The New Jersey Devils seemed to go in with a very specific strategy when it came to trading Taylor Hall, the crown jewel of players available this season. And judging by the return they got more than two months before the NHL’s trade deadline, it didn’t pay off for them.
If this was the best offer on the table for Hall – three marginal prospects and two draft picks – why not simply wait until closer to the trade deadline and hope a team gets desperate for a scoring left winger? Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl and Nate Schnarr, a first-round pick (top-three protected) and a conditional third-rounder (that could turn into a second- or a first-, but likely won’t) may mean the Devils run the risk of ultimately having absolutely nothing of consequence to show for Taylor Hall. Then again, they got him for Adam Larsson and got a Hart Trophy season and a playoff round berth out of him, so there’s that.
Perhaps the deal they received from the Arizona Coyotes was the best they could have received, now or later. Were the offers going to get lower than this one had the Devils waited? To these eyes, this looks like one of those quality-over-quantity kinds of trades, like the one the Ottawa Senators made in 2018 when they dealt Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks and stuck their chests out, saying they received six assets in return. The Devils got five of them for Hall, the best of which could end up being a pick outside the top 20 in this year’s draft. No goaltender they desperately needed in New Jersey, no prime prospect, almost certainly no top-10 pick in the draft.
If you’re trading a guy this early, don’t you expect to get a premium for him? Or at least not have to pick up half his remaining salary? If the season were to end today, the first-rounder in 2020 would be 22nd overall. And the Coyotes would play the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs. If they win their first-round series, the conditional pick in 2021 becomes a second-rounder. But would anyone be surprised if the Coyotes didn’t make it out of the first round of the post-season? We can be pretty sure Hall will not re-sign – this deal makes it pretty clear Hall is intent on heading to unrestricted free agency – so if they don’t win a round, it’s a third-rounder in 2021. If they both win the Cup in 2020 and Hall re-signs this summer, the Coyotes will all ride unicorns during their Stanley Cup parade and surrender a first-rounder in 2021. (And that pick this year would be 31st overall.)
On the other hand, perhaps Hall was never going to be worth that much after all. Arizona is getting a guy who missed most of last season with an injury, has just six goals this season and is on an expiring contract. But it’s a clear indication times have changed in the desert. The Coyotes, who for years stocked the rest of the league with their own veterans, were not only buyers at this deadline, they needed to have the Devils take on half of the $3.58 million Hall is owed the rest of this season – not because they couldn’t afford to pay him, but because they needed the salary-cap room.
That’s the function of a new owner who really wants to make things work in Arizona and build some momentum for the new rink this franchise so desperately needs in order to survive. With the Arizona Cardinals in last place in their division and the Phoenix Suns middling and probably not making the playoffs, the time is ripe for the Coyotes to make some inroads with the casual sports fan. And nothing does that more than a trip to the playoffs and a deep run. They play in the undisputed worst division in hockey, so a regular-season title is a real possibility with Hall adding to their depth of talent. They’re getting Vezina-caliber goaltending from Darcy Kuemper – who thought we’d ever hear that? – and their defense corps is solid but unspectacular. They’re more than a third of the way through the season and they haven’t scored 100 goals yet. What this team needs is a game-breaker. Whether it got it one Taylor Hall remains to be seen. Remember, they thought they were getting that in Phil Kessel.
But even if Hall’s addition doesn’t move the needle in Arizona, it’s unlikely GM John Chayka will look back on this deal with regret. Because chances are, he didn’t give up all that much to take his shot.
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