What if I had told you back on June 12, 2019 that the newly crowned champion St. Louis Blues and their top-scoring forward, Vladimir Tarasenko, would be seeking a divorce just two years later?
I know, in the land of pro sports, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for two entities, previously reliant on each other and seeking the same goals, to suddenly break apart. After all, business arrangements-which every deal between a player and team is at the core level-aren’t built to last forever. Just look down the street as Cardinals fans clamor for a little aged Albert Pujols in their lives. Teams and their stars don’t finish the ride together, at least not often.
But for Tarasenko and the Blues, it gets murkier. There are details that came out of Jeremy Rutherford’s report that lay down clear-cut reasons for the fallout. Over the past four years, Tarasenko has undergone three shoulder surgeries. Remember that first real threat of surgery back when he injured it on the final make-or-break game of the season against Colorado? That was only the beginning of the chaos.
Tarasenko revealed that the Blues doctors-or the surgical team they selected-butchered the first two operations. By the time the winger went elsewhere for surgery #3, the surgeons there found his shoulder to be a war zone instead of a mere re-injured limb. He claims the real damage wasn’t even done on the ice, but inside the team-selected operating room.
One can’t step over the gripe he had when Ryan O’Reilly was named captain following Alex Pietrangelo’s departure west. Yes, it was a real thing. He wanted the patch and complained about it.
You also can’t ignore the role that Craig Berube installed him in upon his return from shoulder rehab this past season. By the time the playoffs rolled around and Tarasenko was still looking too tentative from his preferred spot, Berube moved him to the front of the net. Let’s be honest–that’s not his strong suit. While his defense is often underrated, Tarasenko has never used-or cared to use-his body as a blunt force object to drop down in front of the net. He’s a sniper with a quick release.
So add up the so-called botched surgeries, bypassing for the captaincy, and miscast role on ice–and you have a problem that isn’t just brewing; it’s burning.
But to the Blues, this isn’t a new problem. They have been shopping Tarasenko around the league since the end of their season, trying to acknowledge the existence of interest. According to the initial findings, teams aren’t ready to match Doug Armstrong’s price. The general manager isn’t going to let two years of one of his most popular players go to pass without a solid return. Right now, there aren’t a lot of teams banging at the door.
There’s a rumor about a deal between the New York Islanders and Blues coming together fast if medical findings aren’t a worry. But let’s be honest and admit there will be a lot of findings. Messed-up surgeries or not, Tarasenko’s shoulder could be held together by scotch and duct tape at the moment for all we know. Repairs or not, it’s going to be a tricky deal-especially if the Blues try to ask for a package equaling their player’s worth three years ago. It’s sticky, tricky, and potentially ugly.
It’s unfortunate to see this marriage end this way. Remember the good old days of postgame interviews with Darren Panger, ones where Tarasenko thanked the crowd endlessly and looked like a kid in a candy store? Those days must be toast and buried, because the more I read Rutherford’s report at The Athletic (the paywall was temporarily taken down), the more I got the sense this train is pointed in one direction.
In the end, the Blues will take a lesser package in order for a team to make their former star winger happy again. They will take less in order for the opposing negotiator to consume most-if not all-of his salary. I believe this to be true, and that’s including zero sources with a proposal involving a guy named Anderson… or is it Andersson?
I think a combination of ailments-like constant hits to a hurting shoulder on the ice-led to this fallout. Bad blood brews over a long period of time and it’s not easy to stop once it catches steam. Tarasenko and the Blues at one point seemed destined to finish the contract and possibly tack on another shorter term, so he could retire here–something Brett Hull, the team’s last legit star scorer, didn’t do. I’m not comparing the two players and their accomplishments, simply stating how the business aspect of the game and its role as the binding element of a partnership can punch the hardest with fans who attach sentimental to their favorite players.
The cracks in the façade between Tarasenko and the Blues are further proof that good partnerships in pro sports seldom end well. In other words, the good times just don’t last.
But it was fun while it lasted. I’ll remember the good times while I wish the Russian well. He’s a good dude and went to bat for St. Louis when others weren’t exactly barging towards the door. He helped bring a Cup here and that is lifetime thanks.
I hope he finds a second wind elsewhere and gets to go out with his head held high… or higher.