With the NHL trade deadline less than one month away, the hockey world’s collective eyes are fixated on the Buffalo Sabres and what potential moves the floundering franchise might make.
One player many expect to be dealt in the near future is 2018 Hart Trophy recipient Taylor Hall. The 2010 first-overall pick signed a one-year deal, $8-million contract with the Sabres in the off-season and suffice it to say this year has not gone to plan.
The 29-year-old only has two goals and 14 assists in 28 games this season and to add insult to injury, took a puck off the face Tuesday night during his team’s 12th consecutive loss.
Hall said earlier this month he’s “open” to returning to play in Buffalo next season, but we’ll see how everything unfolds.
“It’s not like I’ve had an amazing statistical year by any means so far this year,” Hall said via The Buffalo News. “Just in saying that, I think I’ve enjoyed my time here. I really like the guys, the coaching staff, the way we’re treated as players and like we said from the start, my agent and myself, we’re open to anything. I was never treating this as a one-year thing. I was always coming into it open-minded and we’ll have to see what happens here, if there’s interest on their side.”
Hall has a no-movement clause and becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so it’s ultimately up to the player to approve any move to a new city.
With that in mind, here are five teams we feel could make a push to acquire Hall in the coming days or weeks.
Maple Leafs general manger Kyle Dubas addressed the media Tuesday and said forwards are the positional group the team is targeting ahead of the trade deadline. Dubas also mentioned he is willing to move a top prospect and that a rental player deal is his preferred option over a more traditional player-for-player swap.
Toronto doesn’t have a third-round selection in 2021, but they’re flush with first- and second-round picks through 2023. The Maple Leafs are short on cap space so they could require Buffalo to eat a decent chunk of Hall’s remaining salary.
The Maple Leafs have struggled in March, averaging just 2.5 goals per game during a stretch that saw them lose five of six. In joining Toronto, Hall would be surrounded by more talent than he has currently in Buffalo or had in either Arizona or New Jersey and the results could potentially be special.
Acquiring a rental player of Hall’s calibre would be a clear sign that anything besides a Stanley Cup championship this season is a disappointment for Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
The Avs were thought to be among the favourites to land Hall in free agency. GM Joe Sakic has first- and third-round picks in each of the next three drafts with which to work, but the team dealt its 2021 and 2022 second-rounders to acquire Devon Toews in the off-season, so its draft capital is somewhat limited and not quite as enticing as other teams.
The team has plenty of cap space, though, with a combined $8 million in Erik Johnson’s and Pavel Francouz’s salaries tied up on LTIR. Hall, despite having a down year thus far, possesses the skills to fit seamlessly on Colorado’s first or second line. With a handful of pending UFAs, Hall would in theory also be a good long-term fit for the Avs.
The Isles might not be the first team most hockey fans jot down when listing 2021 Cup contenders yet Barry Trotz’s group is near the top of the East Division and 16-3-2 since the start of February. Islanders captain Anders Lee is done for the year so the team can free up $7 million in cap space via LTIR, which makes a Hall trade doable. Would GM Lou Lamoriello be willing to trade away his team’s first-round pick in two consecutive seasons? He sent what ended up being the 28th-overall pick to the Ottawa Senators as part of a package to get Jean-Gabriel Pageau last year.
The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since advancing to the Stanley Cup final a quarter of a century ago. Could making a trade deadline splash for Hall be what finally helps propel the Panthers to an extended post-season run? Florida is tied for the Central Division lead, but they could benefit from strengthening the left side of the forward unit behind Jonathan Huberdeau who’s having another standout season production-wise. The Panthers have all of their own draft picks plus an additional seventh-round selection in 2021.
Boston was another club reportedly interested in Hall when he was a free agent. The Bruins have slowed down after a 10-1-2 start to the season and Hall would certainly breathe some new life into that dressing room and add an element of scoring depth, which is a real concern for Boston.
Would the Bruins consider including a player like Jake DeBrusk as part of the deal? DeBrusk only has two goals this season and was recently healthy scratched. Moving him would help from a salary cap management perspective and also give the Sabres a player with 20- to 30-goal upside. Anders Bjork could be another potential trade chip for the Bruins to consider.