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|Blues focused on re-signing Tarasenko|
4 мая 2015 года. Rutherford, Jeremy. St. Louis Post - Dispatch
Vladimir Tarasenko put up his numbers. Now it's the Blues' turn to put up theirs.
In an offseason in which many will be watching to see what general manager Doug Armstrong does to shake up the roster, the main focus will be keeping Tarasenko on it for as long as possible.
The Russian winger recently wrapped up the final season of his three-year, entry-level contract ranking fifth in the NHL with 37 goals and 10th with 73 points. Following his breakout year, he will become a restricted free agent July 1 if still unsigned by the Blues.
Twice this season, the club reached out to Tarasenko's North American-based agent, former Blues goalie Mike Liut of Octagon Athlete Representation, to work out an extension. But both times the player's camp asked that negotiations be kept on hold.
"We talked in training camp, (Tarasenko) wanted to wait," Armstrong said. "I broached it again midseason, he wanted to wait. He's an elite player in our game and teams take care of elite players. We've had good players before. He has the potential to be an elite player."
Reached Sunday at the IIHF World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic, Liut wrote in an email to the Post-Dispatch that he was "comfortable letting (Tarasenko) finish his second full season and in addition (Tarasenko) did not want to discuss" the contract during the year.
At 23 years old, Tarasenko is in line for a hefty raise. His base salary in 2014-15 was $900,000, but he also got $850,000 in bonuses. In a new deal, he could command $6 million or more per season, with a maximum length of eight years.
Armstrong said that the "caveat" on Tarasenko's deal will be compensation and terms based on the NHL salary cap, which has yet to be determined. The ceiling in 2014-15 was $69 million, and after reports of a jump to near $73 million next season, the latest projection is $71.5 million.
The Blues have approximately $56.2 million committed to 17 players in 2015-16, which does not include Tarasenko or goaltender Jake Allen, both restricted free agents.
"You hear maybe a $4 million swing from the different sides on what the cap is going to be," Armstrong said. "That's a lot of money in a cap system. We can keep more players the higher the cap is, or we can keep more players the less money he takes."
In the past, with restricted free agents such as Erik Johnson, David Perron and T.J. Oshie, Armstrong has f negotiated reasonably priced short-term or "bridge" contracts, forcing them to prove their worth.
Even last summer with Jaden Schwartz, who had proved his ability to the organization, Armstrong used the leverage of the forward being unable to receive an offer sheet to eventually ink him to a two-year, $4.7 million contract.
Armstrong acknowledged that with Tarasenko, who will be offer sheet-eligible this offseason, the Blues may be playing to a different set of rules. But he insisted the club will operate within the landscape of the league's collective-bargaining agreement.
"We're going to be fair, as fair as possible under the cap system," Armstrong said. "We have to use the CBA to an extent, but not to the extent that you use on other people. We might not give him exactly what he wants. But I'm not going into this like (the Blues don't) respect what he's accomplished and respect what he can accomplish. He's earned the conversations that we're going to have.
"(But) the elite paid players are on their third contracts or fourth contracts. They're not on their second contracts. So (Tarasenko) is going to be very well compensated on a second contract. But you make more money when you have more rights. He doesn't have unrestricted free agency rights and that's just the nature of the beast. That's the business. He gets it, Mike gets it, I get it."
Of the 11 NHL players who finished tied among the top 10 goal scorers this season, seven signed their current contracts as restricted free agents.
The highest paid among them is Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who is in his second contract, a 13-year, $124 million deal ($9.5 million annual average value). No. 2 is Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who is under his second contract, a five-year, $37.5 million deal ($7.5 million).
But after those two, the remaining large contracts belong to players Anaheim's Corey Perry ($8.6 million), the New York Rangers' Rick Nash ($7.8 million), Minnesota's Zach Parise ($7.5 million) and San Jose's Joe Pavelski ($6 million) who were unrestricted free agents at the time of their deals.
Meanwhile, players who were restricted free agents when they signed their second deals were far less compensated, a group that includes Dallas' Tyler Seguin ($5.75 million), the New York Islanders' John Tavares ($5.5 million) and Dallas' Jamie Benn ($5.25 million).
When asked where Tarasenko slotted in among those players, Liut wrote that negotiating publicly was not beneficial to the process, but the agent added: "(Tarasenko) is one of the most complete players in the NHL in terms of understanding both ends of the ice, ability to play with anyone and scoring from beyond 30 feet. His game will continue to evolve and improve, but he is among the top NHL players."
Armstrong indicated that he is open to discussing a short- or long-term deal. Liut said that he has yet to discuss contract length with Tarasenko, but agreed with Armstrong, saying, "Anything is possible."
The two are both attending the World Championships in the Czech Republic, but there are no plans to meet. Their next opportunity to do so would be the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo the first week of June. That would leave just a month before Tarasenko would hit restricted free agency July 1.
Armstrong insists the Blues will be at no risk of losing Tarasenko in exchange for draft-pick compensation. The club will have the right to match any offer.
Said Armstrong, "We'll match whatever he gets. That's easy."
But any delay in a deal could be a snag in the Blues' summer plans because Armstrong says the club won't be bringing in any unrestricted free agents before Tarasenko is on board.
"We are not going to be active in signing other players until we get him taken care of," Armstrong said. "If it means allowing players to go to free agency, if it means making players sweat it out on what their deal's going to be, he's the priority for us.
"I'd like to partner with him, I'd like to partner with Mike. If it happens in May, great. If it happens in June, great. If it happens in August, great. He's the primary guy."