It must have been an unusual flight back to Newark for Taylor Hall.
After being held out of Friday’s game in Colorado and Saturday’s visit to Arizona while trade rumours swirled around him, Hall was on the overnight flight home with the New Jersey Devils afterwards.
The team was due to hold its annual holiday party on Sunday and, for now, Hall is still part of the team. But that could change at any moment.
Devils general manager Ray Shero is attempting to deal him before the NHL’s holiday roster freeze takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday and some rival executives believe that his decision to hold Hall out of the lineup over the weekend was done to drum up a stronger trade market.
Of course, it’s also a preventative act to protect the 28-year-old winger from potential injury — something we typically see NHL teams do with impending free agents in the week leading up to the trade deadline, but rarely, if ever, at this stage of the season.
You’d have to imagine it signals that Hall has already played his final game for the Devils, but we’re in uncharted waters here. That’s why there’s so much intrigue surrounding the future of the 2018 Hart Trophy winner.
Hall is being shopped as a rental for the remainder of the season and isn’t believed to be interested in talking about an extension as part of a trade. That’s a key factor at play when negotiating the return. Some of the interested teams would also need to clear cap space to accommodate what’s left of his $6-million contract this season.
The big “what if?” here is what New Jersey does if the offers don’t improve.
Some close to the situation expected Hall to be dealt over the weekend, but as of Sunday afternoon that hadn’t materialized. The Devils don’t play again until Wednesday and are operating in the shadows of the holiday roster freeze.
As for Hall?
All he can do is endure the uncomfortable wait.
An interesting “Headlines” nugget from Elliotte Friedman that the Edmonton Oilers are preparing to start contract negotiations with impending free agent Zack Kassian.
For starters, it tells us how the organization feels about a player that’s reinvented himself since arriving in a December 2015 trade from Montreal following a stint in the NHL/NHLPA substance abuse program.
But it also offers a window into how they plan to start preparing for an off-season that could see as many as 10 current Oilers become unrestricted free agents. The list includes Kassian and fellow forwards Sam Gagner, Riley Sheahan, Markus Granlund, Josh Archibald, Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard and Patrick Russell.
On one hand, that roster uncertainty offers the Oilers a chance to remake its forward depth beneath stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But the organization will also be challenged by salary cap constraints.
That’s why it probably makes sense to lock in a couple known pieces long before July 1.
Now that Ilya Kovalchuk has received a second $2.65-million bonus payment from the Los Angeles Kings, he’s hoping to get playing again.
Kovalchuk has been nothing more than a practice player since early November and his agent, J.P. Barry, plans to touch base with Kings management in the days ahead to chart a way forward.
His contract now looks less onerous — with a little more than $400,000 owing for the balance of this season and $4.25-million next — and there are a couple of potential outcomes here.
Assuming the Kings have no plans to reinsert Kovalchuk into their lineup, the trade market might open up somewhat (with Los Angeles retaining as much as 50 per cent of his $6.25-million cap hit) — although the interest was limited when they tested it previously. Failing that, Kovalchuk could leave the team and have the remainder of his contract terminated, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Of course, the 36-year-old winger could also continue to practice and travel with the Kings while collecting the money he’s still owed.
However, Kovalchuk still believes he can help a team offensively. He’s not ready to slip into semi-retirement just yet.
David Amber tossed out a challenge for Friedge and I during a quiet moment on Saturday night: Count how many sure-fire Hockey Hall of Famers are currently playing in the NHL right now.
These are players that would make the Hall even if they never played another game — eliminating some of the young stars whose careers are on a Hall-worthy trajectory, but haven’t yet had the longevity to get in.
After plenty of debate, we came up with a list of 15.
How many players do you think fit the bill?
It’s pasta SZN. Two more goals on Saturday brought David Pastrnak’s total to 28 in 34 games — well on pace to crack the 50-goal barrier he’s openly targeting. And that’s even while factoring in some regression for the Boston Bruins winger and his 20.9 shooting percentage … Anthony Duclair, an impending restricted free agent for the Ottawa Senators, has found a great fit on his fifth NHL team. He’s got 18 goals, two off his career-best … Rasmus Sandin’s ability to represent Sweden in the upcoming world junior championship is now tied to the severity of Tyson Barrie’s injured ankle. The Toronto Maple Leafs are revisiting their decision on whether to release the 19-year-old defenceman to his national team after Barrie was struck with a shot in Edmonton … Did you catch the Lizzo opening to Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday? It was awesome.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 15, 2019