When Taylor Hall was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2010, he was to be the centrepiece of a rebuild that would put them back on the Stanley Cup track. When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was added as a first rounder the year after, the long-term hope was even brighter. When Nail Yakupov was added first overall in 2012, it’s fair to say there was more pessimism in the air (though hope remained).
Few could have predicted that Hall would be traded out of Edmonton before his first post-entry-level contract with the team expired, and without a single playoff game on his hockeydb page. In the three full seasons he’s spent in New Jersey, he got to the playoffs once and played five games.
Now all the talk around Hall is about what’s next. Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, Hall laid his intentions out there last summer. And he sure sounds like a guy who will at least hear out anyone who wants to propose to him during the free-agent negotiating period in June.
“You want to play on the best team possible, and 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,” he said at the NHLPA’s golf tournament last summer.
“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.”
Hall also cited John Tavares’s decision to leave the New York Islanders via free agency as something that could change the landscape. Where we were surprised by Tavares’s decision, we should be less so about Hall if he gets into late-June unsigned.
So it’s not unfair to think about the possible jerseys Hall may be wearing when the puck drops on the 2020-21 season. It may be that he stays in New Jersey, but just about every team in the league should be interested in adding him.
With that in mind, we’re taking a look at some teams that could conceivably be a fit for Hall when he signs his next contract.
Let’s start off with the Devils who, for now, have the best chance to get Hall’s signature on a long-term contract since he’s on their roster and they’re the only team that could ink him for eight years. They have the cap room, made the complementary roster moves last summer to try and ramp up towards being a playoff team and are probably more motivated than anyone to figure this out. You can’t write off the Devils so early in the season.
But a slow start that puts them at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division has at least complicated things. Had the Devils started strong, it’d be a much more optimistic outlook right now. But they’re 4-6-4 and Hall had a couple of frustrating incidents on home ice recently: calling out the fans for booing in a one-goal game, and following a goal with a hand-to-the-ear celebration that he later played down.
If we take Hall’s summer comments at face value, we do have to at least wonder if he’ll see the Devils as a team that fits his priorities. New Jersey may yet turn around and look much more like a playoff team and there’s obviously some exciting young players in place. But a quick ascension is not a given.
I’m just going to leave this here as the most “fun” possibility as far as potential landing places go for Hall.
The Avalanche meet the criteria of being a team that’s as safe a long-term playoff bet as you can get. And while some roster trimming may have to happen for them to be able to afford Hall on a market-value contract via free agency, they should be able to engage in that chase — as long as that market doesn’t rise to Artemi Panarin/Mitch Marner levels.
Right now, Colorado is projected to have $24.3 million in cap space this summer and its most important expiring contract may be Nikita Zadorov. Andre Burakovsky (RFA) could count there as well, but if it became a choice between Burakovsky and Hall, I think we all know how that’d turn out.
As we see with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog out of the lineup, Colorado still struggles with forward depth. Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and Burakovsky have been good additions to combat that, but taking a big swing on Hall would take the emerging Avs into the stratosphere. Paying Hall, say, $9-10 million would make him the highest or second-highest paid player on the team though, so that’s a dynamic we can’t overlook.
But this is also why they could afford Hall in the first place. Nathan MacKinnon is making just $6.3 million for another three years after this one and Rantanen is just starting his six-year pact. It could become an issue to manage all this when Landeskog and Philipp Grubauer become UFA eligible and Cale Makar becomes RFA eligible in 2021. But the cap is also expected to rise by then — and, as the Winnipeg Jets are showing us this season, maybe teams shouldn’t be shy to act aggressive and take a home-run swing when they know a Stanley Cup window is open.
You never know when it’ll slam shut.
And for that reason, unlike most other teams on this list, the Avalanche may even make sense to be players for Hall on the trade market this season, should the Devils try and move him prior to February’s deadline.
“They’re a legit contender, they’ve got a lot of assets,” Elliotte Friedman said about the Avs. “I do think, if Hall is available, I do think they’d be a team that’d look at him, but I think a lot of teams would look at him.”
Look. This is probably unlikely to happen. And the Oilers are certainly not in a position to move future assets to acquire Hall in a mid-season trade. But should he become available on July 1, would Hall’s former team have interest in bringing him back? They’d be crazy not to.
Hall is exactly what this year’s Oilers are missing — a play-driving, offensive winger who can lead his own line. Hall would either be an incredible addition next to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whom he spent most of his time alongside in the first go-around), or make for one heck of a duo with Connor McDavid. That would also allow the team to confidently move Leon Draisaitl to his own line.
For now, Edmonton is projected to have around $20 million in off-season cap space, though Darnell Nurse’s extension will cut into that. But if it means they have a chance to bring in Hall, the Oilers should have no fear to let just about anyone else go (Kris Russell’s contract expires in 2021 and would have to go). Some ELC’s could potentially be inserted (Evan Bouchard, Kailer Yamamoto) and help keep overall costs down.
But, bringing in Hall could lead to some other tough choices. Nugent-Hopkins himself is UFA eligible in 2021 and if he wants too much of a raise, his time with the team could expire. Perhaps it means trading him for parts that help fill out the roster with depth. And, of course, a long-term solution in net is still required.
Maybe the Oilers would be top heavy, but this is a star-driven league where you have to lean on your big-money, big-minute players and try to find value below them. Between McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal and maybe even Nugent-Hopkins, plus some of the prospects on the horizon, Hall could ironically be the piece that puts Edmonton in position for sustained success… right?
Right now, Canada’s western-most team looks ahead of schedule. They have an elite offence, a top 10 defence, and their goalies have both been rock solid. Sure, they may not win the Western Conference this season, but they sure seem to be exiting a rebuild quickly.
Now, the most important contract Vancouver is going to have to deal with is Elias Pettersson’s in 2021 — and he seems to be in line to go over an $11 million AAV. Anything that puts that at risk cannot be considered. Beyond that, the Canucks have some inflated contracts on the books given to complementary pieces that could ultimately scuttle any dream of attempting to woo Hall.
Loui Eriksson is making $6 million through 2022. Tanner Pearson, Sven Baertschi, Micheal Ferland and Jay Beagle come in at over $13 million combined. Some, or all, of those would have to be shed to have any hope at snagging a fish this big from the UFA market.
But, especially if the Canucks make the playoffs this season, they’ll have to be feeling very confident that someone like Hall could really ignite this thing.
Depending on how the rest of this season plays out, the Sharks may not fit the bill as a contender for the first time in ages, but they could potentially have the room to bring Hall in — and San Jose has been an attractive landing spot for players before.
The Sharks have nearly $17 million in projected salary cap room this summer, but a good chunk of that is likely committed to Kevin Labanc, who is in line for a hefty raise after taking a one-year deal last summer. The Sharks would have to do some cap gymnastics to fit in Hall, but aside from Labanc, all the rest of their most important players are locked in for a while.
As noted above, having stars in the lineup is the most important factor towards earning the “contender” designation. San Jose could go all-in on that approach if they expand on the star power already in place by bringing in Hall to build a top-six forward unit that would rival anyone’s.
Here’s a wild and crazy idea that would take the Battle of Alberta to new heights in the modern age.
Projected to have more than $22 million of cap space, the Flames do have some contracts of their own to take care of, including four important defencemen. Those deals will eat up most of that money. But, assuming Michael Frolik won’t be back, could sending out Sam Bennett’s money clear enough room? Or maybe you don’t re-sign TJ Brodie.
Calgary’s top line has been hot and cold so far, but was a strength in their run to the Pacific Division title last season. It’s the offence behind it that’s sometimes lacking. Again, adding Hall would round out a terrific top six.
Still not convinced they’d have the necessary cap space to get this done? How about this for extreme, way-out-there speculation: what if the Flames finish well under expectations and decide it’s time to move on from someone like Johnny Gaudreau? Could he bring back futures or cheaper pieces to add to the immediate roster that clears enough cap space to bring in Hall as a replacement? Just a thought, based on nothing other than the idea Gaudreau is a New Jersey native, and Hall — though more injury prone — would be an upgrade.
We’re dreaming up some wild things here.
The Panthers probably fancied themselves as a playoff contender after bringing Sergei Bobrovsky in, but so far that hasn’t come to fruition. Unless something changes here, Hall wouldn’t be interested in a perpetual playoff miss.
But, it is worth pointing out that Florida is 6-1-3 in its past 10 games and Bobrovsky hasn’t even found his legs yet. If he does, we could still have a dangerous team on the rise here. Florida has nearly $18 million in projected cap space this summer and a bunch of mid-level contracts to re-sign, plus two big ones to consider in Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman. The former is likely a must-keep, but not re-upping the latter’s $5.187 million may put them on the road to get Hall.
Remember, Florida took a swing at signing Panarin last summer, so Hall should motivate them to do the same in 2020. It’s just, the overall team history here may not be so inspiring for someone looking for secure playoff involvement.
Talk about being top heavy and filling out a roster with cheaper talent, the Penguins have used this formula to great success before. As long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on this roster, GM Jim Rutherford should be pushing hard to win as many Stanley Cups as possible.
The Penguins have nearly $23 million of projected cap space this summer. Goalie Matt Murray, an RFA, may be the most expensive re-sign of all the expiring deals here, but there’s nothing too onerous. If it means Hall is a possibility, Alex Galchenyuk will be easy to release into the UFA market.
You have to think this would be an attractive landing spot for Hall. He’d play with either Malkin or Crosby and join a team that’s won multiple Stanley Cups, and will be as motivated as anyone to do it again in the next few years. The Penguins have gotten used to managing around big contracts (including overpays) and icing competitive rosters around their two future Hall of Famers.
Hall would come at a higher cap hit likely, but would basically replace Phil Kessel, who was moved out last summer.