Perhaps the most surprising development of NHL free agency is that Vladimir Tarasenko still does not have a contract for next season. Last week, Tarasenko changed agents, forcing the 31-year-old forward to start from scratch as he looks for a new home.
A six-time 30-goal scorer, Tarasenko netted 18 in 69 games last season — 10 for the St. Louis Blues and eight for the New York Rangers. He had one goal over the final five games of the Rangers’ first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Was Tarasenko’s underwhelming run with the Rangers a sign of things to come or just a rough patch? After making his Rangers debut on Feb. 10, Tarasenko averaged 2.96 scoring chances per 20 minutes in 31 regular-season games — tied for 54th out of 438 forwards who played at least 100 minutes in all situations over that span. By comparison, Tarasenko’s 4.02 scoring chances per 20 in 2021-22 were second only to Auston Matthews’ 4.69.
Tarasenko was a drag on the performance of the Rangers’ top six. He played most of his even-strength minutes (270:52) with Mika Zibanejad, and they had a 44.0 XGF% when on the ice at the same time. Zibanejad, meanwhile, had a 66.5 XGF% in 166:45 of ice time without Tarasenko over the final two months of the regular season.
Although Tarasenko has never been known for his defensive prowess, his scoring ability provided cover for his flaws in that area. Whichever team signs Tarasenko will have to hope that his finishing touch is still there.
The good news for interested teams is that Tarasenko remains a high-level skater, finishing tied for 46th among all forwards with 55 rush chances last season — 23 of which came with the Rangers.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported last week that Tarasenko “had multiple offers from clubs ranging from contenders to rebuilds in the $5.5M-to-$6M per category at varying lengths.” Tarasenko carried a $7.5-million cap hit on his recently expired contract, which he signed in 2015.
The Ottawa Senators have shown interest in Tarasenko, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, and they now have an opening in their top six after trading Alex DeBrincat to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. (The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly are pursuing Tarasenko as well.)
Tarasenko could replace DeBrincat on the Senators’ second line alongside a returning Josh Norris, who missed most of last season because of a shoulder injury. Ottawa scored the sixth-most goals off the rush in 2022-23, which could create the proper conditions for a Tarasenko bounce-back season. Tarasenko’s first experience with free agency has not gone according to plan. A short-term deal might be the best thing for him at this point.