LAS VEGAS — It might have been the biggest moment in Taylor Hall’s life. But by the time his name was called out as the winner of the Hart Trophy on Wednesday, he’d been handed a sobering new outlook.
The surviving members of the Humboldt Broncos were honoured with a stirring tribute just minutes before Hall was named MVP — immediately erasing the nerves that had been coursing through his body during a teary-eye NHL Awards ceremony.
“It’s not all about you, it’s not all about winning awards, it’s about enjoying life and doing what you love,” he said. “To see those kids, their dreams ripped apart and their families have to kind of heal from that, it just puts everything in perspective.”
Hall would have been forgiven if he made this about himself. He won in a tight vote, edging out Nathan MacKinnon and Anze Kopitar, and did so two years after being traded out of Edmonton — a move that came with plenty of insinuation that he was a prime reason why the Oilers were perpetually stuck in the mud.
Instead, he became a difference-maker in New Jersey. He finished an incredible 41 points ahead of the Devils’ next highest scorer, rookie Nico Hischier, to propel his team to an unexpected playoff berth. That was good enough to earn Hall 72 of 164 first-place votes from members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association for an award that goes to the player “adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”
“If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s to be the first Devil to win MVP,” said Hall. “At the start of this season, people wrote us off. People have [written] me off. It feels pretty good standing up here now, and to have the MVP, and to have had a successful season in Jersey. I’m just super excited to get back there next year.”
Hall has found a home in New Jersey. He’s the first player to win the Hart after being traded at any point during his career since Joe Thornton, who claimed the trophy in 2005-06 after landing in San Jose from Boston.
MVP-calibre players simply don’t get moved in a league where top-end talent is essential to success.
The 26-year-old took the high road when asked if the recognition brought about some feelings of validation after all he’d been through with the Oilers. But it was clear there was an unsaid measure of that.
He said there was no eureka moment where a switch flipped that allowed him to hit a career-best 93 points.
“As a player, as a person, you mature,” said Hall. “But, in saying that, I was top-10 in points on my entry-level deal. I was a good player for a long time. I feel what really brought me to the next level was being in Jersey, playing with my teammates, drafting Nico No. 1 overall and getting to play with him as a centreman all season long.
“I think probably the biggest reason why I’m up here today is No. 13 on my team and the trust that [general manager] Ray Shero and [head coach] John Hynes have put in me.”
Hall brought his family to Las Vegas to share in the honour. Never before in his eight-year NHL career had he even received one top-five vote for the Hart Trophy. On Wednesday his father, Steve, had flashbacks to the rink he built behind their home in Calgary when Taylor was a kid because it was just off Lindros Lane — a little bit of kismet since Eric Lindros was among the four players who presented Hall with the trophy here.
It was recognition for a magical season that included a 26-game points streak — “I’m pretty confident in saying that’s not something that I’ll ever do again in my career,” said Hall — and saw him play Stanley Cup Playoff games for the first time.
“He’s driven a culture, he’s driven a team, he’s been extremely consistent, and you look at what he means to our team on and off the ice, I just don’t think there’s a comparable situation to what he’s been able to accomplish,” said Devils coach John Hynes in April.
Still, when it came time to stand in front of his peers, Hall had a lot of other thoughts on his mind. The NHL honoured victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the Broncos.
It was a heavy and necessary night.
“As a hockey community, you try and help everyone around you, you try and rally, and just be a kind person to one another, and hopefully that makes someone feel better,” said Hall. “At the end of the day, we’re hockey players, but we’re people first and foremost. My heart goes out to everything that was tributed tonight.”
An award-worthy thought, that one.