The Taylor Hall sweepstakes are officially over, with the surprisingly good Arizona Coyotes winning the day and acquiring the superstar winger for a bevy of prospects and picks that have the potential to be a major payday for the New Jersey Devils, but the picks only get real good if certain conditions are met, and despite Corey Pronman ranking Kevin Bahl, Nick Merkley, and Nate Schnarr as the Coyotes’ third-, fifth-, and seventh-best prospects; he doesn’t have the Coyotes’ system ranked very highly.
For 50 games of a player the Devils were unlikely to sign though, you can’t really argue with taking three decently rated prospects and the possibility of two first-round picks in exchange for some dead cap space for half a season.
In early November I wrote about Taylor Hall’s start to the season, and how the offensive numbers were all well and good, but his underlying play was lagging behind what’s to be expected of him based on the rest of his career. As a refresher, here’s how his on-ice differentials relative to his teammates looked at the time of that article:
Both in quality shots and in shots on goal, the Devils were actually performing worse with Hall on the ice than with him on the bench, which is crazy when you look at the extreme level of dominance he has exhibited in controlling both high-volume plays and high-quality plays in his career, but that’s where we were a month into the season.
At the time I noted that Hall was returning from an injury that robbed him of half a season, and his track record has earned him some racetrack to figure out his game before anyone should be making any judgments about his future ability as a free agent, but has he been able to turn it around with another six weeks of work, despite the Devils continuing to be pretty terrible?
Some areas have been tougher to dig himself out of the negatives than others, but overall you could say Hall had a pretty brilliant November, as he’s edging towards the kind of 5-vs-5 impact he had back in 2017-18, so anyone thinking that he might not get back on his horse and be a dominant player again was throwing in the towel a little early.
Overall, it’s still the weakest start to the season he’s had in a while, but a good portion of that is probably coming back from that injury and getting up to speed, and another factor to consider is just how bad and unlucky the Devils have been, that has to take a toll.
The differentials aren’t the only area that Hall kicked it in high gear in the season’s second month either. As of that Nov. 6 article, Hall was fourth on the Devils in scoring chances created every 20 minutes at 5-vs-5 with 6.95, far lower than his previous two seasons and a massive drop from last season’s career high of 9.78. Since that article, Hall has produced 9.94 scoring chances per 20 minutes at 5-vs-5 for his teammates, a full 2.5 more every 20 minutes than any other teammate.
Hall has pulled a full-on John Wick here; yeah… I’m thinking he’s back.
That means it’s safe to assume the Coyotes are acquiring the Hall that we all know and love, but the question for them is whether the price they paid is worth it. Are the Coyotes good enough to go for it this year?
The Pacific Division-leading Coyotes are on pace for just 98 points, which is crazy for a division leader, but was more than enough to make the playoffs last season, and they boast a plus-10 goal differential despite being a low-scoring team on the back of some brilliant goaltending by Darcy Kuemper and above-average play from Antti Raanta.
The Coyotes play a defence-first, low-event style that makes things easy on their goaltenders and a little tough on their offensive players, and their special teams are just average. Does that low-event style lead to the Coyotes controlling play to a respectable degree?
Well… that’s not very good. The Coyotes are being outplayed in pretty much every important category, with the one exception being rush chances.
If there’s one areas you really want to dominate in the modern NHL, that might be it, but if it’s the only area, it’s likely because you thrive on the counter-attack and spend a lot of time defending.
Exactly as you might expect, the Coyotes spend the sixth-most time in their own zone at 5-vs-5 in the NHL, which makes their status as a mid-tier defensive team pretty impressive, they can obviously play without the puck, and also partly explains why their offence is so anemic.
Being primarily a counter-attack team can take you pretty far, but usually you wouldn’t call those types of teams contenders by any stretch of the imagination.
Hall is one of the better players in the league off the rush, and has historically been one of the strongest play drivers from the wing as well, so it’s entirely possible that he will not only fit in well with the style of play the Coyotes have adopted, but also help inch them closer to controlling play at even strength, but in my opinion, this is a gigantic gamble by John Chayka to bet on a season that doesn’t exactly look promising outside of just making the playoffs in the first place.
Clearly, in an ideal world for the Coyotes, Hall will fall in love with playing in Arizona and sign long-term as their core of young players ages into prime years and gives them multiple kicks at the can. That could easily make the trade a win, but if it doesn’t happen, the Coyotes aren’t a team I would bet on dominating the playoffs, so it’s a very curiously aggressive move.