Eighteen months ago, Tavares left the Islanders as an unrestricted free agent. On Saturday night, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said it was unlikely Hall — the headliner among potential 2020 UFAs — would ink an in-season extension with the Devils. Basically, you can book the conference room now: Hall will be in there next June as teams come through and make their PowerPoint pitch in advance of July 1.
While there’s obvious overlap between this situation and what the Islanders went through with Tavares, there are also key differences. First off, the sense around Tavares until the moment we saw him in his Leafs jammies was — when it came right down to it — he was probably going to remain with the only NHL team he’d ever played for.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine Hall — who turns 28 on Thursday and burns to play for a playoff contender — isn’t at least 51 per cent out the door.
New York was two points out of a playoff spot on the morning of the 2018 NHL trade deadline. The Devils, even after wrapping a Western Canada roadie with a gutsy 2-1 win in Vancouver Sunday night, are looking way up at an Eastern Conference post-season slot and while the Blues’ worst-to-Cup run last year is fresh in all our minds, I’m not sure New Jersey is made of the same stuff.
So while the Islanders could justify standing pat on Tavares, the Devils have to hit eject with Hall.
Landing Hall — the 2018 Hart Trophy winner — for defenceman Adam Larsson nearly four years ago was a coup for GM Ray Shero and reflecting back on that fact should remind everyone New Jersey is still in good hands. This team is running the 2017 and ’19 first-overall picks 1-2 down the middle in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Including the latter, New Jersey made 11 total picks at the 2019 draft, where Shero also secured three years of P.K. Subban’s services for a collection of scraps because he had the room to absorb the cap hit. Mackenzie Blackwood was the biggest reason New Jersey beat Vancouver on Sunday and the 22-year-old goalie’s save percentage has been on the rise since everyone on the club had an awful first week of the season.
Add the pieces you’d get for Hall, plus another high pick in 2020 you can either spend yourself or put in play on the trade market, and New Jersey is equipped to move forward in a post-Hall existence. That may not have been the preferred path when this season started, but it’s also not the end of the world.
Of course, the Islanders set a ludicrously high bar when it comes to turning the page after the departure of a star and their success punctuates the unpredictability of today’s NHL. New Jersey may be left in better shape than most realize. And even though Hall will have no shortage of suitors, I’m not sure any of them will represent the sure thing.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• The Blues are supposed to be hungover; instead they’re working more than ever. The champs are on a seven-game winning streak after downing Calgary on Saturday thanks to David Perron’s third OT decider of the young season. Five of St. Louis’s victories on this current run have come during the tacked-on three-on-three period. What really stands out, though, is how the Ryan O’Reilly trade just keeps on giving. It’s worth remembering that even when the Blues were awful during the first part of last year, O’Reilly was producing in his new home. He wound up setting a career high by 13 points in the regular season before going all Conn Smythe in the playoffs. He’s presently producing more than a point-per-game, the best clip of his decade-long career. What a franchise-defining acquisition by GM Doug Armstrong.
• The Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres both headed to Sweden last week as part of the NHL Global Series, but it’s easy to feel like they’re going in different directions after Tampa Bay swept the two-game set on Friday and Saturday. Can’t you already picture three paragraphs of the stories we’ll read in a month when Tampa has won 13 of 15 (or something like that) and all the players are talking about how a little European bonding helped them move past their middling start? The Sabres, meanwhile, have dropped four in a row and are suddenly looking up at four Atlantic Division teams — a number that will rise to five assuming Tampa eclipses them soon.
• Picking up Robby Fabbri from the Blues for fourth-liner Jacob de La Rose was a no-brainer for Detroit. Still, that doesn’t mean every GM could be the guy who landed him. Steve Yzerman has a long Hockey Canada history with St. Louis boss Doug Armstrong, so when Fabbri — a highly skilled scorer cursed with horrible knee injury luck — was made available by Armstrong because the GM had promised the player to find him a fresh start if things didn’t work in Missouri, you have to think Yzerman had a leg up on the competition. It took all of two power-play one-timers on Friday night during Detroit’s 4-2 win over Boston to see why Fabbri, 23, offers such promise. Another angle on this one: Fabbri formed a deadly duo with Tyler Bertuzzi when both players were members of the OHL’s Guelph Storm. Bertuzzi teed Fabbri up for both his goals.
Red and White Power Rankings
1. Edmonton Oilers (12-5-2) – As part of his hat trick on Sunday night during a victory in Anaheim, Connor McDavid became the eighth player in league history to hit the 400-point barrier before his 23rd birthday.
2. Winnipeg Jets (10-7-1) – The Jets scored a pair of wins on the weekend and have now claimed four of their past five. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck has been fantastic during his past half-dozen outings.
3. Montreal Canadiens (9-5-3) – A couple assists for Jonathan Drouin in Saturday’s win over the Kings and a team-high 22:10 of ice among forwards. The 24-year-old continues to thrive in a show-me season.
4. Calgary Flames (10-7-3) – Elias Lindholm’s point streak came to an end at nine games during Saturday’s overtime loss to St. Louis.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (9-6-4) – With the Mitch Marner injury, you officially start to wonder if this is just going to be a trying year — or at least regular season — for Toronto.
6. Vancouver Canucks (9-6-3) – The Canucks were No. 1 here last Monday, but three-straight losses (in which you manage just four total goals) drop you significantly when the teams are so tightly clustered.
7. Ottawa Senators (6-9-1) – Saturday’s win over Carolina gave Ottawa consecutive W’s for the first time this year. Will a re-building team that traded for Vlad Namestnikov to insulate young players keep pending-UFA Jean-Gabriel Pageau for the same reason or will the red-hot centre (eight goals in 16 games) go on the trade market?
In Your Ear
More Taylor Hall talk — get used to it — on the Tape to Tape podcast last week with co-host Rory Boylen and myself. Also, if you’re a Canucks fan, you need to hear what Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre had to say about Quinn Hughes.
• We should learn more about Sidney Crosby’s lower-body injury on Monday.
• Tavares and the Leafs visit the Islanders on Wednesday. New year, great team: will there be any warm-and-fuzzy yet from the Long Island fans?
• A couple guys from the spectacular 2003 NHL Draft will play their 1,000th games this week. Corey Perry hits the mark on Wednesday in Calgary and Jeff Carter will get there on Saturday when the Kings host Vegas.