NHL Rumor Mill – September 16, 2021
Updates on Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Thomas while several notable unrestricted free agents could become tryout targets. Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC: Eric Duhatschek was asked about St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko’s status in a recent mailbag segment. He doesn’t consider the 29-year-old’s contract as untradeable because this summer’s proved there’s no such thing, pointing to Tyler Johnson, Andrew Ladd and Loui Eriksson getting moved for a price.
Tarasenko has two years left on his contract with an annual average value of $7.5 million. However, Duhatschek points out the winger will earn $9.5 million in actual salary this season, dropping to $5.5 million next season.
Despite Tarasenko’s trade request, Duhatschek speculates the winger will report to the Blues if he’s not moved when training camp opens next week. He feels the two sides will “make nice” and coexist while his salary-cap dollars click off and teams get an opportunity to evaluate his skill level following his third shoulder surgery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It appears the window for moving Tarasenko during the offseason has closed. Concerns over his thrice-repaired shoulder and his contract have made teams leery of meeting what could be an expensive asking price from the Blues. Most teams have also invested most of their cap space into the coming season’s rosters.
As Duhatschek points out, things could change quickly and perhaps Tarasenko gets traded before camp opens. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if he spends this season with the Blues and gets traded next summer. Teams will have more cap space and a willingness to take on his lower actual salary for 2022-23.
Jeremy Rutherford reports the contract standoff continues between the Blues and restricted free agent Robert Thomas. The 22-year-old forward is coming off his entry-level deal with little leverage except if he signs an offer sheet with a rival club.
The Blues have almost no cap space left for the coming season. If a team signed Thomas for between $2.055 million and $4.11 million and the Blues declined to match, they’d receive a second-round pick as compensation.
Rutherford suggested the Arizona Coyotes as a possibility. General manager Bill Armstrong knows Thomas well, having drafted him when he was the Blues director of amateur scouting. He also has five second-round picks in next year’s draft. So far, however, there’s no indication Armstrong will make that move.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Maybe Armstrong doesn’t want to cross his former team. Perhaps he’s not that keen on Thomas. Or maybe he intends to use those picks as trade chips for better options between now and next year’s draft.
As for Thomas and the Blues’ cap situation, they’re expected to place sidelined Oskar Sundqvist on long-term injury reserve to start the season. That’ll give them sufficient room to sign Thomas for perhaps $2 million on a one-year deal. They’ll have to shed salary when Sundqvist returns but other ways could be found to accomplish that. Maybe a deal for Tarasenko will have emerged by then.
NOTE: My original note incorrectly stated Bill Armstrong was related to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. I apologize for any confusion my error may have caused.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Right wing James Neal, center Travis Zajac, and defenseman Jason Demers are among Steven Ellis’ list of 10 noteworthy unrestricted free agents who might get the call for professional tryout offers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The flattened salary has taken its toll on the UFA market. Several of those veterans would’ve landed affordable short-term contracts with NHL clubs by now. Some of them could avoid the PTO route by inking one-year deals for under $1 million. Others, however, could find themselves waiting in vain for any type of NHL offer.