Top 5 Landing Spots for Buffalo Sabres Winger Taylor Hall
After failing to reach the playoffs for nine years, the Buffalo Sabres pulled off quite a coup last October by signing left wing Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million contract.
Hall, 29, was expected to skate alongside first-line center Jack Eichel. If they meshed well and the Sabres became a playoff contender, it would improve his chances for a better contract with Buffalo or another club this summer.
However, things haven't gone well. Buffalo is at the bottom of the MassMutual East Division standings, 10 points out of a playoff berth. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner is fourth among Sabres scorers with just one goal and 12 points in 19 games while seeing mostly second-line duty.
On Feb. 18, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported there was mutual interest in a contract extension, and talks can begin March 12. But if an agreement isn't in place before April 12's trade deadline, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams could attempt to deal Hall or risk losing him this summer for nothing.
Hall could interest playoff contenders as a rental, and his depressed stats could also make him more affordable. The Arizona Coyotes parted with two conditional draft picks and three prospects to acquire Hall from the New Jersey Devils in December 2019. He probably won't cost that much this time around.
Finding the right fit could prove difficult, though. Few contenders can afford to take on his contract, and he has a full no-movement clause. The Sabres could also be forced to absorb part of his $8 million cap hit to facilitate a trade.
Despite these issues, Buffalo should be able to find a suitable landing spot for Hall if he'll waive his clause. Here's a look at five candidates.
The Boston Bruins remain among the NHL's best teams. They're jockeying with the Washington Capitals for first place in the East Division. Acquiring a top-six winger like Hall could boost their hopes for a Stanley Cup run.
A lack of reliable second-line scoring depth continues to plague the Bruins. A highly skilled player such as Hall could be a good fit alongside center David Krejci and right wing Craig Smith. Left winger Nick Ritchie could shift down to the third line alongside center Charlie Coyle and right winger Jake DeBrusk.
With $9.7 million in deadline space, the Bruins have room to add Hall's remaining cap hit ($4.6 million). General manager Don Sweeney could ensure additional space by trading a player to the Sabres. He could also request Buffalo retains a portion of Hall's cap hit, up to the maximum of 50 percent.
The Sabres' asking price could include a winger such as DeBrusk along with a draft pick or prospect. The 24-year-old struggled this season but has put up two 40-point campaigns. Or the Bruins could offer Anders Bjork. With just three points in 18 games, the 24-year-old left winger hasn't played up to expectations but could benefit from a change of scenery.
The Carolina Hurricanes are among the four playoff contenders pulling away from the rest of the field in the Discover Central Division. However, a slump or a slew of injuries to key forwards could put them into the market for Hall.
General manager Don Waddell made a move earlier this season, acquiring forward Cedric Paquette from the Ottawa Senators to boost his checking-line depth. Secondary scoring depth also remains a concern, as they've shuffled players in and out of their second-line left-wing position.
Hall could provide a significant boost there. The Hurricanes carry $7.6 million in projected trade-deadline cap space. Still, Waddell could ask for the Sabres to pick up part of his remaining $4.7 million.
How much it will cost to acquire Hall from the Sabres is the big question. Waddell parted with winger Ryan Dzingel to get Paquette and Alex Galchenyuk, and then flipped the latter to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Hurricanes have three seventh-round picks in this year's draft, but the Sabres will want more than that for Hall. Little-used defenseman Jake Bean and a prospect could also be part of the asking price.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets reached the playoffs in each of the last four seasons under head coach John Tortorella. However, they're in danger of sliding out of playoff contention in the Discover Central Division. That could push general manager Jarmo Kekalainen into the market for a top-six forward such as Hall.
Kekalainen made one big move earlier this season, shipping center Pierre-Luc Dubois and a draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23 for forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. Laine is their first-line left winger, with Boone Jenner on the second line. Hall could provide more punch to the second line, while Jenner could slide down for third-line depth.
The Blue Jackets have $4.8 million in projected deadline cap space, but Kekalainen could request the Sabres absorb part of Hall's cap hit. The Jackets could offer Max Domi along with a pick or prospect. Acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in the offseason, the 26-year-old forward has had difficulty adjusting to Tortorella's system, having posted just seven points in 23 games.
Some might question the idea of Hall waiving his no-movement clause to play for a demanding coach like Tortorella. However, we can't dismiss the possibility, as he surprised everyone last fall by signing with the Sabres.
Jostling with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the Discover Central Division, the Florida Panthers are having one of their best seasons in years. However, a slump or an injury to a key player could threaten their postseason hopes, perhaps forcing general manager Bill Zito to put in a call for Hall.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Frank Vatrano are the Panthers' top two left wingers. Huberdeau is among their core players and one of the NHL's leading scorers with 24 points. Vatrano, however, doesn't provide the level of offensive skill a former Hart Trophy winner like Hall would.
The Panthers have a projected $12.5 million in trade-deadline cap space. They can afford to take on Hall's remaining cap hit. He could jump at the opportunity to improve his free-agent stock as a rental player with a potential playoff club like the Panthers and waive his no-movement clause.
Zito could package a little-used player with a draft pick and a prospect. Winger Brett Connolly (11 minutes, 45 seconds average TOI) could be a candidate. He cleared waivers on March 1 after struggling through 16 games this season with just three points. He's signed through 2022-23 with a $3.5 million annual cap hit and could benefit from playing elsewhere.
A strong start in January for the Montreal Canadiens was followed by a horrible February that saw them win just four of 12 games. With his club tumbling in the standings, general manager Marc Bergevin could seek help in the form of Hall's scoring.
Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin are the Canadiens' top two left wingers, and both have reputations for streaky production. Critics will argue Hall's had the same issue since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2018-19. Nevertheless, he still has a proven record as an elite playmaker who could be a worthwhile gamble.
The Canadiens have $4.3 million in projected trade-deadline cap space that could prove a tight squeeze for Hall's remaining salary. Bergevin could ask the Sabres to absorb part of Hall's salary or offer an impending free agent like Tatar ($4.8 million cap hit), center Phillip Danault ($3.1 million) or winger Artturi Lehkonen ($2.4 million) along with several draft picks.
With 11 picks in Rounds 2 through 5 of the 2021 NHL draft, the Canadiens could assemble a tempting package. Little-used defenseman Victor Mete could also be included in the deal.