The long-awaited return of the Messiah who was once set to be King is upon us. Vladimir Tarasenko may be back in the St. Louis Blues’ lineup as early as tonight. His plight to fill the shoes of Brett Hull, Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter took hiatus as the Russian winger has battled countless injuries.
What does Vlad have to offer and how ‘game-ready’ is he? These questions can only be answered after he has some ice time under his belt. Tarasenko is three shoulder surgeries later in only two and a half years. A daunting task for anyone, let alone a professional athlete that needs the proper use of his shoulder. Hockey is a physical, and at times, brutal sport. The rest of the league is aware of the injuries. A few hits up high from opponents wouldn’t surprise me.
Head coach, Craig Berube, and the Blues front office, have been very tight-lipped on where and how much Vlad will play when he returns. If he is at 100%, the opportunities are endless, given the injury situation the Blues are in. We expect Tank at wing, but no leak yet of what line he will play on or who he plays with.
He currently ranks 5th on the Blues all-time scoring list. For context, he ranks second in goals per game in the team’s history to only Brett Hull. Tarasenko’s primary duty since inception is to score goals. Well before the injuries, “what’s wrong with Vlad” is always on the heels of low scoring output.
Tarasenko is of the rare breed where goals outweigh assists almost every season. When the goal-scoring production drops, his perceived value drops as well. Something that doesn’t get much attention is back-to-back seasons at 80+ hits in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. Vlad is scrappier than he’s given credit for. I think it’s fair to attribute the lack of hustle to injury and fatigue. After all, he’s only played 36 games since the beginning of the 2018 season, and was never truly healthy.
After signing an 8-year contract extension in 2015, he posted seasons of 40, 39, 33, and 33 goals, including leading the Blues in postseason goals scored over that timeframe. His base salary balloons to $9.5 million during the 2021-2022 season. Tarasenko hits the free-agent market in 2023. The Blues have been hesitant to rush him back, and rightfully so. The Blues won their first Stanley Cup with him out of the lineup. This isn’t to say they don’t need him, but cramming him in, unless healthy, doesn’t make much sense.
At only 29 years old, Vlad still has a lot left in the Tank (pun intended.) Whether the Blues are anxious to get the winger on display for trade purposes, or plan on retaining him, remains to be seen. The Blues could definitely use his talent and propensity to find the back of the net as they work through numerous injuries to key players. One thing is clear, at 30 points, the Blues sit one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and if Vladimir Tarasenko is 70% of what we know he’s capable of, this is a massive improvement for the St. Louis Blues.