Replace James Neal with Vladimir Tarasenko?


Mar 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) skates with the puck against the Dallas Stars during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Although Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward James Neal has come forth and stated the rumors claiming he asked to be traded are false, the organization should deal him anyway.

Look, I understand the Pens’ fan base because I too think Neal’s a great player, and a dynamite offensive threat, but his postseason play makes me think otherwise. Accompany his poor playoff performance along with the fact Pittsburgh needs to save every penny they can, and you come out with a plausible reason to depart the “Real Deal.”

People here this over-and-over: in the playoffs, champions have four effective lines of forwards, not just a couple, which Pittsburgh currently has. And knowing the talent Neal could be exchanged for is prevalent, considering he’s in the prime of his career, and under contract. A contract that Pittsburgh should strongly deliberate moving.

One player that I’ve thought for a while now that could be an excellent fit with Evgeni Malkin is St. Louis Blues’ forward Vladimir Tarasenko. So long, that I wrote an article last summer saying Tarasenko should be on the Pens’ radar, and that Neal should be the big piece that lands him in the ‘Burgh.

Despite St. Louis’ inevitable reluctance to ship Tarasenko out east due to his skyrocketed potential, a player like Neal should at the very least peak the Blues’ interest. And like I said, Neal is amidst the prime of his career, so the Blues might bite at the idea of him lining up with a David Backes or Alexander Steen.

Tarasenko is also entering the final year of his entry-level deal, and St. Louis has Patrick Berglund, Jaden Schwartz, and Vladimir Sobotka being restricted free agents this summer. Therefore, Tarasenko might be asking for a price they can’t reach. Well, Johnny, if you’re suggesting Neal be dealt based off of the team’s cap space, why are you so adamant about acquiring a guy who will demand more following the next season?

Craig Adams, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Paul Martin will be off the books next summer – $10.7 million per year total – and when you pair that with Neal’s, that’s $15.7 million a season saved, clearly giving the Pens room to maneuver a new deal for Tarasenko. But not only would Tarasenko provide flexibility, as I alluded earlier, he’d mesh effortlessly with Malkin.

Anton Zlobin is killing it for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in their Calder Cup run so far, and I’ve said he should be on Malkin’s line. Can you picture a pairing of Zlobin on the left, Malkin in the center, and Tarasenko on the right? That’s one heck of a group. All of them are bonafide scorers, and although Zlobin has yet to play in an NHL game, the fact he’d be with Malkin is almost guaranteed production.

Like I wrote though, it won’t be easy to pry Tarasenko out of St. Louis because of the promise he has. However, Pittsburgh has a pool of highly-touted defensive prospects to offer should the Blues be stingy, but they shouldn’t if Neal’s name is thrown around.

It would be a power move made by who ever succeeds now ex-general manager Ray Shero, and create a whole new identity for a team whose yet to identify it.