The Devils were in a tough spot on the Taylor Hall trade, and everyone in the league knew it.
The team basically had no incentive to keep him, since he was likely to test free agency anyway, and those two issues alone depressed his value. So did the fact that he missed a lot of time last season. So did the fact that he’s having an off year. So did the fact that he’s 28 and looking to sign a long-term deal with what will likely be an AAV north of $10 million.
And so the Devils, in the end, got relatively little for Taylor Hall with 50 percent salary retained: Neither of Arizona’s top two prospects, and their No. 3 (Kevin Bahl) is a guy who’s never going to be a hugely impactful player at the NHL level. Then there’s Nick Merkley, who’s maybe a bottom half of the roster guy in the NHL, at best, and Nate Schnarr, who’s only been okay as a 20-year-old AHL rookie. Add in that first-round pick (technically conditional but unlikely to have that condition come through) and a conditional third that could potentially become a first if Hall re-signs in Arizona and the Coyotes win at least one round, and that’s where the real value is.
Potentially. If this trade ends up netting the Devils two firsts and a couple guys who can fill in the middle and bottom of a roster, then that’s not so bad. But the likelihood is that it’s a mid-first this year and either a mid-second or mid-third; Arizona would be in tough to miss the playoffs barring total collapse at this point, and Hall addresses exactly what they needed.
So in the end, New Jersey won the initial Hall trade in a walk, but got very little out of him: One playoff appearance (driven entirely by Hall’s MVP season, which still ended with a single postseason win), a 28th-place finish and lottery win, and a combined 139 games over just under two and a half seasons.
Maybe you say they did as well as they could, given the circumstances, but this has to be seen as a disappointing return for a guy who’s less than two years removed from being the league’s MVP. Call it a fatal failure of proper assessment of the team’s overall quality around Hall, but the damage is done now, and the team is left to pick through the rubble with a few B-minus prospects and picks that may or may not be something useful for them three years from now.
Of course, by giving up nothing that’s going to be particularly important for them in the same time frame, Arizona won the trade comfortably. That’s true not only because they get a guy who could still tap his elite talent level and produce for nearly 50 games, but also because they apparently outbid other teams in their conference or division to do it.
It’s tough to nail down who the real market for Hall was, given what everyone knew about his situation, but the Western-Conference names we heard repeatedly were St. Louis and Edmonton. The Blues likely need a scorer to maintain their position atop the Central and the West, given that Vladimir Tarasenko is done for the season, and Hall would have fit the bill. Edmonton, of course, needs two or three Hall-caliber players to make their non-McDavid/Draisaitl offense even vaguely threatening, and to stem the blood loss they’ve suffered through this 3-6-1 stretch.
The Blues may not sweat missing out on Hall as much as Edmonton does, both because St. Louis still leads its division, and because every point Hall delivers to the Coyotes is another gut-punch for the Oilers, who are sixth in the West with Vegas and Calgary gaining fast in the division. If, in the end, the Oilers end up competing for a Wild Card spot with the likes of Dallas, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Vancouver, and Nashville, it’s tough for them to see a way forward.
Which leads one to wonder why Arizona’s collection of just-okay prospects and middling picks got them the big prize. Given the ages of all involved, St. Louis really isn’t in the position to wait for a, say, Scott Perunovich and Mitch Reinke make it to the show. And Edmonton clearly feels like it’s in a position to potentially waste yet another year of the McDavid/Draisaitl show with a crap roster. The price shouldn’t have been too much for either of them (let alone Florida or the Islanders, two other rumored suitors), but apparently it was.
So now it falls to the Coyotes coaching staff to get out of Hall what New Jersey couldn’t, and what it seemingly can’t from Phil Kessel so far this year. But you gotta make the trade to win it, so they’re giving themselves the chance. Which is more than you can say for anyone else who needed Hall just as much.
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