Taylor Hall has yet to play his first game as the reigning NHL MVP, but the Devils have already made their intentions clear with the star winger. Come next July, they plan on doing everything in their power to ink Hall to a long-term, big-money extension that keeps him in New Jersey well into the future.
In speaking with NJ.com’s Chris Ryan on Tuesday, Devils owner Josh Harris didn’t mince words when talking about the potential for Hall to be inked to an extension when he becomes eligible in July 2019, calling it “the highest” priority for the franchise’s next off-season. “He’s committed, he’s authentic, he is an amazing player obviously,” Harris told Ryan. “He’s a guy you build around…Taylor is definitely going to be front and center, so it will definitely be a high priority. I hope I’m working with Taylor for a long time.”
Of course, the Devils’ considerable interest in retaining Hall’s services comes as no surprise. The 26-year-old winger, who just completed his second season in New Jersey after arriving in 2016-17 by way of a blockbuster one-for-one swap with the Edmonton Oilers, captured the Hart Trophy this past season as the league’s top player on the back of a 39-goal, 93-point campaign in which he basically was the Devils’ offense. He scored 41 more points than the next-most productive New Jersey scorer, rookie Nico Hischier, and led the team in every major scoring category, including goals, assists, power-play goals, game-winning goals and power-play points. That’s not to mention Hall was the ice-time leader among forwards and put nearly 100 more shots on goal than the next-most frequent Devils shooter.
Thus, the question hasn’t so much become if New Jersey will retain Hall, but rather what a new contract will cost the Devils.
While at one point the high-water mark for payment of top stars belonged to Chicago Blackhawks duo Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, they of twin $10.5-million cap hits, others throughout the league have begun to catch up in recent seasons. Next season, four more forwards will have cap hits of $10 million or more, including youngsters Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid, as well as John Tavares and Anze Kopitar. And considering Hall’s accomplishments this past season, one could safely suggest he’ll be due a significant raise on the $6-million cap hit that he’ll carrying into the final two seasons of his current deal.
As far as recent comparable contracts go, it’s not all that difficult to draw some pending free agent or UFA contract connections to Hall. Matter of fact, considering age, past contract and recent production, Tavares is nearly a one-for-one match. Over the past two seasons, Hall has accumulated 59 goals and 148 points, which is slightly lower than Tavares’ 65 goals and 150 points. However, Hall’s rate of production of 0.99 points per game holds a slight edge over Tavares’ 0.94 points-per-game scoring rate. The most notable difference between the two, though, is position: Hall is a winger, Tavares a center. The impact a center can have on a contest often translates to a higher rate of pay, as noted by the fact 13 of the top 20 and seven of the top 10 highest-paid forwards are pivots.
When it comes to a high-paid winger, though, Hall may have one heck of a comparable in Jamie Benn. While the career trajectories of the two left wingers has been awfully different — Hall a highly touted No. 1 overall pick, Benn a late-blooming fifth-rounder — there’s something of a symmetry between the timing of their individual award-winning campaigns and their extension eligibility. Hall’s Hart, as we know, has come one season before he is able to put pen to paper on a fresh pact with the Devils, but the timing mimics Benn’s 35-goal, 87-point 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy victory, which came one full season before he was able to sign a massive eight-year, $76-million extension that carries a $9.5-million cap hit with the Dallas Stars.
In addition, the two are awfully similar in terms of production over an extended period. While Benn has piled up the goals, scoring 103 over the past three seasons to Hall’s 85, and has a 26-point edge on his Devils counterpart, the difference in per-game scoring rates is almost negligible. Benn has scored 0.98 points per game to Hall’s 0.92 points per game, but it should be noted that the former has done so while spending the majority of his ice time alongside a top-tier center in Tyler Seguin. Hall, meanwhile, has had a rookie in Hischier, Travis Zajac and a sophomore Leon Draisaitl as his primary pivot over the past three campaigns.
What potentially stands to differentiate Benn and Hall, however, is how they follow up their award-winning season. Benn was able to cash in as he did thanks not only to his Art Ross victory, but the fact he came back the next season with a career-best 41-goal, 89-point campaign. How Hall performs in the 2018-19 campaign is yet to be seen. That said, while no one expects Hall to have a pedestrian campaign, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume his totals dip slightly. Given that his 2017-18 shooting percentage was nearly one-third better than his career average and he eclipsed his previous career-best point total by more than a dozen points, Hall could be due for a slight regression. Even still, another 30-goal, 80-point performance seems well within reason for Hall.
If he produces at or above that level, too, it’s hard to fathom Hall is in line for anything less than a Benn-esque raise, which is to say his next contract could cost the Devils in the range of $9.5-million per season, at the very least. But what should be taken into consideration more than the base value of Benn’s deal is the cap hit percentage. At the time he put pen to paper, the $9.5-million cap hit was a hair more than 13 percent of the spending limit. And with the cap currently sitting at $79.5 million with potential to rise above the $80-million mark by next summer, Hall could very well join the $10-million club on an extension.
When it comes to Hall’s extension, though, a lot will ride on his coming campaign. Another big year and he’ll have potential to match or even surpass Toews and Kane at $10.5-million annually. If he should slide further than expected, the Devils might be able to save a bit, even if it is unlikely Hall falls below $9 million per season. No matter what, though, Hall is staring down a massive raise on a long-term deal, and all signs point to New Jersey being eager to take care of their star winger.
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