Why the Seattle Kraken Should Use Vladimir Tarasenko as Their Centerpiece

Abbey MastraccoContributor IIJuly 20, 2021

St. Louis Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko in action during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Vegas Golden Knights Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

There were plenty of surprises over the weekend when teams made a flurry of moves ahead of the NHL roster freeze in anticipation of Wednesday's expansion draft. It quickly became apparent which players would be protected and which would be left exposed, and the official lists were released the following day.

The two most shocking players available: St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.

My two cents: Take Tarasenko.

First, let's start with why the Seattle Kraken would be motivated to take two players who will be 30 or older next season with cap hits of $7.5 million and $10.5 million.

Seattle will select one player each from 30 teams (the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt), and 20 must be under contract for next season with an aggregate value of 60 to 100 percent of the $81.5 million salary cap. The Kraken will take on large contracts—and more than one of them.

According to The Athletic, Price waived his no-movement clause, which would have forced the Habs to protect him, so the club could protect backup goalie Jake Allen. Price has five years left on an $84 million deal.

Montreal appears to be banking on Seattle not wanting to pay that much for a goalie who will be 38 by the time his contract ends. Further complicating matters is that Price might miss significant time next season. The extent of his injuries is unclear, and it's also unclear whether he'll need hip surgery, knee surgery or both.

Price missed 19 of the last 21 regular-season games with a lower-body injury and then a concussion but returned to his elite form in the playoffs. The Canadiens lost the Stanley Cup Final in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Price stole their one win, and the decisive game was a one-goal contest in large part because of his brilliance.

Choosing Price would match the Marc-Andre Fleury move that gave the Vegas Golden Knights a hero and franchise face. In case you forgot, Fleury waived his no-movement clause during the 2016-17 season before winning his third Stanley Cup and second straight with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After becoming a Golden Knight, he promptly backstopped the NHL's 31st team to a Cinderella appearance in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Price, a British Columbia native, would instantly become that franchise face for the Kraken. Seattle, led by general manager Ron Francis, will explore this option because it would be foolish not to. So, the move could backfire on the Habs, but it would get a lot of money off the books.

Tarasenko's cap hit and contract are more palatable, with only two years remaining on a $60 million deal. But beyond the money, there are several reasons Seattle should take a crack at Tarasenko.

He has requested a trade, but regardless of whether Seattle picks him, it's unlikely he will suit up for St. Louis again. And the Kraken do not have to take him—he could spend three days in limbo and then wait for general manager Doug Armstrong to find a trade partner.

But Seattle has a chance to land a prolific scorer for practically nothing, so the club should take it.

Tarasenko was one of the most consistent offensive forces in the league from 2014-15 to 2018-19. During those years, he averaged 36.4 goals. He was elite, and his impact was felt nightly. He had the size, the strength, the hands and the speed. Tarasenko generated chances and created for his teammates. He could score from just about anywhere on the ice, but he made his living below the dots.

Tarasenko won a Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019, and it felt right when one of the game's elite players hoisted the hardware.

And then shoulder injuries derailed him. He missed nearly the entire 2019-20 campaign and needed three surgeries, one of which forced him to miss his grandfather's funeral in Russia. He returned for the coronavirus pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season to play 24 games. He scored four goals with 10 assists in the regular season and scored twice in four postseason games.

Ask any baseball player who has had their labrum or rotator cuff repaired: Shoulder injuries never really go away. The joint always feels weak or tired, even when the strength is there. The range of motion feels limited even when it's not. Turn a shoulder and see how the rest of the body turns with it.

Tarasenko's explosive passing and shooting was limited last season, and he didn't take the risks he had taken in previous seasons. It's tough to be elusive when you're hesitant about taking a hit and sliding into the boards shoulder-first.

But that's not to say Tarasenko is done, because 34 games over two abbreviated seasons is too small a sample size to judge. Any athlete returning from injury will be hesitant and tentative. Entering his age-30 season, Tarasenko has the potential to regain his lethal scoring touch.

Maybe a fresh start will be beneficial. Maybe one of the largest analytics teams in hockey will find something specific for Tarasenko to utilize. It's not often a player such as Tarasenko becomes available, so the Kraken should look to take advantage and use him as a building block. Put him on a line with Lightning center Yanni Gourde and Carolina Hurricanes left wing Nino Niederreiter. He is a top-six talent, and the Kraken could form a top line that's already better than many in the league.

The Price vs. Tarasenko debate might not be a discussion in the Seattle front office. The team could decide to swing for the fences in Year 1 and select both of them. It could take Tarasenko, Price and an aging star with a big salary such as New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban—who is 32 and has a $9 million cap hit for 2021-22, the last year of his contract—and still have room for more.

We'll know what the Kraken are thinking soon enough.