Last season was a tough one for Taylor Hall.
In the follow-up to winning the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2018, as he helped lead the surprising New Jersey Devils to their first playoff appearance since 2013, Hall played just 33 games in the 2018-19 campaign with a nagging knee injury.
In an interview the Devils star winger did with ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, Hall explained what being forced to be sidelined was like.
“It was really, really hard. Even after the surgery, it was hard,” Hall told Kaplan. “There was a period of probably five months there where everything was in limbo. But you keep working hard, you have people around you that you trust, people around you that you like working with. I wasn’t traveling, but I was around the team. When they were at home, I was always here, went to all the games. At that point, I still thought I was going to be playing at the end of the season. Working hard in the weight room and all that type of thing.
“When the guys went on the road, those are some lonelier times. When you get to the rink, and there’s nobody here, and it’s quiet. You kind of have to make your own mojo and hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
With Hall sidelined, the Devils struggled mightily last season, but the silver lining to it all was the fact they earned the right to draft No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes, a young man who has impressed Hall so far during camp.
“He makes the game look easy. It doesn’t look like his heart rate is too high when he’s out there because he’s so calm and poised with the puck,” said Hall. “He’s never panicking. His stride is pretty effortless.”
But Hughes wasn’t the only big addition New Jersey picked up in the off-season. Devils general manager Ray Shero was aggressive in making moves in the off-season, trading for former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators and signing veteran winger Wayne Simmonds.
Hall seems pretty stoked to be playing with Subban and, despite the narrative that his new defenceman might have too much personality for the good of a team, Hall completely dismisses the notion as nonsense.
“They just straight-up asked what my thoughts were and what I had heard about him,” said Hall about how he found out about the Subban trade. “I had nothing but good things to say. I knew that he obviously had a personality and all that – that’s all people want to talk about. But at the end of the day, he’s a good hockey player. …
“It’s crazy when people say putting yourself out there makes you a distraction to the team. P.K. does a lot, and he hasn’t distracted me once all week from doing my job. At the end of the day, we’re in the entertainment business. I think Ray said that when he traded for P.K.
“There’s nothing wrong with some personality. Come to the rink every day, and you see the same people, and they’re saying the same things and all that, but there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of pizzazz and some changeup.”
That Hall appears encouraged by the addition of Subban and Hughes should come, as some welcome relief for Shero and the Devils as Hall expressed a desire for the roster to improve around him at the end of last season.
The 27-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this coming season and appears to be giving the Devils one more year to convince him this is an organization that’s good enough to win a Stanley Cup with.
“I think that’s probably the highest priority,” said Hall of playing for a team that can win a Cup. “Lifestyle-wise, I’m not married or anything. I don’t have kids. I’m not really at a point in my career where location matters to me, if I want to be on the West Coast or East Coast or anything like that. You can make any city great if you’re playing well and you’re winning there. So that’s basically my priority.”
The Devils will have a full season to convince Hall to stay, but regardless, the summer of 2020 is shaping up to be very interesting already in the NHL.