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Pending UFA Taylor Hall a bright spot in Coyotes' dry spell

Through a downward spiral on the ice, an off-ice recruiting scandal and the resignation of scout Craig Cunningham, the Arizona Coyotes' feel-good story has gone sideways. One exception to that has been the inspired play of Taylor Hall.

GLENDALE – Things have unraveled, and quickly, for the Arizona Coyotes. When they woke up the morning of Jan. 8, they were fighting for first place in the Pacific Division and coach Rick Tocchet was emerging as a frontrunner for the Jack Adams Award. Since then, they’ve lost eight of their past nine, become embroiled in an off-ice recruiting scandal and Tocchet is at his wit’s end about what to do with the likes of Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller. And even their feel-good story has seriously gone sideways.

Remember Craig Cunningham? Just over three years ago, Cunningham collapsed in the pre-game warm-up while playing for the Coyotes’ American League affiliate and came close to dying. After developing an infection from his cardiac arrest, the lower part of his left leg was amputated and his career was over at the age of 26. After his miraculous recovery, Cunningham had his number retired by the Tucson Roadrunners and was hired by the Coyotes to pro scout and assist with player development with their prospects in Tucson.

Well, Cunningham abruptly resigned from the organization a little more than a week ago. Cunningham declined to comment when reached by TheHockeyNews.com, but his decision to resign was an internal matter and in no way related to the NHL’s investigation into the team for alleged illegal pre-draft scouting of CHL players.

Yeah, so things are not rosy in the desert these days. One exception to that has been the inspired play of Taylor Hall, who looks as though he’s trying to singlehandedly will this team into the playoffs for the first time in nine years. That hasn’t necessarily manifested itself into boffo numbers for Hall, but there is no doubt he’s playing some inspired hockey. The Coyotes, meanwhile, are getting a good look at what is making Hall tick and, by all accounts, they like what they see. New owner Alex Meruelo has requested an audience with Hall’s agent, Darren Ferris, at some point in the near future, presumably to discuss a contract extension. Not that Hall is putting any stock into the owner and his agent possibly having a sit-down soon.

“Who knows? That’s a different world and I don’t live in that world,” Hall said. “I don’t live in the power lunch world. I just try to play hockey and try to do the best I can to fit in the room and fit in on the ice and play the way that got me here. And that’s been easy.”

Hall has put up very good numbers since coming to the desert in December, scoring seven goals and 17 points in 19 games. He’s found a home on the Coyotes top line with Christian Dvorak at center and Conor Garland on the left side and he plays the right point on the first power play. Somewhat typical of his time in Arizona came last week in a 3-2 overtime loss in which he had five shots and eight shot attempts and was the best Coyote on the ice, but had just one assist to show for his efforts.

“I feel better than maybe my totals suggest,” Hall said. “But that’s hockey sometimes. A couple of years ago (when he won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player with the New Jersey Devils), I couldn’t miss. You keep battling and keep playing hard for the guys in front of you and it’s been fun. We’re not where we want to be as a team right now and if you look at the standings it’s a little depressing, but there are some really good players on this team. You never want to say you’re unlucky as a team, but we have to work to get some luck on our side. We’re not going to tic-tac-toe teams to death, we’re going to outwork teams and create second and third opportunities and that’s the way I like to play.”

Things don’t get any easier for the Coyotes, who hold down the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Things don’t get any easier for the Coyotes who welcome Hall’s former team, the Edmonton Oilers, on Tuesday night, just over two weeks after the Oilers laid a 7-3 beating on them in Edmonton. One of the advantages of playing in Arizona for Hall, aside from the glorious weather, is that he doesn’t have to talk every day about his impending status as an unrestricted free agent.

“You’re asking me about it and I haven’t been asked about it in ages,” Hall said. “It’s something that has kind of been away from my mind. As much as people are saying, ‘Is he going to sign here?’ they’re taking this opportunity to see me as a player and a person as well and that’s not something that I take for granted.”

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