One year removed from a sterling MVP season, Taylor Hall is once again on the move.
The newly minted Arizona Coyotes winger is set to play out the rest of the season in the desert, where he’ll have the chance to bolster an already impressive Western Conference dark horse. But it’s what happens after the season wraps up that is top of mind, now.
With Hall and the Devils parting ways, it seems there’s a strong chance the 2010 No. 1 pick plays out the year and becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, opening his doors to the league at large to try to bring him to town.
There’s a chance he stays in Arizona if all goes well, of course. But either way, the most intriguing aspect of the entire saga is what exactly happens once Hall eventually does put pen to paper. With John Tavares upending the way franchise players handle free agency, and the new generation pushing the envelope in terms of what young stars are owed early on in their careers, there’s plenty to sort through to suss out what exactly Hall might be worth.
Before we can look to any external market factors, we have to pin down what exactly Hall is and what he brings to the table.
A few key particulars to highlight: He’ll come to his new deal at age 28, fresh off an injury-shortened 2018-19 season and a tumultuous 2019-20 (though he has seemed to return to form as of late — we’ll get there in a moment). Hall’s last full NHL season saw him win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP — surely a bargaining chip that’ll feature prominently in future discussions.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that during Hall’s MVP campaign, he wasn’t necessarily the most dominant player in the league, as has been the case for some other MVPs. With the then-Devil finishing sixth in league scoring, his MVP case was built more on the impact his play had on pulling the Devils up by 27 points and lifting them back into the playoffs for the first time in half a decade. The most telling stat that illustrated that level of import to his team, of course, was the fact that Hall finished 41 points above the next highest-scorer on his team (linemate Nico Hischier) — the highest such differential between a team’s leading scorer and No. 2 in nearly a decade.
All to say that Hall’s MVP season doesn’t necessarily indicate he’s one of the game’s absolute best, but rather that he established himself as a player capable of having a significant impact on raising up his team as a whole (though the 2019-20 Devils’ struggles certainly put a dent in that reputation).
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 21, 2018
The quick-footed winger put up a career-high 93 points that season, and also has one season above the 80-point plateau, one above 65 and has topped 50 points three other times in his career. He finished just under 40 goals during his MVP bid, but didn’t get above 30 in any others.
In terms of his league-wide impact, Hall’s been among the top 10 scorers in the league since entering the NHL in 2010, having amassed the eighth-most points of any NHLer in that span. Just a year ago, Andrew Berkshire tabbed Hall as the best left winger in the game — beating out game changers like Brad Marchand and Artemi Panarin — drawing attention to the balance of Hall’s elite skill-set.
While the Calgary, Alta., native seemed off to start the year, Berkshire recently explained why the former No. 1 pick has rounded back into form and appears ready to dominate as he did last time he was fully healthy. That being the case, our expectation should be that, with plenty of season left to go, Hall lays down a strong 2019-20 effort and inks his new deal as one of the best wingers in the game (read: he’s going to get paid).
Also sure to play a key role in raising the value of Hall’s next deal is the rising salary cap — with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reporting the cap could rise a couple million from it’s current upper limit of $81.5 million, the winger and his representatives will have a higher number to which they can tie his value, looking to ensure Hall’s deal slices out a similar percentage of the cap as deals for other recently-signed comparable stars.
But it all comes down to one key question: Is Hall worth $10 million a year?
A number of different factors will determine if that’s the case. For some perspective, it’s worth looking back at some recent comparables — we opted for five players who (a) are among the top earners in the league this year, (b) signed within the past two years, in somewhat of a similar cap world as Hall will be negotiating in, and (c) are at a similar point in their careers, i.e. not a young star like Auston Matthews coming off an entry-level deal or a veteran like Blake Wheeler signing what’s likely his last contract.
Mark Stone, RW, Vegas Golden Knights
Contract: 8 years, $76 million
Cap Hit: $9.5 million
Percentage of Cap: 11.9 per cent
Stone was in somewhat of a similar position as Hall when he inked his deal with Vegas — with re-signing in Ottawa seeming a longshot, he was dealt to the Golden Knights mid-season with unrestricted free agency approaching. Of course, Stone signed on with Vegas soon after, while Hall seems more likely to wait it out until the off-season. A winger like Hall and signed at a similar age (27), Stone came to his new deal as a 60-point player praised as one of the best two-way talents in the game — evidenced by the fact he was runner up for the Selke Trophy after signing on with Vegas.
He isn’t the type of offensive force that Hall is — Stone’s career .838 points-per-game pace sits far below Hall’s career .905 — but he carries a different type of premier value due to his two-way prowess. Determining which of those two is worth more is difficult to quantify, and likely based more on what other elements a team already has on the roster, but when all was said and done, Stone was given just under $10 million, long-term by the Golden Knights, his $9.5 million ranking as the highest cap hit on the team.
Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Contract: 8 years, $76 million
Cap Hit: $9.5 million
Percentage of Cap: 11.9 per cent
Kucherov was a couple years younger when he inked his eight-year deal, re-signing with the Lightning at 26. He was already in the midst of establishing himself as one of the game’s premier scorers, coming off a 100-point season with an 80-point campaign one year prior, and two seasons above 60 before that. But more importantly, Kucherov scored at or near 40 goals in each of the two years leading up to the deal, likely the most significant factor in earning him his eventual sum. He came to his negotiations with no personal hardware to his name (the breakout campaign that saw him snag the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award came after he had re-signed), but it was fairly clear which direction the young Russian phenom’s game was trending.
Though also a winger like Hall and Stone, Kucherov entered his negotiation as a better offensive weapon than either, having proven his ability to produce more goals and overall points. Of course, there is some tax trickery at play, as Kucherov’s cap hit isn’t necessarily indicative of his overall worth given the fact that Florida has no state income tax. Elite scoring included, Kucherov signed on for $9.5 million per year long-term on a deal identical to Stone’s.
Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars
Contract: 8 years, $78.8 million
Cap Hit: $9.85 million
Percentage of Cap: 12.4 per cent
Seguin is the first of these comparables to seemingly to get the centre bump — centremen tend to be paid the most of any position, and Seguin is no exception, slotting in slightly above wingers Kucherov and Stone at $9.85 million per year. He’s a straightforward comparable to Hall in one sense, considering the two have been linked since before their draft year and went off the board Nos. 1 and 2 in 2010, but the difference in position is key. Seguin was 26 when he inked his deal, and did so having scored at a slightly lower rate than Hall (.864 career points per game vs. Hall’s .905). Like the previous two wingers, Seguin didn’t come to the deal with any individual trophies to his name, though he did play a role in the Bruins’ 2011 championship run during his rookie year in Boston.
Though Seguin’s never had a single season that’s matched Hall’s MVP campaign — hitting 90 points and winning a major award like the Hart — he’s been a more consistent scorer year in and year out, having topped 70 points six different times while Hall’s done so only twice (with injuries playing a key role in that discrepancy). It’s worth noting linemate and captain Jamie Benn is signed on for $9.5 million per year, which may have played a part in determining Seguin’s yearly number. Benn’s trajectory serves as an interesting comparable for Hall as well — the left winger signed his big-money deal in 2016, a season removed from having clinched the Art Ross Trophy in what seemed a potential outlier campaign. Benn put up one more season above 80 points, but hasn’t gotten close to that production since — he has five more years at $9.5 million after this one.
John Tavares, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Contract: 7 years, $77 million
Cap Hit: $11 million
Percentage of Cap: 13.8 per cent
Tavares’ signing situation is the first of these comparables to have been set up similar to what Hall’s process will likely look like — a genuine superstar heading to the open market, allowing the league at large to bid for his services. Signing at age 27, Tavares came to the new deal as a two-time Hart Trophy nominee with three 80-point campaigns to his name, a 70-point effort and three 60-point seasons. He’d scored at a much higher pace than Hall overall, rolling along at a career clip of .928 points per game with the Islanders. And, of course, Tavares earned an extra bump as a centreman, and captain material.
While he didn’t have the Hart Trophy win to his name, his two nominations put him in that same camp as Hall in that regard. That alongside better offensive numbers, and success in all that comes with manning the middle of the ice as a premier top-line centreman. All told, it seems he’d be a more valuable commodity than Hall, and with the added wrinkle of entering free agency as arguably the biggest name to ever hit the market, Tavares was able to sign on for a hefty $11 million per year long-term (though for one year shorter than the previous deals listed here).
Artemi Panarin, LW, New York Rangers
Contract: 7 years, $81.5 million
Cap Hit: $11.643 million
Percentage of Cap: 14.3 per cent
Panarin’s deal might be the most interesting of the bunch in comparison to what Hall could get. Debuting with two years of roughly 75 points alongside Patrick Kane in Chicago, Panarin established his value as a player a team could build an offence around when he was shipped to Columbus, putting up 82 and 87 points over the past two years in that central role. Though he had no MVP nominations to his name when he signed in New York this past summer, the Calder Trophy-winner has been a better overall scorer than Hall during his short time in the league, scoring at a .994 points-per-game clip over his four NHL seasons.
There’s plenty here that seems to line up, ostensibly, with Hall’s upcoming negotiation — if the former Devil chooses to wait things out as opposed to signing on with Arizona. Panarin signed at 27, just a year younger than Hall will be this summer, and — like Tavares and potentially Hall — did so as the prized name on the free-agent market. Though Panarin has seemed a more dynamic scorer so far, it’s tough to say there’s too significant a discrepancy between he and Hall when it comes to their offensive potential, especially considering the year Hall just put up during his MVP bid.
There is quite a difference when it comes to their track record of staying in games, though. Panarin missed only six games through those first four seasons in the league, while Hall has played a full 82-game season just once over the past decade. He’s been above 70 games four times, and played nearly the full lockout-shortened season in 2012-13, but has four other seasons of finishing at or below 65 games. That injury potential seems certain to come into play when a long-term, big-money deal is on the table.
Panarin reset the market for a star UFA winger at this point in his career — he did so as a slightly younger player with an established reputation as one of the game’s premier offensive talents. That doesn’t seem entirely different from Hall’s situation.
That said, the latter’s injury history changes things. It seems where that final number settles will depend on where exactly the winger looks to go — if he’s willing to sign on with a rebuilding team, returning to a situation akin to his Devils years, then something approaching $10 million doesn’t seem out of the question. But if Hall’s hoping to join a contender and give himself a chance to close out his career with a Cup, as he’s stated publicly, that number will have to drop a fair amount.