After coming up short in the second round for the third time in four years, and with their core still hoping for one last run at the Stanley Cup, the Bruins aren’t exactly positioned to pass on adding a five-time 30-goal scorer.
But it’s what we’ve seen since Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko’s last 30-goal season that should raise enough red flags to scare the Bruins away.
Let’s start with why Tarasenko is available in the first place: He’s frustrated with how the Blues have handled his recent injuries. Namely the three shoulder operations Tarasenko has undergone since Apr. 2018. Say no more, honestly. That should be all you need to know when it comes to the Bruins making a play for the 29-year-old wing. If the shoulder’s shredded, it’s shredded, and there’s nothing a change of scenery can do to put it back together and help Tarasenko return to form.
Since lifting the Stanley Cup on Boston ice, injuries have seen Tarasenko suit up for just 34 of a possible 127 games (just under 27 percent). Tarasenko’s scored at a clip that’s anything but himself in that 34-game sample, too, with seven goals on 91 shots, which is ‘good’ for a 7.7 shooting percentage. His five-on-five shooting percentage (five percent) and goals per 60 (0.39) is second-worst among all St. Louis forwards over that two-season run, trailing only Jacob de la Rose.
And if we expand it beyond St. Louis, only four NHL forwards (out of a group of 316) have taken as many shots as Tarasenko and scored fewer goals since the start of 2019-20. That list includes Michael Amadio, Jordan Martinook, Joakim Nordstrom, and Frans Nielsen. Their average cap hit in 2021? $2.16 million. And that’s heavily skewed by Nielsen’s obvious outlier of a $5.25 million cap hit.
Tarasenko? He’s on the hook at $7.5 million per year for the next two seasons.
The Bruins have the cap space to make a splash this offseason, as we all know, with about $30 million to their name. But they don’t have the luxury of using about a quarter of that to take this kind of gamble.
And the Bruins have — to some degree — already been here, too.
They took a flier on the Ducks’ Ondrej Kase (mainly to get out of the David Backes contract) knowing his injury history, but with the hope that he’d be healthy and his shooting would return to form in Boston. It didn’t and 2021 was a lost season for Kase after he suffered yet another concussion in the second game of the regular season. It’s actually been a lost tenure for Kase in Boston, who is unlikely to be tendered a qualifying offer this offseason and may not get another chance in 2021-22.
There’s also a gigantic difference between year and a half rental of a pending restricted free agent with concussion issues costing you under $3 million versus a $7.5 million winger coming off three shoulder surgeries and with multiple years left on his contract. It’s also hard to imagine the assumed ‘discount’ that makes it a worthwhile gamble for the Bruins.
The Blues, like the Bruins, view themselves as a team in a win-now situation. They currently have five restricted free agents to take care of, forwards Jaden Schwartz and Tyler Bozak (as well as Mike Hoffman) are pending free agents, and there’s $17 million to make it happen and that’s without talking about potential upgrades to their roster after a first-round sweep. If they’re smart, they’re not entering any sort of Tarasenko talks with the thought of eating big money. So what would the ‘best case scenario’ look like if the Blues retain salary? A million? Maybe two? Even if that happens, that’s one hell of a gamble for the B’s.
It’s largely unnecessary, too.
The Bruins are entering their offseason with the realization that they absolutely need to upgrade the left side of their defense. (You could argue that they need another right-shot defenseman given Brandon Carlo’s injury history and Kevan Miller’s uncertain status moving forward, which I have before and absolutely would continue to argue as we look towards next year.) How they do that remains to be seen. There’s a number of quality options on the free agent market, and I’d expect the Bruins to be in on them. But if they think that upgrade is available via trade, it’s where their assets are best utilized. And if they’re not going to dangle ’em for a defensive upgrade, perhaps they’re used for a potential play for Sabres captain Jack Eichel.
The Bruins simply have greater needs than a potentially damaged-beyond-repair Tarasenko, and their limited resources need to be used to address ’em. Especially with the realization that a player like (the light years more affordable) Craig Smith can work in a second-line role if the left side is bolstered by a player with the talent of Taylor Hall, as the post-deadline Bruins proved.
With one final push on their mind, it’s sure things, not gambles, that should draw the B’s attention.
And 2021 Tarasenko is clearly anything but a sure thing.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.