Taylor Hall trade an important litmus test for Arizona as hockey market

Tim and Sid look at Taylor Hall being traded by the Devils to the Coyotes, a former first-overall pick with a Hart Trophy.

It is the perfect moment for Taylor Hall to land in Arizona, a team that suddenly has a serious chance at making a playoff run. And now, with this injection of excitement and legitimacy, we will finally learn about the Coyotes, their fan base, and if the hockey world has a place in the Arizona desert.

After all these anonymous years in the desert for this franchise, and all the forgettable seasons for Hall, can this player take that team as his lawfully wedded knife, and carve out some long awaited success for both parties?

“That’s what this is all about,” said Hall, who is so ready to win after a 10-year career that has given him five lousy playoff games. “It’s not about what line I play on, or which power-play unit. I’m really just looking forward to winning games.”

With Hall’s arrival, all eyes are on Arizona — something we’ve never said in the 24 years since the Jets moved south from Winnipeg. Suddenly, general manager John Chayka has made the biggest deal of the NHL season, a splash that previous GMs in Arizona just never made before.

And all eyes will be on Hall, who has truly had a remarkable career — first overall draft pick, Hart Trophy winner — for a player who hasn’t accomplished anything that hockey players truly covet.

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“If you’d have told me when I got drafted by Edmonton — when I was 18 — that I’d be 28 years old playing on my third team, just about to head to Arizona, I’d have said you were lying,” Hall said on a conference call Monday. “But I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and really enjoy it. You know, I was disappointed when I was traded to New Jersey, and it ended up being a really positive thing for my career.

“I’ve learned that this game’s a business. You’re not always going to be playing for the team you’re on for a long time. It could be tomorrow, it could be 10 years. I’ve just learned to roll with it.”

I can’t wait to see Hall back out West, as he joins the best team he has ever played on. I wonder, does the Arizona sports fan feel the same way?

Yes, we have arrived at the moment where the hockey world learns everything we need to know about the Coyotes. Where the attendance excuse of never having a competitive team dies. Where the product becomes worth the drive to Glendale.

Chayka has given Arizonans a first-place team, a club with a real chance to make the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons with some acquired star power in Hall and Phil Kessel.

Yet still the Coyotes languish near the bottom of the NHL’s attendance charts, fourth from the bottom of the league with a home-ice average attendance of 14,244. (And how many of those were giveaways that never walked through a turnstile?)

Yes, you may remember me as the guy who wrote earlier this season about how boring the Coyotes style is, an opinion based on the fact that the team has scored more goals than only two teams — New Jersey and Buffalo — over the past 10 seasons. This year’s team, clearly their best in years, has soared to a tie for 25th place in offence in a 31-team NHL.

Uh huh — I’m the guy who wondered if nearly 25 years of scraping along at the bottom of the attendance ladder, despite fans being able to get into the arena for the price of parking in most Canadian cities, was a reflection of a product that simply has not been entertaining enough to gather a following in Arizona.

That’s what makes this Hall trade so perfect.

It’s no secret that the Coyotes need to secure a new arena far closer to Scottsdale, or perhaps Mesa, to become a financially viable entity. After a carousel of owners over the years, we’ve heard the rumours that the latest ownership group has some time to secure that new building, or will get the nod to finally take this money-loser out of state.

In walks Hall, a lightning-fast, exciting, handsome young superstar, oozing with personality and wanting to win likely more than any No. 1 draft pick has ever wanted to win. A sexier acquisition you could not find, he is skilled, just cocky enough, and well-spoken – the perfect player to sell tickets around.

If they can’t fill the building in Glendale — or come close — with this team and this player, then we’ll know, once and for all.

Arizona simply is not a hockey market.

Hall wouldn’t look ahead to his unrestricted free agent status this summer. Not yet.

He’s open to anything, and as a guy who has been through what he has in this game, Hall is the last guy to start looking seven months down the road at July 1.

He’s just enjoying the moment, maybe the best one he’s had outside that Hart Trophy presentation.

“To jump that many points in the standings overnight, to join a team that’s in first place,” he marvelled. “Hockey guys will tell you, as the playoff push starts to become more important, hockey becomes so fun. I’ve only played five playoff games, but I can remember them in great detail, because they were the highlight of my NHL career.”

There may be more highlights in Arizona, or Hall’s acquisition could teach us everything Gary Bettman didn’t want to admit about hockey in the desert.

Let’s sit back and watch, shall we?

Suddenly, hockey in Arizona isn’t so boring anymore.


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