Hall, who turns 29 in November, had been connected in rumours to playoff regulars like the Avalanche, Bruins and Predators. The Sabres, who hold the longest playoff drought in the league at nine seasons, were barely considered.
But on Monday, the former first-overall pick went out of his way to explain his decision to sign in Buffalo and it became very clear that this was a match that makes sense on many levels.
“People seemed surprised when it came out Sunday that I had signed with the Sabres. I don’t think they should be,” Hall wrote in a letter on the Sabres website. “Before free agency even began, my agent and I assessed every organization in the league and considered what it might be like to play there.
“When I looked at Buffalo, I saw a coach whom I respect and who knows how to get the most out of his players. I saw young, elite talent that will only get better. I saw owners in Terry and Kim Pegula and a general manager in Kevyn Adams who are committed to success.”
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 12, 2020
Hall and head coach Ralph Krueger have worked together before, when Krueger coached the Oilers in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. While Krueger only lasted one year as a head coach in Edmonton, his ability to connect with players had an impact on Hall and the star winger says he’s very much looking forward to getting to work with the coach again.
“Ralph is a very interesting human being,” Hall said in a Zoom call with reporters. “I think in 2020 a coach like him has the greatest chance of connecting with athletes and really making people better.
“The year that I had him as a head coach was probably my most successful year, even though it was a shortened season, other than my MVP year.”
Another reason Hall was attracted to the Sabres was the chance to play with Jack Eichel, one of the top centres in the NHL. Eichel set a career-high in goals with 36 last year and was four points from tying his career-high of 82 before the season was ended early by the COVID-19 pandemic. While Hall had a down year by his standards last season, scoring only 52 points between the Devils and Coyotes, he is a former Hart Trophy winner with two seasons of at least 80 points on his resume.
Hall said he hasn’t been guaranteed a spot on Eichel’s wing yet, but it’s easy to imagine the two of them doing a lot of damage together.
“There’s no doubt about it that (Eichel) being there is a big reason why I chose Buffalo. He’s an amazing hockey player,” Hall said. “I think that he took a great step last year. Now it’s about can we find a way to get him into the playoffs and really produce on a stage that I feel like he deserves.”
Whenever a top-line forward like Hall hits the market, the expectation is that he’ll get a high-paying, long-term deal somewhere. But at one-year and $8 million, that can’t be said for Hall’s new contract. Still, he said he entered the off-season looking at both long-term and short-term contracts and once it became clear the COVID-19 pandemic would limit what teams could offer, a one-year deal made sense.
“I can’t sit here and complain. I’m playing hockey next year and my salary is $8 million, I don’t have a lot to complain about,” Hall said.
It’s clear from his comments that Hall is making a bet on himself to return to his high-scoring self, but he’s also betting he can help the Sabres turn things around. While no one knows where things will stand in a year, Hall is entering the season expecting the relationship to fit and possibly continue long-term.
“It’s close to home, it’s close to my parents. It’s a place that I could see myself for a while,” Hall said from his home in Toronto. “Honestly, the best thing for both sides is that this goes very well and I’m a Sabre for a long time.”