2015-16. He scored 15 goals and 24 points in 44 games during his sole Avalanche season in 2020-21.

In particular, Saad looked strong in the playoffs, scoring eight points in 10 games for Colorado. During the Avalanche’s sweep of the Blues, Saad scored three goals in four playoff contests.

Blues still have that lingering Tarasenko question

When you also consider the Blues’ decision to acquire Pavel Buchnevich, it’s tempting to get excited. Frankly, it’s puzzling that the Rangers traded Buchnevich to the Blues as a borderline-afterthought.

Tarasenko question lingers, but Blues make another solid signing in Saad Buchnevich
via Evolving Hockey

It’s a little trickier when you consider the potential losses, though.

Again, losing Jaden Schwartz stings — even if injuries sometimes made him frustrating to follow. The Blues likely made the right call in letting him walk, but he’ll still be missed.

And, of course, the Tarasenko situation remains unsettled. The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford doesn’t paint the prettiest picture there:

If you look at it as adding Saad and Buchnevich while losing Tarasenko and Schwartz, the Blues still deserve credit for rolling with the punches. It just puts a damper on some of the would-be excitement.

Personally, I wonder if there’s at least some room to buy some time with Tarasenko?

According to Cap Friendly, Tarasenko’s contract breaks down like this:

2021-22: $9.5 million actual salary vs. $7.5M cap hit
2022-23: $5.5M actual salary vs. $7.5M cap hit

Even with money flying around in a way that made for a legit free-agent frenzy, Tarasenko’s $9.5M salary doesn’t exactly grease the wheels for a trade. If his deal was cheaper (in salary, or cap terms), a team would be more willing to take a chance. As it stands, both Tarasenko and the Blues might benefit from a brief truce. Ideally, Tarasenko would prove that he can still snipe at-or-near his career level, despite worries about shoulder concerns. Then the Blues would also have the easier sell of absorbing some, or all, of that higher salary.

If there’s no way they can even begrudgingly keep going, then the Blues could really strain to trade Tarasenko. We’ve seen instances of teams trading the near-untradeable, but that becomes much tougher with a deadline — real, or imagined.

So, the Blues have made some savvy free-agent moves, including the mostly-promising Saad signing. Yet, their grade remains “incomplete” until they resolve the Tarasenko situation — trade or not.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.