It was only a matter of time before the Taylor Hall rumor mill got doused with kerosene.
He’s a UFA in 2020 and changed agents to Darren Ferris in 2018. Ferris is known for encouraging his clients to go to market, and the Devils’ struggles as a team have compounded the motivation for Hall not to sign an extension with New Jersey right now. The Devils stumbled so badly out of the gate to open 2019-20 that they find themselves 10 points out of an Eastern Conference wildcard spot, making this team a long shot to make the playoffs. Stranger things have happened, and the Blues were a great story last year, but they are very much the exception, not the norm. The Devils, then, find themselves in danger of finishing the season with no Hall extension and no playoff berth. Rather than risk losing Hall for nothing, it’s only logical for GM Ray Shero to listen to offers. Sitting so far back in the standings actually makes the choice easier.
It thus didn’t come as a huge surprise over the weekend when The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported sources around the league have indicated the Devils are indeed listening to Hall offers, even if their first choice would be to keep him.
Hall is the top UFA on the market for 2020 and thus would be the top UFA rental option available at the Feb. 24 trade deadline, so the list of teams inquiring about his services could consist of half the league. Which destinations make the most sense? It’s a matter of cap space, hockey fit and having the right combination of picks and prospects to dangle.
Here are some teams to consider in the Hall sweepstakes, listed alphabetically. Some are inspired by current rumors, while some purely make sense as on-paper fits.
The Canes have shown so far this season that their 2018-19 breakout was no fluke and, for my money, have overtaken the Nashville Predators for the unofficial title of best blueline in the NHL. While GM Don Waddell has done a tremendous job upgrading the forward corps with shrewd trades, the Canes could use another elite forward to complement No. 1 center Sebastian Aho and rising star Andrei Svechnikov. Waddell has two first-round picks to dangle, one of which is a conditional acquisition from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canes’ tremendous depth on defense would also give them the flexibility to move a youngster such as Jake Bean as part of a Hall package. Would something like Bean, Dominik Bokk and a first-rounder score Hall?
Hall also seems like he’d be a great long-term fit on a Canes team with no major RFA contracts expiring this summer, albeit Svechnikov will be extension-eligible as of July 1. When Carolina inked Ryan Dzingel and Jake Gardiner on the open market this past summer, it signalled a changing of the guard. Carolina has emerged as a legitimate destination for UFAs, buoyed by the ‘Bunch of Jerks’ branding. Would that make it a potential long-term, not just short-term, home for Hall?
The Avs are probably the consensus frontrunner for Hall at the moment. Greg Wyshynski of ESPN recently reported the Devils have scouted Colorado at all levels. The Avs make perfect sense as a trade partner from the Devils’ perspective as the Avs have a nice mix of high-end prospects and positional variety among those prospects. Right winger Martin Kaut, a 2018 first-rounder, is cutting his teeth in the AHL at the moment, as is center Shane Bowers, a 2017 first-rounder. It’s unlikely Avs GM Joe Sakic would include their top 2019 draftee, Bowen Byram, in any trade, but drafting him added to a nice blueline surplus. The Avs already are the envy of the NHL with Cale Makar enjoying a historic rookie campaign and Samuel Girard proving an underrated puck-mover, so maybe another high-end ‘D’ prospect such as Conor Timmins would be a compromise in a Hall deal. Timmins has rallied from last season’s concussion woes and impressed at the AHL level.
From Colorado’s perspective, Sakic’s patience in his rebuild has paid off. He has the prospects to offer, not to mention his 2020 first-round pick. And while it’s possible the Devils eat some of Hall’s $6-million cap hit as part of a trade, the Avs have sufficient 2020-21 cap space to emerge as contenders to land an extension with Hall, like the Vegas Golden Knights did shortly after acquiring Mark Stone last season. From a hockey perspective, the Avs are in prime position to make an aggressive move. Once Gabriel Landeskog is healthy, a top-six forward group including him, Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri and one of Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi would be deadly.
The Stars sent a strong message this summer when they signed Joe Pavelski, 35, and Corey Perry, 34. They were all-in on a Stanley Cup push after falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blues on a Game-7 double-overtime goal in Round 2. You don’t sign veteran forwards like those as part of a slow-burn rebuild. The Stars are rolling with seasoned vets at forward and in goal, backed by an outstanding young defense corps led by Miro Heiskanen. The team took a while to gel but has finally found what it was missing. Even after dropping their past three contests, the Stars have won 14 of their past 19 games, reasserting themselves as a threat in the Central Division.
The idea of uniting Taylor and Tyler, Hall and Seguin, putting the 2010 draft’s top two picks on the same team, is fun. It also makes sense from a hockey perspective for Dallas, as scoring depth remains a problem even after GM Jim Nill added Pavelski and Perry. Roope Hintz is Dallas’ lone forward scoring at better than a 25-goal pace right now. With Jamie Benn’s offensive struggles progressing long enough that they could be signalling a decline rather than merely a slump, Dallas could really use a bona fide first-line left winger.
Finding the fit wouldn’t be particularly easy, however. Dallas is tight enough against the cap that it would need some financial relief on New Jersey’s side to make Hall work – and may have to send another player salary the Devils’ way. Dallas’ farm system also isn’t overflowing with can’t-miss prospects. It would be risky to mortgage someone like Ty Dellandrea for a Hall rental. Then again, if Dallas has established itself as all-in, maybe now is the time to go for it at any cost. Dallas does have one of the game’s better goaltending prospects in Jake Oettinger, and we know how badly the Devils need netminding help.
Call it The Trade The Internet Wants. If you’re a fan of chaos, you’ll want to see the Oilers reacquire Hall after trading him away for Adam Larsson in one of the most lopsided 1-for-1 swaps in hockey history. There’s an actual case for Edmonton to pursue Hall, however. They’ve ridden jaw-dropping seasons from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, not to mention vastly improved goaltending, to a power position in the Western Conference. Adding the speedy Hall would create the ability to roll two dangerous scoring lines. If coach Dave Tippett didn’t want to break up Draisaitl-McDavid-Zack Kassian long-term, Hall could reunite with his old teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a No. 2 unit.
LeBrun mentions the Oilers in his piece and makes a key point, however, that new GM Ken Holland might be better off chasing Hall for a reunion as a UFA in the summer. Hall was openly crushed when he was traded away from Edmonton, and the Oilers have a whopping eight forwards expiring as UFAs this summer, so they’ll have the cap space even after factoring in extensions for RFA Darnell Nurse and, if they wanted to lock him up a year out, Nugent-Hopkins.
Should the Oilers want to pursue Hall as a rental this season, I can’t imagine them parting with Evan Bouchard or Philip Broberg, but maybe the Devils would accept a package that includes Kailer Yamamoto. Or Tyler Benson. Or both.
The Habs were among the teams Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman listed as potential Hall pursuers over the weekend.
Logistically, there’s a fit. We know for a fact GM Marc Bergevin made a big play for a big star over the summer with an offer sheet for Aho. We can debate how serious that offer really was, but it did show how much buying power Montreal has from a salary-cap perspective. That hasn’t changed.
Another huge plus in Montreal’s favor during any hypothetical Hall discussions? The Habs have one of the best high-end prospect crops in the league right now. Without dipping into the likes of Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov and Nick Suzuki, Montreal could still dangle a highly attractive young piece to land Hall. If not Ryan Poehling…would Bergevin ever sacrifice Cayden Primeau? He’s one of the truly elite goaltending prospects on the planet right now but, with Carey Price under contract another six years, will Primeau ever get the starter’s net? Tossing him into the pot for Hall would make the Habs a serious player for his services, and they have the cap space to make a strong pitch for a long-term deal as well. Another bonus: Montreal has twelve draft picks on the board for 2020. That’s what you call a surplus.
By the way, if Primeau is called up now that Keith Kinkaid has been waived, the Devils could have a chance to scout Primeau in NHL action when he backs up Price. Just sayin’.
Other teams to watch: Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues
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