Vladimir Tarasenko wanted a trade away from the St. Louis Blues this offseason.
The Blues seemed willing to at least consider honoring that request, and even made him available to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft where they could have potentially lost him for nothing, and in the process shed the remaining two years of his contract and salary cap hit.
Then Seattle did not take him, opting instead for defenseman Vince Dunn, the Blues never traded him, and everything just went on as normal.
Now, a little more than a month into the season, it is worth wondering how many teams are having some second thoughts about not trying to buy low on a star that is healthy and once again playing like an impact player.
As of Monday he has seven goals (all of them at even-strength) and 14 total points in the Blues’ first 14 games, while also posting the second highest shots on goal numbers of his career (3.79 per game). In other words, he looks an awful lot like the Vladimir Tarasenko that was the Blues’ most dynamic player and one of the league’s most feared goal scorers for the better part of his career.
There was some risk at the time for potential buyers.
Tarasenko had gone through three different surgeries in a two-year stretch, and had been limited to just 42 games (including playoffs) where he had scored only nine goals during that time. It was clear that he had not been 100% healthy and it was having a major impact on his ability to be available and produce. Combine that with a contract that still had two years and a $7.5 million salary cap hit remaining, and you could at least understand why his value had maybe dropped or why some teams would be scared off.
But still, it is Vladimir Tarasenko and he was seemingly available for a fraction of what he would have ordinarily been available for under ideal circumstances. There was some risk, but also an enormous reward.
Let’s start with Seattle, because they are the team that we know had a legitimate shot at him. He was right there, sitting there for the taking in the expansion draft. Seattle had all of the salary cap space in the world to work with, could have had an immediate star, and would have had to give up literally nothing to give him. The Blues were daring them to take him. Seattle took Dunn instead.
Now, in fairness, Dunn was a fine pick. There was (and still is) reason to believe he is capable of being a really good defender, and he was probably underutilized by the Blues the past couple of seasons. But still, it is difficult to look at Seattle struggling to score goals and realizing they had one of the best goal scorers in the league just sitting right there if they would have been willing to take a chance on him being healthy. And while the contract is on the pricey said, it is not like it would have been a major long-term liability to them. His actual salary for this season is $9.5 million (higher than his salary cap hit) before dropping down to just $5.5 million next season (lower than his salary cap hit) which could have also made him more tradable in the offseason if needed.
Seattle was not the only team that potentially missed out on that.
Tarasenko reportedly gave the Blues a 10-team list that was believed to include teams like the Islanders, Flyers, Golden Knights, Rangers, and Bruins, among others. Quite a few of those teams could use another top-line goal scorer right now.
The Islanders really stand out on that list right now.
After losing in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals they were a team that was right there on the cusp of a championship, and still could use another top offensive talent. Add in the fact they lost Jordan Eberle to Seattle and only really added 36-year-old Zach Parise (zero goals in 11 games so far this season) and the Islanders seem like they would have been a perfect fit. And it’s not like Tarasenko would have trouble fitting in with a defensive-minded hockey team, because he did exactly that for a Blues team that won a Stanley Cup just a few years ago where he played a massive role offensively.
But really, any of the teams on the list should have been in play. The Flyers are struggling offensively, the Bruins remain a one-line team, and the Rangers are currently 23rd in goals per game while still having close to $9 million in salary cap space and facing major pressure to win right now.
Through some combination of luck (Seattle not taking him), patience (not taking a bad trade), and other team’s being seemingly unwilling to take a chance the Blues still have a top-tier player that is helping keep them in contention on top of the Central Division and Western Conference.
For some teams, the best trades are the ones you do not end up making.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.