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Blues sign forward Tarasenko to eight-year contract

by Louie Korac

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The St. Louis Blues signed right wing Vladimir Tarasenko to an eight-year, $60 million contract on Tuesday.

"Thank you for your trust," Tarasenko wrote on his verified Twitter account. "Me, my wife and my family [are] proud to stay in St. Louis!

"Happy to be with you and carry a note on my chest. Let's bring the [Stanley Cup] to St. Louis!"

It's the richest contract in Blues history and will pay the 23-year-old an average annual value of $7.5 million. It surpassed the seven-year, $45 million contract defenseman Alex Pietrangelo signed with St. Louis two years ago.

"I think it's a great day in Blues history to get a player of Vladi's caliber locked into the organization through the prime of his career," general manager Doug Armstrong said of Tarasenko, who recently got married in his native Russia. "We saw, I think just the tip of the iceberg of what Vladi can do in this league last year.

"At such a young age to show those skills really made this a priority for us to see if we can talk him into and work with him to get him to sign a long-term extension. Those were the things that were talked about really since we started this maybe a week before the (NHL Draft) what was going to make him comfortable as far as term. I was quite comfortable that it was going to be a lot of money regardless, but getting the term for us was something that our ownership group believed in.

"Vladimir signed for eight years, Alex Pietrangelo signed for (seven), I think the nucleus of our defense and our forwards are here for the foreseeable future and we can build around that group."

Eight years is the maximum allowed under the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Tarasenko will make $8 million this season, $8 million in 2016-17, $7 million in 2017-18, $7 million in 2018-19, $9.5 million in 2019-20, $5.5 million in 2020-21, $9.5 million in 2021-22, and $5.5 million in 2022-23.

Tarasenko tied for 10th in the NHL last season with 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) in 77 games and had a plus-27 rating. He became the youngest Blues player to score 30 goals in a season since Brendan Shanahan (1991-92) and the first to have 73 points since Pavol Demitra in 2002-03.

The 6-foot, 223-pound forward played in his first NHL All-Star Game in January and was the League's Second Star for November.

Tarasenko was one of four players to have two hat tricks last season and was the only player to score six game-winning goals, six shootout goals and two overtime goals. He was the second Blues player (Brett Hull) to score a hat trick that included a game-winning overtime goal (Oct. 28 vs. the Dallas Stars).

Through the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tarasenko tied for the NHL lead in goals (six) and shared third in points (seven). In Game 2 against the Minnesota Wild, he became the first Blues player to have a postseason hat trick since 2004.

Selected by St. Louis in the first round (No. 16) of the 2010 NHL Draft, Tarasenko has 135 points (66 goals, 69 assists) in 179 regular-season games. He has 10 goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games.

The Blues had controlling rights to Tarasenko until he turned 27, which would take him through four years of the new contract, then they bought another four. Those were important terms for Armstrong, who said in turn the Blues had to pay a little more.

"It started out with the dollar figure, then we had to get some term for that amount of money," Armstrong said. "I think all players would love a lot of money and not much term, but we believed that if we're going to get into the stratosphere of dollars on an annual value that we were going to have to get some unrestricted free agency years.

"... You've seen other players are signing five- and six-year deals in that concept on their second deal with [Jamie] Benn and [Tyler] Seguin (of the Dallas Stars). We just took out a few more years and we paid a little bit of premium; those deals are obviously older deals, three-, four, five-year deals now. We were able to secure a little bit more term. My belief is if you're willing to go five years for that amount of money, why not go eight?"

Tarasenko perhaps being wooed by the Kontinental Hockey League had Armstrong a little worried, more so than an offer sheet from another NHL team.

Armstrong always maintained the stance that the Blues would match any offer sheet given because they had the salary-cap space to do so, but a contract from the KHL represented a different element.

"My fear was coming from the other side of the pond more than it was from the guys on the 29 other NHL teams," Armstrong said. "The KHL was never brought up, but I didn't have to ... my 'Spidey' senses told me that it was really there. I wanted to try and get this done as quick as possible, and I was open to the agent [Mike Liut] about that."

Word filtered to Tarasenko's teammates quickly, including defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, a fellow all-star who was one of the players who took Tarasenko under his wing when he came from Russia as a 20-year-old.

"He's progressed over the past three years and obviously last year, [Tarasenko] showed himself to the world and showed how great of a player he can be," Shattenkirk said. "I think there's a hunger there from him to try to become one of the best in the game. The commitment the Blues made right now obviously is they feel he's only going to keep getting better and better. I think as teammates, we have that confidence in him too.

"More importantly, I think it's just great to know he's committed to staying with the Blues for that long and signing a deal for that long and ready to be the franchise player that we think he should be."

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