There are two big question marks for the St. Louis Blues as they head into the trade deadline. What happens to Vladimir Tarasenko, a player who has spent his entire career with one organization, and what happens to captain Ryan O’Reilly, the addition that put them over the top a few years ago?
Tarasenko returned from injury this week, topping 17 minutes in his first game back, a loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Losses are piling up for the Blues these days, who are now sitting sixth in the Central Division with a 23-22-3 record. The 31-year-old sniper once submitted a trade request to try and start fresh somewhere else, and it seems like that’s where the relationship is headed again. A Tarasenko trade is likely, unless the next few weeks hold a remarkable turnaround for the Blues.
For O’Reilly, the other notable pending free agent forward that has been the subject of trade rumors, things aren’t so clear. He isn’t back on the ice yet, nearly a month after breaking his foot in a New Year’s Eve game against the Minnesota Wild. He also isn’t ready to say goodbye to St. Louis, where he won a Conn Smythe trophy en route to the Stanley Cup.
In an exclusive interview with Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic, O’Reilly was clear:
This is where I want to be. I hope I don’t get moved, but I think things will probably progress, especially with the deadline coming up and the talks with that. We’ll see how it goes. We’re starting to get into that.
“That” in this case is extension talks, though it doesn’t seem like things are very far along at this point. O’Reilly went as far as saying he would give the Blues a discount, given his success there.
But even with a team-friendly deal, can the Blues afford to pass up the assets they would get for O’Reilly at the deadline?
The veteran center will turn 32 in a few weeks, and has seen his offensive production almost disappear this season. A player who was once known for his playmaking ability, he has just six assists through 37 games. Ten goals puts him on his regular pace, but it just hasn’t been the same for O’Reilly or the Blues this year.
He also carries no trade protection in the seven-year, $52.5MM deal that will expire at the end of this season. It wouldn’t be the first time he finds himself on the move. O’Reilly was originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, before a 2015 trade took him to the Buffalo Sabres. Three years after that he was on his way to St. Louis, and now after five years with the Blues, he might be headed to another team.
There are few players in the league that seem so perfectly built for the playoffs as O’Reilly. At his best, he can be one of the most productive two-way centers in the league, shutting down opponents and driving offense at the same time. That’s what he was in 2019, when he led all postseason players with 23 points. Just last year he had seven goals and 12 points in 12 games for the Blues, and that success will be intriguing to contenders looking to beef up a second or third line.
If he had his way, there would be no trade. O’Reilly wants to stay in St. Louis, but it’s not up to him.