For a fleeting moment, before P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Steven Stamkos stole the spotlight, Wednesday’s blockbuster trade between the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils was the off-season’s biggest story. Left winger Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson. One player for the other. No salary retained.
The transaction was…poorly received by the Edmonton Oilers fanbase judging by the social media response. “Worst trade in NHL history” isn’t a term tossed about lightly, but it popped up repeatedly. Taylor Hall is among the best left wingers in the game, blessed with major speed and scoring ability. He was the first overall pick of the 2010 draft. His 0.86 points per game since arriving in the NHL in 2010-11 ranks 26th, ahead of Joe Pavelski, Vladimir Tarasenko and Tyler Seguin over that stretch. Hall even made a concerted effort to improve his defensive ability under new coach Todd McLellan this season. Hall had the second best 5-on-5 relative Corsi on the Oilers after Brandon Davidson among regulars with 400 or more minutes played, per puckalytics.com. Better yet, Hall has four years left on his contract at a $6-million cap hit. That’s quite reasonable.
But now Hall is a New Jersey Devil. Only one man, Larsson, heads the other way. Losing Larsson, who had begun to mature into a big-minutes NHL defenseman, leaves a gaping hole on New Jersey’s blueline, but it was clearly a “who cares” trade for GM Ray Shero. You don’t pass up Hall for Larsson. You fix your D-corps later.
This trade is plenty easy to understand from New Jersey’s perspective. This team has been supremely challenged offensively in recent seasons but suddenly has Hall, 2015 first-round pick Pavel Zacha and last week’s No. 12 overall pick, Mikey McLeod, as building-block scorers. The Devils changed their long-term team identity in a hurry. Their fan base should be elated. We don’t have to say much more other than Shero will have to shore up his defense at some point.
But what about all the distraught Oilers supporters trying to make sense of the deal? Can it be done? Probably not. Ryan-Nugent Hopkins or Jordan Eberle for Larsson would’ve felt like a more realistic return. Hall should’ve yielded more than just Larsson. The best we can do is “try” to find some logic in the deal. It’s not like it’s 100.00 percent irrational.
Adam Larsson isn’t chopped liver. He was the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft. The Devils rushed him to the NHL at 18 and later regretted it. His confidence eroded and he wound up a healthy scratch in the 2012 Stanley Cup final that season. The Devils sent him down to AHL Albany for seasoning in 2013-14, and it seemed to help him. He’s become a higher-impact player. He logged a career-best 22:30 per game in 2015-16, second on the Devils, and he played 3:20 shorthanded per contest. He was a top-pairing blueliner.
And it was no secret Edmonton needed to improve its defense. Larsson is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, a right-handed shooter and just 23. He’s inked for five more seasons at an affordable cap hit of $4,166,667. He’s a legit minute muncher. His possession numbers were weak this season, but he didn’t exactly have much support all over the ice on a barren Devils roster. He joins Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson, not to mention someone from the Mark Fayne-Griffin Reinhart group, to make the Oilers’ blueline much more respectable.
The Oilers also save close to $2 million in the transaction. Suddenly all those rumors of Milan Lucic, a left winger, signing in Edmonton seem pretty realistic. If you want to think of the trade as Hall for Larsson and Lucic, since Lucic might not have been affordable without clearing out a bit of money…go ahead. Peter Chiarelli obviously isn’t done tinkering here. Hall for Larsson has to be a precursor to additional moves.
Still, in a vacuum, no matter how much Larsson might suit Edmonton’s team needs, we’re smearing lipstick on a pig if we call this a fair deal. The Oilers gave up too much for too little.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin