Taylor Hall trade a tough sell for Oilers fans… for now

Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli talks about the difficulty of breaking the trade news to Taylor Hall, and speaks on what he really likes about Adam Larsson's game and potential.

EDMONTON — It isn’t enough. That was everyone’s first thought.

“He’s not a sexy defenceman,” admitted Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli of his newest acquisition, right-shot defenceman Adam Larsson.

Straight across, Larsson for left winger Taylor Hall seems to be a lopsided victory for the New Jersey Devils. A flashy, 65-point winger for a stay-at-home, 20-point defenceman.

When you are an Oilers fan, it’s the Buckley’s Mixture your team has deferred on for far too long. When you are Hall, it smacks of someone thinking that perhaps you were the problem in Edmonton, which to these eyes couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I feel slighted,” Hall admitted. “I’m a proud person, and I do take this as an indictment on me as a hockey player. I don’t think there’s any other way to treat it. I think it’s safe to say I’m a very motivated player now.”

Of course there are always more layers to one of these deals, and even if many in the 780 area code don’t have the stomach to peel them back, when you do it becomes easier to see how this trade came to be.

For one, Chiarelli has worked this market for months. He’s made a lot of trades in his day. If there were better options, he’d have found them.

“In the past four or five months … we pounded the pavement. This is the price that you have to pay,” he said. Yes, he could have waited. But this trade comes in concert with what Chiarelli hopes to be some major July 1 spending on both left winger Milan Lucic and defenceman Jason Demers.

A $6-million forward had to go, and the return for Hall — as opposed to Matt Dumba for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — was deemed the best.

However, if your standard is that the team that gets the best player wins the deal, then New Jersey wins the deal.

“That’s a fair comment, if you look at just what they’ve accomplished so far in the league,” Chiarelli said.

Chiarelli took over this botched rebuild just over a year ago, and has had the incredible fortune to add Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi through the draft. We will assume that Lucic is in the bag, set to walk into the LW spot next to McDavid.

The ongoing salary concerns are centered around Leon Draisaitl next summer, and McDavid and Darnell Nurse the summer after that. Then Puljujarvi the following year.

“You have to reserve judgment on this (trade) before you start the Twitter war. It’s all one equation,” cautioned Chiarelli. “Does (each transaction) balance out when you’re trying to build a team? I felt it critical to move on this. Taylor is a real good player, part of the fabric of this team.

“It was a difficult decision.”

One exec I spoke with Wednesday likened this to the way a cap-challenged team like Chicago has been forced to trade away players like Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy for cents on the dollar as part of the overall process of staying on top. Of course, Edmonton is trying just to reach the top, but the concept is the same.

Adding a Lucic and having Puljujarvi fall into their lap are both “plus” deals for Edmonton, with no assets going out the door. The Hall deal solves a dire need that has crippled this club, even if the one-for-one value doesn’t seem right.

Trading a $6-million player is very difficult, added the exec, and that’s why New Jersey asked for the best of Chiarelli’s $6-million players.

We all know who Hall is — the NHL’s third highest-scoring left-winger behind only Jamie Benn and Alex Ovechkin over the past four seasons. But who, exactly, is Larsson?

“He moves the puck, he defends well, he can log 24, 25, 26 minutes (in a game),” Chiarelli described. “He’s a player I’ve watched very closely. I could see his game trending up. It was time to act on him.”

He had a breakout season last year, working his way on to New Jersey’s top pairing with Andy Greene averaging 22:30 per game — second most on the Devils. He’ll be 24 in November, a right-hand shooter from Skelleftea, Sweden who comes with a cap hit of $4.166 million for the next five seasons compared to $6 million for Hall for the next four seasons.

Said Devils teammate David Schlemko in a text: “He’s really good. A beast. He can play a shutdown role and plays really hard. I’m surprised the Devils would move him. Fans in Edmonton will love this guy.”

If Adam Larsson is playing in the playoff games that Taylor Hall never reached, then yes, they may see the value in this deal.

For now though, it’s a tough sell.

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