“I think it’s safe to say I’m a very motivated player now.” — Taylor Hall, the day he was traded to the New Jersey Devils.
There were plenty of intangibles around the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade, all of which seem so inconsequential, so inconceivable right now.
Hall was too big a presence in the Edmonton dressing room. He didn’t have the vision to play with Connor McDavid. He’d never figure out how to be defensively responsible.
What a load all of that turned out to be.
In reality, Hall served his bit with a dysfunctional organization whose own ineptitude landed him there in the first place, as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. The new player couldn’t change the old issues in Edmonton, and when management changed over (again) they decided that changing the culture would include changing out the superstar left-winger, whose dynamic game now graces the ice in Newark.
Hall read the tea leaves correctly in the summer of 2016, when he said, “I feel slighted. I’m a proud person, and I do take this as an indictment on me as a hockey player. I don’t think there’s any other way to treat it.”
Today, Hall is shoving that trade right up the Oilers’ collective you-know-what on a daily basis, having recorded a point in each of the last 25 games he has played.
“I’m still very motivated,” Hall said on a media conference call Tuesday. “I’ve always tried to play with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. But it’s been a year and a half since I was traded, so some of that has worn off.
“(Now) it’s more about, how can I help my team here? How can we get into the playoffs? That’s been my motivation, more so this year than last.”
That transition — from, “Man, I hate my old team,” to, “Man, I love my new team,” — is just one thread in the tapestry of what happens to a young player upon their first transaction. Inevitably, that first uniform change germinates a maturation in an NHL player that might have taken a few more seasons to arrive, had he stayed put.
“Whenever you go through change, whether it’s a trade or anything in life, really, it forces you step back and reassess things,” admits Hall, who may have donned a new New Jersey jersey, but remains the well-spoken, thoughtful interview he’d always been in Edmonton. “If anything, it was an opportunity for a fresh start, with a fresh coaching staff and fresh management. I was able to come in with a clean slate.
“In my second season here, we have the exact same coaching staff, a lot of the same players back. Over the course of my career in Edmonton I had a lot of different coaches, a lot of changes. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Had Oilers owner Daryl Katz acted a year earlier than he did when he brought in Bob Nicholson, who hired GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan, maybe Hall stays. But that’s ancient history now, and in fact, while the Oilers stumble around in their habitual basement suite, they are re-engaging with that toxic Old Boys Club again, an systemic Oilers issue that Hall need not worry about anymore.
Hall’s Devils are looking good to snap a five-spring playoff drought, and not only is he the centrepiece of that movement, he is entirely ready for the role.
“I think I’m handling it OK. I don’t really feel all that much pressure, individually,” he said. “More so as a team, we feel pressure to make the playoffs.
“I’ll take a zero point night at this point for a win. That’s where we’re at in the season right now.”
And where Hall is at in his career, as well.
He has grown past worrying about the history. His focus is where it should be, borne out by the fact he is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate in New Jersey, something the Oilers never allowed him to become.
“I don’t know if vindicated is the right word,” he said, when asked if he felt that way. “I’ve always wanted to play on a playoff team. A winning team. A successful team. For whatever reason it just didn’t happen in Edmonton.
“I’m happy with my season. With my team’s season.”