ST. LOUIS — Re-signing Vladimir Tarasenko will be a top priority for the Blues this offseason, according to St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.
Tarasenko, who put together an All-Star year and was the Blues’ leading scorer this season with 37 goals and 73 points total, has been working under a three-year entry-level contract he signed before the 2012-13 season.
"The St. Louis Blues will not be in the spot on July 5, if he’s not signed, not to be able to match any offer sheet that’s out there," Armstrong said Tuesday. "If it means allowing players to go to free agency, or if it means making players sweat it out on what their deal’s going to be, he’s the priority for us."
The comments on Tarasenko’s future were part of an extended conversation the general manager had with the media less than 48 hours after the Blues were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Armstrong indicated he’d be making a thorough evaluation of the hockey organization.
"We’re not naÃ¯ve to the fact that we let fans down this year with our postseason play," he said. "The job of the general manager in this situation is to evaluate the hockey operations area in every aspect from scouting, to management, to players, coaching, to trainers. That’s what I’m going to do over the next little while."
He declined to give a timeline on any decisions he would make going forward, but added later that the Blues would not be active "signing other players until we get (Tarasenko) taken care of — meaning we’re going to take care of our restricted free agents."
Armstrong also said he will reconnect with winger Vladimir Sobotka, who left the Blues for the Kontinental Hockey League this past season but still has time left on his NHL contract. Armstrong said Sobotka’s departure was a business decision — one that he understood and respected.
"I think he wants to come back," Armstrong said. "I’d love to have him back. I love what he brought to our team, I love his attitude, a huge fan of the man."
Armstrong will also be putting some time between the raw emotions of the first-round playoff loss and more definitive remodeling. He’ll travel to watch the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate Chicago Wolves play the Utica Comets tomorrow, then return to St. Louis for meetings prior to attending the World Championships. After that, he said, he’ll come back and "push this team moving forward."
The task will involve fixing a club that looks strong on paper but repeatedly failed to live up to its potential in the postseason, despite strong regular-season play.
"What I don’t want to do is hurt the franchise long-term," Armstrong said. "I don’t want to do something that is going to be a good headline tomorrow, and that we’re going to regret for five or six years."
When asked, he agreed the Blues’ core group of veteran players bears some responsibility for the postseason disappointments, along with the general manager and head coach.
"They’re our leaders. They’re our A players," he said. "They have to bear the equal responsibility, at minimum, to what the rest of us bear."
Meanwhile, he’s aware that the team’s opportunity to achieve postseason success may not last much longer.
"The window," he warned, "doesn’t stay open forever."