It took a bit longer thanks to a variety of factors, but both Vladimir Tarasenko and the St. Louis Blues got what they wanted.
The long-awaited Tarasenko contract extension was announced Tuesday and the talented Russian forward received a new eight-year contract extension worth $60 million.
The average annual value of the deal is $7.5 million, making Tarasenko the highest-paid Blues player.
The 23-year-old Tarasenko led the Blues in scoring last season with 37 goals and 73 points and also played in his first NHL All-Star Game. He was fifth in the NHL in goals and 10th overall in points, also contributing a plus-minus rating of plus-27.
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In a post on his Twitter account, Tarasenko said to Blues fans “happy to be with you and carry a note on my chest. Let’s bring the Cup to St. Louis!”
Tarasenko, who recently got married, will speak with the media Wednesday morning via teleconference.
Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong was just as happy to get Tarasenko locked into an eight-year contract extension.
“I talked to Vlad this afternoon, he’s really excited to be a Blue,” Armstrong said. “His main focus in our conversations were ‘What are we going to do to win the Stanley Cup?’ He never broached the economics with me, he just wanted the assurance that we were going to continue to push and prod and do what we had to do to get better.
“One of the things I’ve noticed from Vlad since he’s been here is his thirst to win outweighs everything else. He’s a competitor. Obviously we know he does love to score goals, but he does think of the team above that. I think it’s a testament to why he plays the game.”
After the season, the 16th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft was named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team. He has 66 goals and 135 points in 179 career games over three seasons.
Tarasenko wasn’t just a regular-season force, he also had six goals and seven points in six games during the first-round playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild. He recorded the Blues’ first playoff hat trick since 2004 in Game 2 against the Wild.
While other Blues were criticized for their lack of production in recent playoff seasons, that’s not the case with Tarasenko. Especially since he has 10 goals and 11 points in 13 career playoff games.
“I believe that Vladdy showed us things last year that we haven’t seen and talking to other managers about our team and what they say, they enjoy watching us play. They enjoy watching Vladdy play,” Armstrong said. “They turn on the Blues to see what he’s going to do. You look at his playoff performance in two years, he can score at the most important time of year. You look at his even-strength goals this year, he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be and I think coming back now, he understands the pressure he’s under now.”
Armstrong was willing to get into what he called “the stratosphere of dollars” as long as Tarasenko and his agent, former Blues goalie Mike Liut, committed to a longer term on the extension. The Blues already controlled Tarasenko’s rights for four more seasons.
“All players would love a lot of money and not much term, but we believed that if we were going to get into the stratosphere of dollars on an annual value that we had to get some unrestricted free agency years (in return),” Armstrong said. “It was just the negotiation part of getting the annual value up to something he was comfortable with. We needed to get some term to get that to happen. My belief is if you’re willing to go five years at that amount of money, why not go eight?”
Armstrong said Tarasenko told him he wants to be part of the team’s leadership group moving forward. With two former alternate captains gone in Barret Jackman and T.J Oshie, seeing Tarasenko wearing an “A” on his jersey this season would seem logical.
“He wants part of the leadership. He wants to be the guy,” Armstrong said. “Not only on the ice, he wants to be the guy his teammates can count on. He wants to be a guy that can speak his mind on what needs to be done — and those are exciting things when you hear them from a 22- or 23-year old. So I see him grabbing a part of our leadership group, whether it’s this September or he evolves into it.
“But I think there’s just a natural progression of young players grabbing a bigger part of our group.”
While some wondered if another NHL team would sign Tarasenko to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, Armstrong feared a contract from the Kontinental Hockey League in the forward’s native Russia a lot more.
“My fear was coming from the other side of the pond more than it was from the guys on the other 29 other NHL teams,” Armstrong said. “The KHL was never brought up, but I didn’t have to; my ‘Spidey Sense’ told me that it was really there. So I wanted to try and get this done as quick as possible ...
“If Vladimir wants to be the best player in the world and compete against the best players, he has to do it in this league. It’s like LeBron James going to play in the Italian League or Jordan Spieth going to play on the Web.com Tour, it doesn’t really matter if you win there. It matters when you win here — and Vladi wants to do that. That was the sell. I think the economics may have been better for him in the KHL, but the pride of winning against the best in the world draws a true competitor out.”
Armstrong was jokingly asked about Tarasenko’s $60 million “wedding gift” from the Blues.
“(What) I said to the agent, the representatives at the draft, is I’d like to give him a wedding gift prior (to now), it would have made the last week of my life a lot easier,” Armstrong said. “Again, the wedding certainly played a big part of it and I certainly respected that ... but when I talked to him today, he’d just gotten back from practice, he was skating again and I’m excited for Vladdy as a person entering a whole new stage of his life with his wife and now entering a whole new stage of his career.”
Tarasenko is the youngest Blues player to surpass the 30-goal mark since Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan in 1991-92. No Blues player had garnered had least 73 points since star forward Pavol Demitra in 20002-03.
He was among only four NHL player with two hat tricks last season and the only one with six game-winning goals, six shootout goals and two overtime goals.