31 Thoughts: Why Taylor Hall may be more than a rental for Bruins

Taylor-Hall

Former Buffalo Sabres forward Taylor Hall. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

• Will Hall stick in Boston long term?
• Jets considered at least one big deadline deal
• Maple Leafs go all in

Taylor Hall confirmed a lot of things on Tuesday.

Foremost is the fact he wanted to be a Boston Bruin. During his first foray into unrestricted free agency, Hall flirted with Boston. The Bruins were interested, but told him they’d have to make moves before they could commit to him. Hall wasn’t comfortable with the idea of waiting, and wanted to lock in his next NHL home.

So he went to Buffalo.

Six months later, Hall is where he wanted to be, flexing his no-move muscle in order to get to Massachusetts. The hope is this isn’t a one-night Tinder swipe right, but the start of a lasting, meaningful relationship. Father Time dictates the Bruins are ending one era and preparing to launch another. We will see if Hall becomes a cornerstone.

“Unfortunately, right now, I’m not the most confident hockey player,” Hall said Monday.

For all the criticism Hall receives, there’s one game from this season that stands out to me. On March 16, the Sabres went to New Jersey, where he took a Colin Miller bomb right in the face. A direct hit from a hard slap shot three minutes into the game. Understand, they’d lost 11 in a row, and this ended up being number 12. Watching the game, I thought to myself, “We won’t see him for awhile.”

He was back early in the second.

One of the theories as to why he’s now on his fifth team — and fourth in two seasons — is that he plays “an individual game.” As in, his dominance at the junior level convinced him of a way to play that doesn’t work in the disciplined, defensive NHL world. Maybe that’s true, and he has to do a better job adapting.

But you can’t convince me this is someone who doesn’t care. Hall had every excuse to sit the rest of that night, and didn’t. He wants to do well, and I can’t imagine there’s a better group he could join at this point in his career. Boston’s leadership demands as much of itself as it does of others.

The Bruins are betting Hall’s two per cent 2020–21 shooting is an aberration (he’s at 10 per cent for his career). Harvard-educated GM Don Sweeney revealed his nerd bonafides by using the phrase “regression to the mean” when discussing the trade. Also, Boston is second-last in the NHL in five-on-five rush goals per game. Hall’s finishing must improve to fix that, but he’ll create opportunities.

Edmonton GM Ken Holland confirmed the Oilers did not make a push. I don’t think Toronto made a huge one, either. Aside from Boston, the strongest pursuers seemed to be the Islanders and Vegas, with St. Louis displaying a degree of interest. The Islanders initially chose the Kyle Palmieri/Travis Zajac duo over Hall, but tried again over the weekend.

If anyone else really came close to getting the winger, it was the Golden Knights. Although the final deal was directly between Boston and Buffalo, other teams were approached about brokering a Vegas/Buffalo move. The Knights’ interest shouldn’t be a surprise. If they’ve proven anything in their brief history, it’s an aggressive pursuit of anyone they deem worthy.

They made their pitch and it’s one Buffalo probably preferred. But Hall negotiated control and had the right to use it. This is where he wants to be. I wasn’t convinced the Bruins were crazy about rentals in a year where Tuukka Rask is hurt and things haven’t gone great on the ice. But this has the potential to be a long-term relationship. Hall’s job is to make it happen.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

31 THOUGHTS

1. I believe Buffalo asked Boston about their two young goalies, Jeremy Swayman and Daniel Vladar, but the Bruins weren’t going there. Knowing they were Hall’s preferred destination, they could take a harder line.

The Sabres’ interest in Anders Bjork isn’t a huge surprise since several members of Buffalo’s hockey operations have NCAA/U.S. minor hockey connections, including head of collegiate scouting Jerry Forton and head coach Don Granato. (Jason Nightingale, the team’s director of analytics and assistant director of scouting, was on Notre Dame’s staff before Bjork played there.)

Podcast co-host Jeff Marek says the Sabres’ terrific netminding prospect, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, is two years away, and it’s not a surprise they’d try to bolster the position. Buffalo held on to Linus Ullmark, even though he is unsigned. He’s played hard in a tough situation. Signing him is a priority, although the player has the hammer this close to unrestricted free agency.

2. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said the Jets “tried to do a few things that might have been big swings. But the players we targeted didn’t move.” I do think the Jets considered at least one big deal, but ultimately decided they didn’t like the price. Would have been expensive. One of the defencemen they asked about was Columbus’s Vladislav Gavrikov. It makes sense, as he’s signed for two more seasons and Winnipeg likes contract certainty. Good player, too.

3. Toronto considered Conor Garland before acquiring Nick Foligno, but I don’t think it was ever close. There was a lot of interest in the Columbus captain, and the Blue Jackets knew quickly they were getting a first-rounder for him. The Maple Leafs made it clear they valued prospects like 2020 first-rounder Rodion Amirov, Nick Robertson and Rasmus Sandin more than future prospects; their actions backed those words. They now have six selections in the next two drafts. They also weren’t interested in term, because they’ve got to try and re-sign Zach Hyman, which will be complicated enough without extra commitments for 2021–22. They pushed their chips all in, their only sensible option.

4. This is where I think it stands with Frederik Andersen: He feels he played hurt this year when Jack Campbell was also injured, and it affected his play. We won’t see him until he feels he’s completely recovered.

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5. Tony DeAngelo’s rejection of Montreal’s offer indicates he believes there’s going to be something better for him this offseason. The Canadiens put together something comparable for this year and next to what he’d lose if he terminated his contract. (Remember, the Rangers can buy him out for one-third of next year’s salary.)

6. Montreal did ask about Ryan Getzlaf. They scouted him pretty intently this season, but I don’t believe it was ever a serious possibility. What it indicates is that they were trying to add. Guessing Mike Hoffman was one attempt, since they wanted him before he signed in St. Louis. But they were not willing to meet the price.

7. If Getzlaf was going anywhere, it was Vegas. There were discussions (and the Ducks’ captain knew of them), but, again, I don’t think it got close. Anaheim made it clear they wanted a good young player, and it wasn’t offered to their satisfaction.

8. Adam Gaudette and Vancouver? It’s complicated. Boston and Nashville looked at the young forward at different points this season, and, as his role didn’t grow with the Canucks, the organization knew he wanted a fresh start. So,I think this was coming even before the COVID outbreak. Was he traded because his exposure was at the heart of it? I can’t say that, but I do believe the situation exacerbated tensions. One way or another, Gaudette’s time in Vancouver was coming to a close.

9. As I write this (Tuesday afternoon), no Canucks players have indicated they will opt out of the rest of the season.

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10. One NHL coach reached out because of what happened with Travis Green and Vancouver’s coaches. It is believed three members of the Canucks’ staff tested positive, and it really bothered this other coach.

“I understand that sometimes you coach without a contract (for next year),” he said. “But after this situation, I believe they should be taken care of.”

11. Tanner Pearson happily secured his future, saying Monday, “This is what I wanted from the get-go, I made that clear.” His three-year, $3.25-million deal with the Canucks certainly affected the market. Los Angeles and Philadelphia completed important business with Alex Iafallo and Scott Laughton, respectively, and things altered in both negotiations in the aftermath of Pearson’s contract. The Kings conceded on term (they initially didn’t want to go four years), and the Flyers on salary (they were below $3 million per year).

Four- and five-year deals aren’t going to be thrown around, so what we learned is how strongly those organizations felt about those players. Los Angeles indicated it wouldn’t trade Iafallo even if a contract wasn’t done. The Flyers did test the market on Laughton, but ultimately chose to keep him.

12. Term is going to be a big battle. It was a hurdle Kyle Palmieri and New Jersey couldn’t get over, for example. With a flat cap coming for several seasons, there will be stinginess on length.

13. The three extensions had one similarity — limited or no signing bonuses. Other than that, there were notable differences. Pearson’s is backloaded, with a $1.5-million signing bonus in the final season. Iafallo and Laughton’s deals have the biggest-salaried years in the middle. The former has no bonuses, the latter a combined $1 million over the first three years. Is this a trend? Teams have fought to make that answer a “yes” out of the pandemic, but we will see when it is time to talk with the franchise.

14. Philadelphia considered Alex Goligoski from Arizona, but the Flyers ultimately decided it didn’t make sense. Think the Jets looked at him, too.

15. This is purely my opinion and not anything I’ve heard, but, coming out of the enormous Detroit/Washington deal, does anyone ask Steve Yzerman about Dylan Larkin? One of the reasons Anthony Mantha and Jakub Vrana were traded was due to frustration with their play (and, especially in Vrana’s case, his own consternation at the way he was being used). But another key factor is that the Red Wings feel their rebuild will take longer than originally predicted.

I’d written earlier about Detroit making everyone available except Larkin, 2020 first-rounder Lucas Raymond and 2019 first-rounder Moritz Seider (and possibly co-leading scorer Filip Hronek). Mantha is signed for three more seasons, and may be out of his prime before they’re ready. Larkin is signed for two more. He’s their captain, and it’s not insignificant to consider the fan base’s reaction. If you were another team, though, and you liked him, the Mantha deal could give you reason to ask.

16. One story about Vrana: the Washington Capitals woke up on June 5, 2018, with a 3–1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. There were two days off before Game 5, and all regulars were excused from practice. Vrana was the only one to skate. I asked him why. He said it was because he needed to practise scoring. He was 12 games without a goal at that time. Vrana then scored the first goal of the Cup-clinching Game 5. It’s always about that extra edge.

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17. Edmonton was in on Patrik Nemeth before Colorado got him.

18. The Avalanche looked into David Rittich before going to Devan Dubnyk.

19. Pittsburgh considered Zajac before he went to the Islanders.

20. Jeff Carter was an interesting get for the Penguins, because he’d declined at least two previous opportunities over the past couple of seasons. Both Arizona and Philadelphia expressed interest, but he preferred to stay in Los Angeles. So there was some surprise he accepted this one; credit to the Penguins for appealing to him.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion has another season remaining on his contract, and it will be interesting to see where this goes. If he retires, Columbus (where he previously played), Los Angeles and Pittsburgh would have to deal with a “cap recapture” issue from the backdiving nature of his 12-year deal. The Blue Jackets would lose $551,000 from their cap and Los Angeles $3.1 million (although they have plenty of space), while the Penguins would actually get a benefit of almost $400,000. Allow me to use this space to state that retroactively punishing teams for already-signed deals is ridiculous.

21. We will count the two late-night Sunday deals because they’re close enough, so, on deadline day, eight of the 29 players dealt had contracts for next season (Anders Bjork, Madison Bowey, Carter, Haydn Fleury, Matthew Highmore, Curtis Lazar, Mantha and Richard Panik). Some of those deals are about the expansion draft, but it’s actually a higher number than I thought it would be. Behind the scenes, there’s been plenty of groundwork done on the possibility of moving those with term in the offseason. Two teams that would be most active in terms of preparation would be Calgary and Philadelphia.

22. I openly admitted on-air to not knowing much about Emil Heineman, Florida’s second-rounder traded to Calgary in the Sam Bennett deal. Revealing the true power of television, I received several text messages with useful scouting reports indicating he’s a legit prospect who drives opponents crazy. I don’t watch prospects like Sam Cosentino does, so I appreciate the intel.

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23. Dallas not trading Jamie Oleksiak makes me think the Stars are along the road to re-sign him. There are expansion-draft implications, but if they thought it was not possible, he’d be somewhere else.

24. UMass defenceman Zac Jones, leaving school after a national championship to join the Rangers (who drafted him 68th in 2019), eschewed performance bonuses to make his route to the NHL easier on cap-tight New York. Nick Robertson and Rasmus Sandin did the same thing for Toronto, and it definitely helped them in the short term. The other factor I didn’t realize was that Jones can earn more in base salary than normal because he will be a pro for a month. Usually, an NCAA player arrives so late in the season there are only a few days of salary. (Days are also worth more this season, because there are fewer this year.) Smart all around.

25. New Jersey GM Tom Fitzgerald went with one of Brian Burke’s rules when it came to Ryan Murray. Fitzgerald was straightforward about why he didn’t trade Murray: “I just didn’t feel that the offers were something of value to us as an organization, to take another veteran out of this lineup,” he said.

I always looked at it as a team should try to get something out of nothing, but Burke said that if you cave at the last minute, other GMs will always believe you’ll do it again in the future.

26. Courtesy The Athletic’s Corey Masisak, Andreas Johnsson is the oldest remaining forward on New Jersey’s roster. He’s 26. That’s crazy. It feels like his NHL career began last week.

27. St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong held tight, saying post-deadline that climbing back into the West Division playoff race convinced him not to sell.

“Certainly the play of the last three games and being in a playoff spot today was a reflection of really deciding to stand pat with this group,” he said.

An opening-round matchup with Colorado or Vegas would be an enormous challenge. Armstrong considered selling big in 2019; he actually sent out a pretty famous pre-Christmas trade memo, then changed his mind. I’d remember that, too.

28. Nashville GM David Poile on Mattias Ekholm: “My next conversation with Mattias will be after this year about how he thinks he fits into the future of this hockey club and whether he would like to be here longer, not whether we want to trade him.”

Poile also said he would not lose Ekholm in the expansion draft.

The other Predator I’m wondering about is Mikael Granlund. Player and team re-united late in free agency, and it’s been mutually beneficial. As Nashville climbed to control its playoff destiny, Granlund played some of the best hockey of his career. They needed it, too, as Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg and surging Eeli Tolvanen went down. If the Predators wanted to, Granlund could be extended at any time.

29. Two interesting 1,000-games adds this week. Jordan Staal scored 29 goals in his rookie season. The next year, he had two at the end of December. He was still eligible for the World Juniors and I asked Ray Shero, then Pittsburgh’s GM, if there was any chance he’d loan Staal for that event. Shero looked at me like I was insane and said, “No way. He’s an NHL player.”

When he was traded to Carolina, I can’t imagine he envisioned there would be fewer than four seasons with brother Eric and none with Marc. This year, at 32, his .77 points per game is on track to be the second-best of his career. The Penguins used to say he was the strongest player in the organization. He still uses that power to affect games. He’s a lot of who the Hurricanes are: understated, under-appreciated, but extremely effective.

30. The other is Milan Lucic. He has to be one of the only rookies in recent memory who got his own room on the road, because his snoring was so bad — no one wanted to be near him.

Lucic was the quintessential Bruin. Obviously, with a great player like a McDavid or a Matthews, the game changes every time they step on the ice. At Lucic’s peak, one NHLer told me he and Shea Weber were the only two who changed the game in another meaningful way — if you let them hit you, you’d regret it.

Lucic has been through a lot. It might surprise people to know this, but he’s a thinker and sensitive. A ton of people who care about him are thrilled to see him get to 1,000. He did it the hard way.

31. One podcast this week — the deadline wrap-up that came out early today. We are going to take a break and not have a second one. But we will be back with two next week, including a fun idea for Monday’s drop.

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