Thoughts on the Tarasenko trade

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 23: Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues takes a shot against Logan Thompson #36 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 23: Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues takes a shot against Logan Thompson #36 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /
new york rangers
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 23: Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues takes a shot against Logan Thompson #36 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 23, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

The dust has settled on the trade for Vladimir Tarasenko and it’s worth taking a look at the deal.  The good news is a day later, it still looks like an excellent deal for the New York Rangers.   There are some negatives that we will get to, but let’s look at the positives first.

Why it works: The Panarin factor

The Rangers have been looking for a right winger to play with Artemi Panarin ever since they signed him in 2019.  When they decided to make him the second-highest-paid player in the game, it was vital to find the pieces to complement him.

Instead, it has been a revolving door as we saw him teamed with the likes of Jesper Fast and Colin Blackwell or Alexis Lafreniere playing the off-wing. Last season it was Barclay Goodrow and this season it has been Jimmy Vesey.

The Rangers’ brain trust gets an “F” for their efforts with the only success late last season when he meshed with Andrew Copp, originally acquired to play third-line center.

In Tarasenko, for the first time, the Rangers are giving Artemi Panarin a star right winger to play with.  Although they haven’t played much together in the past if they can mesh it could elevate Panarin’s game even more.

And let’s not overlook the fact that despite playing with an assortment of mismatched right-wingers, the Breadman has still been able to score 83 goals and 302 points in 237 games. To think that he can improve on those numbers is scary.

Why it works: Early acquisitions

The trade deadline is March 3.  Making this trade three weeks before the deadline it gives Gerard Gallant the time to integrate Tarasenko into the team. There is no doubt that Gallant will experiment with the lines and the power play.  Will he continue to use Panarin and Zibanejad together with the new Russian?  Who sits from the current top power play unit to make room for Tarasenko?

Gallant has 31 games to figure it out before the playoffs start.  By making this deal now, it gives him 11 extra games to get that done.

Let’s not forget that it will also help Niko Mikkola get acclimated on the blue line.   How well will he mesh with Braden Schneider?   There are 11 games left before the deadline to see if Mikkola is the answer.

Why it works: Playing keep away

While Tarasenko had always been a target for Drury and the Rangers, he was also a threat to end up in Carolina, New Jersey, Edmonton, and Calgary to name just a few.  When Lou Lamoriello pulled the trigger on the Bo Horvat deal, it set a lot of wheels in motion and you can be sure that St. Louis was looking for a trade partner now.

Timo Meier is the most attractive trade target now, but he will be expensive and even if he ends up in New Jersey, he will be costly and that only helps the Rangers in the long term.  Now, a contender will be forced to roll the dice on an injured Patrick Kane who will also be a costly addition.

You can be sure that the Horvat trade shook up some NHL GMs, but as much as he makes the Islanders a better team, they are still in a desperate struggle to make the playoffs.  He scored last night, but the Isles still blew a 4-2 lead and lost to the Canucks, the same team the Rangers beat two nights ago.

Why it works: The power-less play

The Rangers power play sucks.  It’s no mystery that the first power play unit has been remarkably inefficient over the last 25 games, scoring only 12 times on their last 71 power plays, a 17% efficiency rating.

In their four losses since December 4, they went 0-13 while giving up four power-play goals. In their three overtime or shootout losses, they have gone 0-7 while surrendering one goal. That’s 0-20 while giving up five PP goals.  Score at last season’s 25% rate and they win four or five of those seven losses and are contending for first place.

Gallant will have to decide how to break up that top unit, something he has been reluctant to do.  The current unit has four right-shot players with Chris Kreider the only lefty. Tarasenko is a left-shot winger and will balance it out.

Tarasenko replacing Vincent Trocheck on the top unit makes sense, but it also means that they lose their best faceoff man, but considering the lack of success, it’s a move that has to be made.  Hey, they were the fourth-best power play in the NHL last season with Ryan Strome in that unit.

Why it works: The Mikkola factor

We all like Ben Harpur, but there is no doubt that he is a journeyman defender.  Can a team win the Stanley Cup with Ben Harpur playing regularly as the sixth blueliner?   Mikkola is bigger, younger, and has a better upside than Harpur.  There’s no doubt that with his size, he has not been a physical factor and you can be sure that there will be instances when he sticks checks instead of using his body (hello K’Andre Miller?), and that will frustrate the fan base, but this is a clear upgrade over Harpur and Libor Hajek.

Why it works:  Depth matters

Adding Tarasenko will have the same effect that the trades for Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp did last season.  Jimmy Vesey has been playing on the top line and now slots back to the third or fourth lines.  It automatically strengthens the bottom six, an essential need during a long playoff run.

If Tarasenko works with Zibanejad and Panarin, it means that Gallant will not be forced to break up the Kid Line, something he has done numerous times in an effort to jump-start other lines.

There’s no doubt that a lineup of Panarin-Zibanejad-Tarasenko,  Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko, Kreider-Trocheck-Vesey, Goodrow-Leschyshyn-Gauthier/Kravtsov is a pretty impressive array.  It still leaves them with Will Cuylle and Jonny Brodzinski as depth players.


While all of this is encouraging, there are some concerns.  Foremost is a lack of toughness, especially among the forwards.  In trading Blais, they gave up on their most physical forward though his lack of offense offset his hitting.  All reports are that Mikkola does not use his size enough.  We’ll see if that is true and to be honest, Ben Harpur has not been much of a physical presence when in the lineup.

There’s been some concern that the Rangers have now traded two first-round picks in consecutive seasons.  In reality, this deal boils down to Nils Lundkvist and Sammy Blais for a Tarasenko rental and a third-round pick for a Mikkola rental.  When you look at it that way, the Tarasenko deal doesn’t look as great for the Rangers while the Mikkola pickup is reasonable.

The last concern is whether Tarasenko is going to be able to get back to the 34 goals and 82 points form of last season.  He has not been as good this year, but is that because of the Blues’ mediocrity?  Elite wingers need to be set up and Robert Thomas, his center in St. Louis is not playing as well as he did last season either.

Final verdict

So, is it possible to grade this trade?   It’s a positive that Chris Drury was able to add an elite winger and a regular defenseman to the roster at a cost that will barely impact the current team. He was also able to hold onto the better of his two first-round draft picks as well as his crown jewel prospects.

Is he done?  The Rangers will have enough cap space on March 3 to add a depth asset for the playoffs.

The final grade depends on what the team does in the playoffs. While the odds are against the Rangers going all the way to win the most challenging championship in pro sports, you have to be grateful that the team is ready, willing, and able to do everything they can do to try to make that possible.

Enjoy the ride.

Related Story. At MSG as the Rangers beat Vancouver. light