As observers, critics and fans, we crave bold moves and outside-the-box thinking from our sports executives.
Taking risks equals juicy headlines and deep debate.
So, it was particularly intriguing when a rookie general manager, the Buffalo Sabres’ Kevyn Adams, and a recent league MVP, Taylor Hall, took a wild, one-year, $8-million swing over the off-season to see if they could help solve each other’s curse.
While we applaud the stab, the results have been nothing short of disastrous — from Hall’s shockingly low shooting percentage (2.3, when his career average is 10), career-worst minus-23 rating and paltry two goals, to the underwhelming return his midnight-hour trade to the Boston Bruins yielded Adams.
When Hall, 29, heads to his fourth team in two seasons, he’ll be joined by depth forward Curtis Lazar, who is signed through 2022 at a $800,000 cap hit. Going to Buffalo is cost-certain forward Anders Bjork ($1.6-million cap hit through 2023) and a 2021 second-round draft pick.
Because the Sabres will retain half of Hall’s $8-million AAV, Hall will arrive in Boston as only the sixth-most-expensive forward. And he should see easier on-ice matchups skating behind the dominant Brad Marchand–Patrice–Bergeron–David Pastrnak line.
Despite receiving serious rental interest in Hall from a few contenders (the Golden Knights, Capitals and Islanders were reportedly in the mix), Adams walked back from his initial ask of a first-round pick for the biggest household name on the market.
Don’t forget: The ball was in Hall’s court here, as the 2018 Hart Trophy winner had negotiated a full no-move clause.
Adams, of course, signed off on that condition, tying his own wrists.
“Definitely the no-move really helped me become a Bruin,” Hall said Monday morning, before embarking on the seven-hour drive to Boston. “This was a team I really wanted to be part of and really wanted to join.”
Avoiding details, Hall revealed that he “was ready to be a Bruin” during the 2020 off-season. A contract came close but did not materialize, and he took a flyer in Buffalo, expecting the Sabres could maybe flirt with a playoff spot.
Buffalo’s inexperienced front office will take more heat this week when the trade deadline’s ledgers get tallied up.
All told, Adams has dispatched Hall, Lazar, Eric Staal and Brandon Montour in exchange for a second-rounder, two third-rounders, a fifth-rounder and Bjork.
By comparison: The other big seller, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, has recouped two first-rounders, a third-rounder, a fourth-rounder and a seventh-rounder for Nick Foligno, David Savard and an injured Riley Nash.
Hampered with a battered blue line and an ailing crease, Bruins GM Don Sweeney has done some fine patchwork over the past 24 hours.
In addition to Hall, who presents Bruins second-line centre David Krejci with some long-coveted skill on the flank, Sweeney also secured defenceman Mike Reilly from Ottawa for a 2022 third-round pick. Nice value.
With this splash, the pressure shifts off Sweeney now that he has given his veteran core a boost.
The pressure shifts onto Hall. Best case: he provides a secondary wave of offence for a champion, the way Phil Kessel did for the Penguins’ most recent title runs.
He is an elite talent whose lack of playoff success (14 post-season games played in an 11-year career) and frequent suitcase-packing have dropped his stock heading into a second consecutive free-agent summer.
The $8-million AAV offers won’t be flying around this time.
A healthy scratch the past few days as Adams bubble-wrapped his most valuable asset, Hall spent the time doing some “soul searching.”
The star has been humbled.
Speaking over Zoom Monday, Hall sounded decidedly down on his own game, yet optimistic about pulling on a fresh sweater.
“For myself, obviously it wasn’t the season that I would’ve liked to had. Not even close,” Hall said. “Unfortunately right now I’m not the most confident hockey player.
“I don’t think it’s completely lost or anything like that.”
Here is another chance.
If he soars, Hall could stick in Boston beyond 2021, with Krejci and Tuukka Rask’s hefty contracts coming off the books. At the very least, Hall can showcase what he’s capable of when surrounded by a legitimate roster with high standards and even higher hopes.
“I’d love to be a Bruin for a few years. It’s been a bad year for me personally. I need to play well,” Hall said.
“I came to Boston with [Tyler] Seguin in 2010 just before our draft, and I love the city. I love the fan base and the way they care about hockey. And every time I’ve come to Boston since then, I’ve always really enjoyed my time there. So, it’s a city that I have a lot of respect for as a sports city, and I can’t wait to get there.”
With Hall’s Bruins facing the Sabres six more times this season, starting Tuesday, the contrast should be striking.
Hall will waste no time jumping in the lineup.
“I really just want to be part of a winning team,” Hall said.
“I’m really excited to be a part of that group and to just be one of the guys. I don’t expect to come in and light the league on fire or anything like that. I just want to come and win games. I want to be a part of a winning team. That’s something that I haven’t had before, and that’s what makes me most excited.”