The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and the biggest name on the rental market is Taylor Hall.
He’s only a couple of years removed from being named league MVP. He’s also sitting on two goals in 34 games. Hall has had more breakaways than any player since the start of last season and he’s scored on precisely zero of them.
Forecasting the type of impact Hall might have on a contending team was once a fairly straightforward exercise. Not so simple anymore. So, let’s take a look at what Hall can bring to a contending team and what type of team might be the best fit for the speedy winger.
If you want a possession-driving winger, there aren’t many better options than Hall. Last season, split between New Jersey and Arizona, Hall ranked seventh in the NHL in controlled zone exits and entries per game. Hall used that speed and skill to generate scoring chances off the rush at an elite rate, ranking third in the league behind only Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid.
Despite ranking third in rush chances, Hall ranked 217th in rush goals scoring on only three of his 78 attempts. Twelve of those rush scoring chances were breakaways and as mentioned, he missed on all of them. That’s either an incredible run of bad luck or there’s something to the fact that while Hall generates a ton of opportunity with his speed, his finishing skills are not in line with the other elite players who create a similar amount of offence off the rush.
This season, Hall is generating less off the rush, averaging fewer than one rush chance per game, which ranks 62nd overall. His controlled exits and entries, while still well above average, are also down as he ranks outside of the top-10.
In fairness, it’s difficult to accurately assess any Sabre's true value given the state of the team -- winless in 18 straight games. However, we are now looking at over 100 regular season games on three different teams with one startling truth: Hall creates chances with his speed at an elite level and has been among the worst finishers in the NHL over the past season and a half.
Will that change in a different environment on a contending team? Perhaps, but like all trade deadline acquisitions, fit will play a major role in whether this trend continues or Hall can break out of his scoring slump and be an impact player.
Let's take a look at a few teams who could benefit most from adding a player like Hall and whether he would be the best fit possible.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
With fellow left winger Anders Lee out for the rest of the season, one can expect the Islanders to make a move for a top-six forward ahead of the trade deadline.
Lee is still tied for the team lead in goals with 12 so, on the surface, bringing Hall in seems to make sense. However, Hall and Lee are different players, and what made Lee successful on the Islanders' top line won’t necessarily translate to similar results for a player like Hall.
Lee is one of the premier net-front, power forwards in the NHL. Great at deflecting pucks and cleaning up rebounds. He works well alongside Mat Barzal, a premier puck possession centre, and Jordan Eberle, a high-skill right-winger. Since entering the NHL, Barzal has been at or near the top of the league in puck possession and zone entries. There’s only one puck on the ice, but not many players possess it and like to hang on to it more than Barzal. So, while replacing Lee with Hall might make sense on the surface, it may not be a great fit when you consider the type of game each player plays.
The Islanders are also one of the top defensive teams in the NHL. They dump pucks in at a high rate, rarely make risky plays in the neutral zone, and play a pretty tight defensive system under Barry Trotz. Could Hall thrive in this environment? Perhaps. The Islanders aren’t exactly stacked on left wing and if Hall played away from Barzal on the second line it could be a move that makes sense, but several factors would need to be considered by both the team and the player in determining whether this is a fit that would work.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Salary cap gymnastics aside, this could be an attractive match for both sides.
Zach Hyman fits just about anywhere in the Leafs lineup and has great chemistry with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Slotting Hall on the second line alongside John Tavares and William Nylander could make a lot of sense for both parties. That role is currently being filled by Alex Galchenyuk who has performed admirably in a handful of games with the Leafs. That said, Hall would be a significant upgrade.
Tavares thinks the game at an elite level and does a great job of protecting the puck and extending plays in the offensive zone. Nylander is a dynamic winger capable of transporting the puck and creating space in the attacking end. On paper, it seems like Hall’s game would fit nicely with both players and with the style of game the team plays.
The Maple Leafs defence likes to hit the team’s skilled forwards with speed up the ice and Hall would only benefit from Toronto’s puck-possession style of game. For the first time in a long time, Hall wouldn’t have to be ‘the guy’ either. Hall carried the Devils into the playoffs in his MVP season. He was the go-to offensive player for the Coyotes in his time in Arizona and was expected to put up big numbers alongside Jack Eichel in Buffalo.
In Toronto, Hall would be a secondary piece on a roster loaded with offensive talent.
The Bruins have had trouble scoring at even strength. Then again, so has Hall. Perhaps, this is a move that could put a jolt in both Hall and the Bruins offence. Boston has dined out on its power play in the past, but their scoring woes at even strength this season have hit a new level. Only the anemic Buffalo Sabres average fewer even strength goals per game.
The Bruins were reportedly interested in Hall before he signed with the Sabres and they don't have much in the way of offensive depth beyond their loaded up top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. While Hall may be a gamble because of the aforementioned lack of finish he’s shown over the past couple of seasons, Boston needs all the help it can get generating offence.
Hall has a full no-move clause so it will be up to him whether he wants to accept a trade to a contending team or not. What is certain is the amount of uncertainty that exists in what exactly he will provide that potential team.