Armstrong Strikes Again

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Pavel Buchnevich will reinforce the Blues’ scoring lines.

While the St. Louis Blues faithful waited for the NHL Draft, waited for the seemingly inevitable Tarasenko trade, waited for clarity on free agents-to-be Jaden Schwartz and Mike Hoffman, Armstrong made a stealth strike.

Just like in years past, when no one saw it coming, President of Hockey Operations Doug Armstrong did it again. He acquired an important player to shore up the team. Just like last year, as fans waited to see if Pietrangelo would come back only to see the Blues sign Torey Krug, Doug Armstrong went outside the organization to fill a need.

The Blues went into the offseason facing a lot of change. Most notably, the forward lines are likely to see a radical makeover. Left winger Jaden Schwartz, right winger Mike Hoffman, and center Tyler Bozak are unrestricted free agents. And star winter Vladimir Tarasenko has requested a trade, citing team mismanagement of his surgeries as his reason for wanting a different team.

Would Armstrong trade Tarasenko to acquire a scoring winger to replace him? Would he bring back Schwartz and maybe Hoffman and Bozak, basically keeping the bad together? Would he go deep sea fishing for preeminent prize Gabriel Ladeskog?

Any of those could still happen, of course. But Armstrong has started the Blues’ path with his Friday trade for RW Pavel Buchnevich, of the New York Rangers.

Buchnevich is a bona fide Top 6 forward. Last season, he had 20 goals and 28 assists in 54 games. On the Rangers, only center Mika Zibanejad had more goals (24). Buchnevich was a 3rd-round pick in 2013, and he has scored 79 goals in 301 total games played, all with the Rangers. He’s only 26. He will slot in on the first two lines, and provides an immediate upgrade to the scoring forwards.

He was pretty cheap, too. The Blues sent back winger Sammy Blais and their 2nd-round pick in 2022. For the Rangers, this trade was about aligning their roster for the future. They view young players like Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Filip Chytl as their core pieces. Buchnevich is a restricted free agent, with arbitration rights, and will be a nice raise from his $3.25 million salary from 2020-21.

The Blues can afford him. Between Schwartz, Hoffman, Bozak, and Steen coming off the books, they have almost plenty of salary cap space. But whether they can go big in free agency might depend on if they can orchestrate a Tarasenko deal to their liking. Tarasenko’s cap hit is $7.5 million this year and next. With the salary cap being flat, that’s a significant salary for any team to take on.

Let’s assume that the Blues let all their unrestricted free agents go, and trade Tarasenko for prospects and/or draft picks. The forward lines could look something like this:

PerronO’ReillyBuchnevich
SchennThomasKyrou
SanfordSundqvistKostin
CliffordBarbashevMacEachern

That is very respectable. But it does assume that Kyrou will take another step forward and that Kostin is ready for full-time NHL duty. But those are big assumptions. Robert Thomas hasn’t developed as quickly as the Blues, and their fans, hoped. They want him to be comfortable and productive in a 2nd-line center role, but he’s not there yet. The Blues would benefit from more skill and depth in their top 9 forwards.

So I expect Armstrong isn’t done. Free agency begins soon. More excitement is on the horizon.

Trading Tarasenko

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Vladimir Tarasenko’s fate is up in the air as the Blues enter the 2021 offseason

It was reported last week that the St. Louis Blues could look to trade Vladimir Tarasenko this offseason. THis was reported by Frank Seravelli.

A trade makes a lot of sense for the Blues and for Tarasenko. No longer a face of the franchise, Tarasenko has had multiple shoulder surgeries and is still finding his way back to being a productive scoring forward. During the 2020-21 season, he had 4 goals and 10 assists in 24 games played. He still has tremendous ability ad upside, but the jury is out whether he can resume his place as a premier scoring forward in the NHL.

Four teams are said to be on the list Tarasenko provided to the Blues for which he would waive his no-trade clause: Las Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, and the New York Islanders. Let’s look at what a deal could look like, with each destination.

The Golden Knights

In any deal, the Blues would probably need to take back some salary, to help offset Tarasenko’s $7 million per year. The Blues need to upgrade their scoring, particularly the LW slot on the top two lines. A player that fits that profile is Alex Tuch or Reilly Smith. Both are owed around $5 million next season. Smith is under contract just one more year, while Tuch has 5 more seasons under contract. Smith in particular, I think, would fit very well in the Berube “heavy hockey” system.

Hurricanes

To me, Nino Neiterreiter stands out as a likely target by the Blues. He has one more year on his contract, at $5.25 million. He plays wing on a scoring line, and scored 20 goals in the 2020-21 season. He doesn’t have the upside of Tarasenko, and with one less contract year. So Tarasenko would be an offensive upgrade for the ‘Canes.

Bruins

Jake DeBrusk I think the Blues would be extremely interested in. He’s a solid two-way player that can skate anywhere in the top 9. Although scoring only 5 goals in 41 games, he did have 46 goals in the 18/19 and 19/20 seasons. He has one more year on his current contract, at just over $3.5 million. The Blues could also ask for a 2nd round pick in the package.

Islanders

Brock Nelson is the name the Blues should ask for in return for Tarasenko. He’s the 2nd line center for the Islanders, and is strong offensively and defensively. I had though Jordan Eberle could be a target, but his two-way game isn’t as strong. Nelson is owed $6 million per season over the next 4 years. He could slot in on the 1st or 2nd line LW for the Blues.

Now, the Eyes on Isles blog speculates here that a Tarasenko trade would be largely draft pick-based. Take it for what its worth.

The bottom line for the Blues is they need to upgrade their scoring, preferably on the left wing. They don’t know what Tarasenko will be next year and beyond. They have a lot of salary coming off the books, but a portion of that will be eaten up again by re-signing RFAs and some UFAs. Tarasenko is owed $7.5 million next year and the year after that. Trading him represents an opportunity to A) give him a change of scenery, B) clear salary space, and C) potentially acquire offensive help. I think the Blues will accomplish at least 2 of those things.

Offense Back on Track

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Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 4th of the year to get the Blues going in their 2nd win over Colorado.

After losing 5 in a row to the Colorado Avalanche, the St. Louis Blues on Monday night defeated them for the 2nd consecutive game.

With the victory, the Blues now are 1 point over Arizona in the Honda West Division.

The Blues got goals from Vladimir Tarasenko, David Perron, Brayden Schenn and Robert Thomas. For Tarasenko, it was just his 4th goal of the season after coming back from his shoulder injury. For Schenn, it was his first in 20 games. All goals were by forwards. More importantly, they were by forwards that you expect to see on the scoresheet on any given night.

This was the kind of game the Blues need more of as they power down the stretch toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Timely goal scoring, solid defense and stony goaltending.

It’s great to see Tarasenko get on the board. His goal came in the first period; he was set up in front of the crease and when the puck landed near him, he whiffed at first but made contact on his 2nd shot and put it in the net. We need to see more of this from him – the willingness to play near the goal and get the “dirty” goals. He’s a sniper that can score from yards away but he can also help by causing chaos near the goalie.

It was also long past time for Thomas to score. Although he dealt with an injury for several games, he just has 2 goals now in 23 games played. He was and is being counted on to be a significant contributor to the Blues top 9 forwards. It was hoped he’d take a big step forward in his development as a scorer. So far that has not come to fruition.

The victory was even more impressive considering the Blues were without 2 of their top 6 defensemen. Parayko and Dunn were ruled out before the game, both sustaining injuries during the previous game. Steven Santini debuted with the Blues. Not a rookie, Santini previously played with the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators. He signed a 2-way deal with the Blues last offseason. He played in 39 games for the Devils in 2018-19, with 4 points. He could get an extended look, depending on the length of time that injuries hold out Parayko and Dunn.

The Blues are pretty healthy now, forward-wise. But they need Parayko, as he’s a big-bodied, top pairing guy that’s hard to replace.

The Blues will now turn their attention to the Minnesota Wild for the next 3 games. Every game, every point is crucial now for the Blues, fighting for a place in the playoffs.