Senators shore up offence with free agent winger Tarasenko on sensible one-year deal

New York Rangers' Vladimir Tarasenko (91) takes to the ice during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, April 6, 2023, in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

OTTAWA – This seems to be one of those summers where the Ottawa Senators get deals done when thoughts are elsewhere.

Remember when Ottawa was going to make a splash at the NHL draft and move winger Alex DeBrincat, with a quality scoring winger coming the other way?

DeBrincat did get traded, but it was weeks after the draft and a full eight days past the opening of free agency.

And if the top player acquired by the Senators in that trade with Detroit, Dominik Kubalik, felt like more of an extra-base hit than a home run, well, there was this nagging sense that Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion was not done yet. He said as much on local radio.

On a sultry Thursday summer evening, during what might be the quietest week of the NHL off-season, the Senators got that scoring piece they had sought by inking winger Vladimir Tarasenko to a one-year, $5-million deal.

And while the six-foot-one, 220-pound Tarasenko is two years removed from his career highs in assists (48) and points (82), while scoring 34 for the St. Louis Blues, he doesn’t have to be that 34-goal guy with Ottawa; nor the 40-goal man he was of 2015-16 with the Blues.

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He simply has to be another threat on a power play that can feature Tim Stützle, Claude Giroux, Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk.

If Tarasenko were to score 25 goals or more and distribute the puck for 35 to 40 assists, that would be plenty of offence considering the talent around him.

At 31, Tarasenko has evolved from being the star of the Show-Me State team to signing a one-year, show-them deal to try to earn a longer contract somewhere. The Senators were wise not to commit past one year, considering they have enough money committed to core assets without getting silly on term with a scorer designed to help in the short term.

In fact, with just $32,000 in cap room following the Tarasenko deal, Dorion will have to shed salary to make room for in-house signings to come, including centre Shane Pinto and winger Egor Sokolov.

If ever there was a sign that the Senators are beyond their rebuilding phase and gunning to win now, it is the sight of them being out of cap room before Aug. 1.

And there’s this that feels new: the Sens are proving to be a popular free agent destination, having attracted Giroux, Joonas Korpisalo and now Tarasenko.

In their drive toward their first playoff berth since 2017, the Sens now feature a formidable top-six forward group of Tkachuk, Stützle, Giroux, Kubalik, Norris and Tarasenko. And that is if winger Drake Batherson doesn’t break into the top two lines. (Don’t bet against him.)

Though he is a left-hand shot, Tarasenko prefers to line up at right wing.

“Vladimir’s a natural goal scorer,” said Dorion, in a team-issued statement. “He’s a dynamic player who can score from anywhere in the offensive zone, as well as an underrated playmaker who’s made a career out of driving offence for him and his linemates. An established performer in the regular season and in the playoffs, we’re thrilled to add a player of his calibre to our lineup.”

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Tarasenko is looking to bounce back from an off-year in which he scored a combined 18 goals and 32 assists for St. Louis and the New York Rangers. He chipped in three goals and one assist in seven playoff games with New York.

Known for his quick release, Tarasenko has exceeded the 30-goal mark six times in a 675-game NHL career that has seen him produce 270 goals and 304 assists.

St. Louis selected the native of Yaroslavl, Russia, 16th overall in the 2010 NHL draft. As you might recall, that was Ottawa’s pick, traded to St. Louis for by then-GM Bryan Murray for defenceman David Rundblad. Rundblad was later swapped for centre Kyle Turris.

So, Tarasenko’s journey to Ottawa is a neat little twist on that original transaction. He’s “coming home.” For however long.

The man can shoot. Tarasenko is one of the uncommon goal scorers who does not need to slap a one-timer to beat goaltenders. He has a deadly wrister.

Though not directly tied to the DeBrincat trade, the free agent signing of Tarasenko puts a nicer polish on the off-season goal of replacing “The Cat.” Now, Ottawa has Kubalik, defenceman prospect Donovan Sebrango, a first-round pick from Detroit plus the addition of Tarasenko via free agency.

Toss in the free agent deal for goaltender Korpisalo, and this latest summer of Pierre hasn’t been all that quiet after all.

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