From the outset, St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong maintained that his No. 1 priority this summer was to get right winger Vladimir Tarasenko under contract. That mission has been accomplished thanks to a new eight-year, $60 million pact – and now the next phase begins.
Tarasenko is the Blues' most important player, which is saying a lot on a team that also counts David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, Alex Steen, Paul Stastny and Kevin Shattenkirk as members.
That impressive core has done absolutely nothing in the playoffs, winning just one series in the past four years. Tarasenko was part of a couple of those teams too, but he actually produced in the post-season, with 10 goals in his past 12 playoff contests.
This season, his ascendancy was amazing. Playing alongside former KHL teammate Jori Lehtera and fellow young gun Jaden Schwartz, Tarasenko led the Blues in scoring and finished 10th in the NHL overall. And he did so, essentially, on the team's third line.
If the Blues are going to shed their reputation as the 'new Sharks,' it will be with Tarasenko at the lead. In trading franchise darling T.J. Oshie to Washington, Armstrong acknowledged that the old core couldn't get things done and while Troy Brouwer (the biggest part of the trade return) will help, the more important takeaway is that those bruising, brainy Blues that so many pundits loved were better at filling reporters' notebooks than they were filling opposing nets when it counted most.
With Tarasenko locked up, we now turn to timeline: How quickly can the Blues pivot in the West? The speedy and silky Robby Fabbri is on his way up, but is there a spot for him this season, or next? Same question for the talented Ivan Barbashev. And Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin are also waiting for full-time duty in the NHL already.
St. Louis may have the poor fortune of co-existing with the Chicago Blackhawks in their division and thus, have a yearly impediment to playoff success, but with the talent already on the Blues, that's really an excuse more than a reason (and doesn't explain losing to Minnesota this spring).
Tarasenko has a killer instinct around the puck and has already proven in his short NHL career that he can produce under pressure circumstances. He can't win a championship by himself, but he won't have to in St. Louis. But this new contract should be a mandate that the team falls behind Tarasenko and uses his offensive prowess to get to the promised land.