Taylor Hall Gets His Chance to Play with a Legit Contender After Trade to Bruins

Abbey MastraccoContributor IApril 12, 2021

FILE - Buffalo Sabres forward Taylor Hall (4) is shown during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Buffalo, in this Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, file photo. The banged-up Boston Bruins are getting a boost for their late-season playoff push by acquiring forward Taylor Hall in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres reached early Monday, April 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)
Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

Eleven years ago, it was Taylor and Tyler at the top of the NHL draft rankings. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin both visited Boston as the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 picks ahead of the 2010 NHL draft. They were the future franchise faces that were going to revive two passionate fanbases in two hockey-loving cities. 

Hall wanted to become a Bruin, but he became an Edmonton Oiler instead. A decade later, he wanted to become a Bruin again, but instead, he went to the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent on a one-year deal in an attempt to reset his market. 

Now, the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner is finally in Boston chasing a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins after being traded early Monday morning ahead of the NHL's 3 p.m. ET deadline. Hall isn't a franchise face anymore, but he's just fine with that. At this point, he doesn't need to be. He'll be playing with high-end forwards like David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand. He just wants to be one of many talented players on a winning team after being traded for the third time in his career and heading to his fifth different team. 

Dan Roche @RochieWBZ

Newly acquired #NHLBruins LW Taylor Hall - who almost signed with the B’s this past offseason - is absolutely thrilled to be a Bruin. @wbz #wbz https://t.co/uxQJeUYm5k

"That was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to play in Boston. That's why I'm so happy I'm traded here," Hall said Monday on a Zoom call. "I've been the focal point on a lot of teams in my career, and I never made myself the focal point. That's just the situation that I was in, and the first chance that I got in free agency, I went to Buffalo, a team that had Jack Eichel, a player that I think is better than myself. 

"I just wanted to be one of the guys. I wanted to be on a successful team."

Buffalo retained 50 percent of Hall's salary and also sent veteran forward Curtis Lazar to Boston in exchange for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in the 2021 draft. The reactions to the return for the best player in a bad trade market wildly differed. Many thought Boston committed highway robbery; others said the bottom fell out of the market for Hall and felt that a second-round pick was all he was worth. 

Pete Blackburn @PeteBlackburn

2010 me would've been so confused to know the Bruins would eventually trade Tyler Seguin for nothing & then acquire Taylor Hall for nothing

The price Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams paid was significantly less than what the Arizona Coyotes gave the New Jersey Devils for Hall in December 2019. For Hall and AHL forward Blake Speers, the Devils received two American Hockey League players, a top prospect in defenseman Kevin Bahl, a first-round pick in 2020 and a conditional third-round pick in 2021.

How could he fall so far in such a short amount of time? If the bottom really did fall out of his market, then it's probably because Hall, a once-prolific scorer, has been struggling to score since 2018. He scored on 14 percent of his shots during his Hart Trophy season, netting 39 goals and putting up 93 points. Since then, his shooting percentage has dropped to an average of 6.7 percent, and he scored only 29 goals with three teams. 

Hall was hoping that by playing on Eichel's wing, he could find that scoring touch again, but he scored only twice with the Sabres and ended up on his own line at times. But Hall can still drive his own line. and while he knows he hasn't played his best, he thinks those attributes that helped him win a Hart Trophy are still there and that he can tap into them to help a team get deep into the postseason. 

The Bruins are currently in fourth place in the East Division with 48 points and they could climb the standings with Hall, especially if he finds that scoring touch again. 

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

There will probably be some regression to the mean. The 29-year-old is a career 10.6 percent shooter, but he's had awful luck on awful teams. He is still an elite playmaking winger with the speed, skill and puck-moving abilities that usually make players successful. 

"Throughout this year, there's been a lot of struggles, and obviously goal-scoring has been probably the biggest one," he said. "I've got to find a little bit of that part of my game back. I don't think that it's completely lost or anything like that. But I'm not expecting to come and score 93 points in Boston again. I want to be a part of a winning team, and whatever I have to do to do that, that's what I'm here to do. I still believe in myself a lot as a hockey player. In saying that, I still believe I have a lot of athleticism and a lot of speed, and I hope I can add to the team with those traits."

Whether or not he listened to the criticism, it's clear that Hall has been humbled since he was selected with the first overall pick in 2010. He's not wrong to say that he's been the focal point of his teams in the past and that it didn't work out, but the blame cannot solely be placed on him. 

He was the focal point in Edmonton because that's what happens when you're selected first overall. He was traded to the Devils in a one-for-one swap with Adam Larsson in June 2016 and dragged an inexperienced squad to the postseason one year later and was recognized as the league's MVP. 

"That was a great year. The stars aligned," he said. "I was the focal point of a power play that did really well. I played with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt and Kyle Palmieri, guys that we really seemed to jell together and the stars aligned. Our team, we started off the year 11-1 or something along those lines, and we were able to build confidence and just kind of ride it from there. Myself, I ended up getting on a 26-game point streak. Confidence never left me."

The Devils didn't have nearly enough firepower to be able to capitalize on Hall's best season. He was upset with the club's relative inaction in the offseason, knowing he would have to carry the Devils once again. Then a knee injury took him out for much of the 2018-19 season, and New Jersey's attempt to build up the roster for the 2019-20 season was futile at best. By mid-January, coach John Hynes was gone, Hall was in Arizona, and general manager Ray Shero had been fired. 

Again, Hall had to be the driving force in Arizona, and he had only a narrow window of time to make something happen. It was taxing, and he was under the microscope. 

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Then he went to Buffalo, and everything fell apart. Those long point streaks weren't coming. The only streak Hall endured in Buffalo was a historic 18-game losing streak. 

"Unfortunately, right now, I'm not the most confident hockey player," he said. 

After being traded twice before and playing for four teams, Hall wanted some say in where he went next. He used his no-movement clause to engineer a trade to Boston. 

"The no-move really helped me become a Bruin," he said. "Since I knew that I would be traded for the last few weeks, it was a team that I really wanted to join and really wanted to be a part of."

The future market for Hall is unclear right now, but he doesn't have much of a desire to test the free-agency waters again. He would like a chance to stay in Boston past this season to be able to recover some of his confidence and show that he is capable of winning. 

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

There is little pressure on Hall to play as he did in 2017-18, but he can't play like he has the last two years, either. The reality is that Hall is probably somewhere in the middle. He may not be a 40-goal scorer, but over the course of a normal season, he can probably put up 20-plus goals. He'll probably play on a line with Krejci, and they'll create a ton of offense with their puck-moving abilities and vision, plus they'll draw favorable matchups playing behind the "Perfection Line" of Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand. 

At his best, he made everyone else around him better, but he could only do so much as one player. Now, he's just hoping to fit into a team that has better talent than many others in the league. 

"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," he said. "I want to be a part of a winning team that has something that I haven't had before, and that's what makes me most excited."


Stats were obtained via Hockey Reference