TORONTO – Taylor Hall is jealous, and you can understand why.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have grown increasingly painful for one of the game’s best left wingers to watch as season after season slips by without his participation. Call it the seven-year itch.
“My first couple seasons in the league I probably watched every game I could. I was still excited to be in the league and didn’t really think I’d have a chance to win a Cup at that point in my career,” Hall said Thursday at Air Canada Centre, where his Devils will look to spoil the Toronto Maple Leafs’ chances at a berth. “Now that I’m seven seasons in, it’s tough to watch and know that I haven’t even experienced a playoff game yet.”
Saying that, Hall concedes he may indulge in the later rounds, after the sting from another fruitless regular season subsides.
“You can’t help but watch and learn from what these guys are doing at the highest level,” he said.
But don’t expect him to cheer for the Edmonton Oilers.
“In the playoffs? No,” he smiled. “I won’t be rooting for them.”
Edmonton’s first-overall draft choice in 2010 bore the brunt of the NHL’s longest active playoff drought. He saw the second-overall pick, Tyler Seguin, get fitted for a championship ring with Boston just one spring after the draft. He spent six seasons putting up gaudy offensive numbers for an Oilers rebuild that may still be ongoing today were it not for Connor McDavid, another lottery prize.
In the first season since Hall’s trade to New Jersey for defenceman Adam Larsson, the Oilers will end their drought. Salt, meet wound.
“It’s a weird dynamic,” Hall, 25, said. “You’re happy for your friends, that they’re doing well and they’re going to experience the playoffs, but you can’t help but be a bit jealous.”
Hall says he has kept in touch with a few of his Oilers teammates, including former roommate McDavid.
“He’s an easy guy to root for. His success isn’t surprising anyone,” Hall said of the Art Ross Trophy leader. “He’s put that team on his back, him and Leon [Draisaitl]. The way they produce this year, night in and night out, playing against the top lines for the first time in their careers, it’s pretty incredible. I’m happy for them.”
Despite missing weeks this winter due to knee surgery, Hall leads all Devils in assists (30) and has a good chance to finish first in team scoring.
But yet again, he’s an individual success story on a bad team — and one that will be in tough again in 2017–18 playing against loaded Metropolitan Division rivals.
The losses sit heavy.
“I’d love to be in a playoff race. I don’t even think I’ve played meaningful games in the last 10 games of the season at any point in my career. To say that is tough, for sure,” Hall said. “But what am I going to do? I still have to produce; I still have to play well. One thing I learned last year down the stretch, even when we were in 27th, 26th place, a lot of people are watching. There’s still a lot of eyes on you. Even though our team isn’t going to make the playoffs, there’s still room for individual and team success.”
Glancing down the hall at a young, rebuilding Toronto team, it’s simple to imagine an alternate universe for Hall — one where the talent present in his early years in Edmonton coalesced more quickly and yielded more-immediate results.
“I wish it was that easy when I was in my first or second year in Edmonton,” Hall said. “That goes to show you how incredible it is what [the Leafs] have done. A lot of credit goes to their coaching staff, just how quickly these young players have not only produced offensively but tuned in on the other side of the puck, which is probably the hardest thing to get a hold of.”
It will be another long summer for Hall, who it should be said is quick to point out the positives of his current situation and deserves respect for showing honesty in a cliché-riddled realm.
“I just want to be on a good team,” he said. “Here in Jersey, the area’s great, great guys in this room, but I just want to be on a winning team. I want to be on a playoff team that has a chance to win a Cup here pretty soon.”
Hall said he will not be representing Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, held this May in Germany and France. The winger scored 21 points over 20 games to help his country win back-to-back golds in 2015 and 2016.
“The last two times I’ve went have been an amazing experience, to experience Russia and play against hostile fans was a lot of fun,” Hall said. “Being able to win it was special. Having my family there, meeting so many guys from around the league, it’s a great time.
“I’ll probably be taking this one off. I have a couple injuries that I’d love to give some time to rest and heal, but I always love my time playing for Canada.”
One-Timers with Taylor Hall
On the Olympic debate: “I’m not exactly sure what [the league]’s deep reasoning is behind [the pessimism]. The commissioner, there’s a motive behind what he’s saying. That’s their stance. I can understand where the owners are coming from: They don’t want to see players hurt, they don’t want to take two weeks off in the season where they don’t make any money. But the players want to go. Sometimes it’s not always about money. Sometimes it’s about the joy of playing in a special event like that.”
On playing in Toronto: “When I moved to Ontario [to Kingston at age 13], I still stayed a Flames fan. This is probably the place I have the most family come and friends come. It’s always special to play here. One you mark on your calendar.”
On the Hart Trophy race: “I still think these last 10 games are going to prove a lot. Connor just keeps producing points, and Edmonton still has a chance to win their division, so it’s going to be interesting how it lines up. Ten games ago, I would’ve said Brent Burns. Now I think it’s either Connor or Sid.”
On the Calder Trophy race: “I haven’t played against [Patrik] Laine yet this year and played one game against Matthews. If you look at points, Laine’s got the edge, but Matthews’s team is probably going to make the playoffs. So we’ll see. It’s kind of a broken record, but it really is awesome to see the young players in this game carrying the torch. The careers seem to get younger and younger. It’s crazy to think I’m already in my seventh year.”