The Friday Four: Is Vladimir Tarasenko still a trade candidate?

St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko. (Joe Puetz/AP)

The Friday Four, a collection of thoughts and information on some intriguing player performances, continues this week with some notes on:

Vladimir Tarasenko is playing great and one of St. Louis’ top scorers so far this season, but what about that trade request? Does he still want out?

Cam Atkinson and Jakub Voracek bring very different styles to the table and were traded for each other last summer between Columbus and Philadelphia. We look at the early returns on both sides and what to watch for from here.

• And Frederik Andersen, a notoriously slow starter in seasons past, is doing the opposite and performing as one of the best at his position right now.

All numbers from Natural Stat Trick.

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Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Left unprotected to Seattle in the expansion draft, you had to take a side on whether Tarasenko would be a good pick up for the Kraken.

In one way, you can see a 29-year-old with immense goal scoring ability and impact upside. Over a five-year period from 2014 to 2019 his scoring totals were among the top in the league. His last two seasons were interrupted by injury, but the surgeon who worked on Tarasenko last said the Blues winger would be 100 per cent “ready to play and that he will make a big impact for his team.”

In another way, you can see a player who has had three shoulder surgeries since 2018 and managed to play just 34 games and score seven times in the past two seasons combined. Is his former upside still attainable? The Kraken passed on Tarasenko, his $7.5 million cap hit and two years of remaining term to take Vince Dunn instead.

Those shoulder surgeries became a source of broken trust for the player with the team and a dispute over whether the first two were handled properly led to a trade request in the summer. No deal was found.

Through just six games in 2021-22, Tarasenko has shown flashes of his old sniper self, notching as many goals (4) as he scored in 24 games all of last season. He’s added four assists, too, and is St. Louis’ second-highest scorer.

The Blues are cooking to start the season, too. They’re 5-1-0 with a plus-13 goal differential, third-best in the league. It’s early, but this looks closer to the 2019 Blues than anything we’ve seen since. So, is Tarasenko still asking for a trade?

“Yes to my knowledge talking to people close to the situation for the past several months and even as recent as yesterday, Vladimir Tarasenko still requests a trade from the Blues,” Jeremy Rutherford, The Athletic’s St. Louis reporter told Jeff Marek earlier this week. “He realizes that may not happen soon, it may not happen this year, it could happen next off-season, or maybe Doug Armstrong never finds the right deal for Vladimir Tarasenko and he plays out the last two years of his contract.

“The desire for Tarasenko remains the same.”

With veteran David Perron and off-season trade acquisition Pavel Buchnevich also on the right side, Tarasenko has been on the third line and still finding league-leading opportunities (though the Blues spread out the ice time across three lines more than most). At 5-on-5, he’s fourth in goals, third in shots, and ninth in scoring chances league-wide.

He is playing up to that contract right now and it would be tantalizing to acquire his skill and potential at a relative discount. However, it’s a lot to take on $7.5 million of cap in-season these days, and this would come with added risk when you consider Tarasenko’s recent surgeries and their potential long-term impact.

If this play sticks, he could be adding fuel to trade rumours all season.

Jakub Voracek, Columbus Blue Jackets; Cam Atkinson, Philadelphia Flyers

We’re pairing these together because the two lead to the question: which side is going to win this trade?

Both Columbus and Philadelphia needed a shake-up in the off-season and found trade partners in each other — the Flyers picked up the goal scorer Atkinson, while the Jackets re-acquired Voracek the playmaker.

So let’s start in Columbus.

A key to this deal for the Blue Jackets is to have Voracek and Patrik Laine pairing up on a line and for their signature skills to complement one another. Laine scored 10 times in 45 games for Columbus last season, never really settling in after the trade from Winnipeg. And the Blue Jackets have to make a call in the near future on what to do with Laine and how much he’s worth — Laine is an RFA at season’s end, but just one year away from UFA eligibility.

It hasn’t been an explosive start for either Laine or Voracek, though chemistry is coming along and better luck should be around the corner. Laine hasn’t scored a goal at 5-on-5 yet, but he leads the team with 18 scoring chances (17th in the league). On the power play neither has a goal, but they’ve combined for seven assists and lead the NHL’s 11th-best man advantage unit.

Most surprising is that their line, with Boone Jenner at centre, has been on the ice for just a single 5-on-5 goal against.

Atkinson had peaked in Columbus it seemed, two years beyond a 41-goal season and not threatening anything close to that pace in back-to-back truncated seasons. But this move may have revived him. Atkinson has six goals in his first six games to rank among the league leaders — his five goals at 5-on-5 ties Anze Kopitar, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Andrew Mangiapane for the league lead. And when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5, Philadelphia has outscored their opponents 9-1; Voracek’s on-ice goal differential is a 1-1 split.

So the Flyers win the deal? Not so fast.

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While the Jackets combo has underachieved expectations so far, Atkinson has overshot it. At 5-on-5, his five goals have come on just 15 shots (33.33 percentage) and his individual expected goals (how many goals you’d expect to get based on the sorts of shots being taken) is below 1. There’s a big discrepancy there.

Obviously the winner of this deal won’t be determined within the first couple games — there are multiple years left on the contracts of both Voracek and Atkinson. The early returns on actual goal rates have the Flyers out ahead for now, but look out for a 5-on-5 breakthrough for the Blue Jackets pair.

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Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes

Who knew that the source of Freddy Andersen’s penchant for slow season starts was the Toronto Maple Leafs jersey?

I kid, of course, but at the same time…here’s a look at Andersen’s first month of the season dating back five years and including his start with the Hurricanes in 2021-22. This shows the number of shots he faced in the first month, his save percentage, and his goals saved above expected (which factors shot quality) at 5-on-5.

YEAR Shots Against Save Percentage Goal Saved Above Average/60
2016-17 210 0.876 -0.65
2017-18 366 0.896 -0.6
2018-19 307 0.919 0.31
2019-20 303 0.901 -0.33
2020-21 223 0.892 0.17
2021-22 182 0.956 1.38

Andersen’s start to the season has been magnificent, a league leader in overall save percentage (.956), goals-against average (1.33) and wins (6). He’s started every one of Carolina’s games so far and the Canes haven’t turned to Antti Raanta yet (though that could change Friday night in the first of Carolina’s back-to-back games situation).

Andersen’s time in Toronto didn’t end in a way anyone would have predicted, on the bench in the playoffs after an injury-shortened regular season where his numbers took a dive and he lost the No. 1 role. And even the season before that Andersen wasn’t performing at his usual, consistent level. So it’s been two years in a row of declining play.

The Canes for years had an Achilles heel in net and seemed to finally find their guy last season when rookie Alex Nedeljkovic came through and was a Calder Trophy finalist. They weren’t willing to buy into that on a contract extension, and instead traded him to Detroit, a move that raised a lot of eyebrows.

So now it falls on Andersen (and Raanta) to keep the situation stable behind one of the better, deeper teams in the league. At the rate Andersen’s currently on not only would the Canes be one of the top Cup contenders, but he could hang in the Vezina discussion.

We’re ahead of ourselves now. That’s a conversation for a much later date this season. Let’s see if Andersen can keep it up.

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