We’re a long way from that 2018 Hart Trophy.
It’s been a series of unfortunate circumstances for Hall since earning that MVP nod, starting with a disappointing 2018-19 that began with promise — 37 points through 31 games and a four-point night in one of his last appearances of the season — but ended far too soon, as Hall suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the majority of the season.
Coming into 2019-20, there was a sense the Devils could be flirting with greatness — adding the likes of P.K. Subban through trade and Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. And, of course, having the quick-footed Hall back into an intriguing lineup after an arthroscopic knee surgery and lengthy rehabilitation process.
But 26 games into the new season, that potential success hasn’t materialized.
The Devils sit second-last in the league with just 22 points to their name. A full 10 points separate them from a wild-card berth, and as we looked at last week, teams sitting outside the playoff picture by the end of November historically have the odds stacked against any hopes of clawing their way back in.
It’s possible, as the St. Louis Blues made clear last season, but after a 7-1 shellacking at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night — which was followed Tuesday by the dismissal of head coach John Hynes — rocketing up the standings in the new year looks like anything but a certainty for Hall’s Devils.
And the former league MVP’s frustration is palpable.
“I’m running out of things to say as to why we’re playing like that,” Hall said post-game Monday. “It’s hard. It’s a tough pill to swallow and it’s everyone in here.
“It’s too bad. We have the players in here to play a lot better than that. We’ve got to step it up.”
The 28-year-old wasn’t exactly a force himself in the loss, going pointless and finishing as a minus-three while putting four shots on net.
With the loss to the Sabres in tow, New Jersey has dropped three of its past four. Looking further back through their season, it’s been as tumultuous a campaign as you could get. Bouncing between wins and losses after starting the year on a six-game losing streak, the club has yet to string together more than two wins at a time. They’ve given up five goals or more on eight different occasions already this season.
A catastrophic season like this one could have hefty implications for GM Ray Shero and the Devils. Heading into 2019-20, Hall — an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season — made clear his desire to suit up for a winner as his career winds down.
“You want to play on the best team possible,” Hall said at the NHLPA Golf Classic in June. “I’ve played nine seasons in the NHL and only won one playoff game. You want to be on a team that’s not only a playoff contender but a playoff contender every year.
“I only have so many more years left in this league, and so many more chances to win a Stanley Cup. It hasn’t even come close yet, so I kinda wanna make up for lost time, but at the same time you wanna be smart with everything that’s going on.”
New Jersey showed inklings of potentially being that club some time down the line, with Subban and Hughes adding to a team that already featured 2017 No. 1 pick Nico Hischier and a number of intriguing young forwards. But with the club coming up short, the potential for the former Edmonton Oilers standout to remain at the Prudential Center is thinning.
So, what’s next?
One option: a trade. As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in early November, Hall and his representatives are unlikely to agree to a deal before the season’s end, meaning a deal to ensure the club earns some assets in return for the winger’s potential departure could be more likely.
On Saturday, Friedman reported the trade market for Hall “is getting a little bit hotter,” suggesting the Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues could all be interested in Hall’s services.
Hall spent the first six seasons of his career in Edmonton after being drafted first-overall by the club in 2010. He ended up in New Jersey by way of a 2016 trade that sent defender Adam Larsson to Alberta.
Sportsnet’s Rory Boylen highlighted a few other options for the star winger’s future, laying out eight potential teams we could see Hall suiting up for next season, with that list including the clubs previously mentioned along with the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
That said, if the Calgary native does wind up parting ways with the Devils in a trade, don’t expect the club to fall to shambles. A pair of first-overall picks leading the top six, along with plenty of other interesting pieces throughout the lineup, leave New Jersey set up to survive such a loss.
Not to mention, as recently detailed by Sportsnet’s Ryan Dixon, the potential assets Shero could bring back to the organization in a deal sending Hall elsewhere could even further bolster the foundation he’s built over the past four years.
Hall’s Devils will get another crack at redemption Tuesday night as they take on a tough assignment in the Vegas Golden Knights.