My first thought: Really? Wow.
My second thought: Just for Adam Larsson? Wow.
My third thought: Is Lou Lamoriello secretly running the Devils? Wow.
The big news today is that the New Jersey Devils acquired Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Adam Larsson. Yes, this is not a joke. Yes, this happened; it was even posted at NHL.com. The first overall pick from the 2010 NHL Draft is now a Devil. A legitimate star from a seemingly perpetual re-build in Edmonton is now a Devil. Edmonton’s second leading scorer since 2010 with 132 goals and 196 assists in 328 games, as per Hockey Reference, is now a Devil. A player who basically personifies fast, attacking, and supportive is now a Devil. A bonafide scorer, something the Devils have missed since some Russian guy named Ilya and some American named Zach were on the team, is now a Devil. Taylor Hall is now a Devil. Wow.
Let’s break this down.
The Cost of Doing Business
The Devils didn’t get Hall for nothing. It cost them their top pairing defenseman, Adam Larsson. The 23-year old basically took over the first pairing spot on the right side next to Andy Greene over the last two seasons. He wasn’t necessarily flashy, but he could be effective in tough situations. And, boy, did Greene-Larsson face a lot of those tough situations. According to Corsica, Greene and Larsson had the highest time on ice quality of competition, or the weighted average of the time on ice percentage of their opponents. They also started in their own end of the rink around 44% of the time, also the most among Devils defensemen at 5-on-5. Who led the penalty kill on defense? You guessed it, Greene-Larsson. They both got wrecked from a possession standpoint, also according to Corsica. From this past season. Larsson’s CF% (44.59%) and relative CF% (-2.45%) does not look good at all. However, those figures should not have surprised anyone since the Devils only bested Colorado in CF% last season. #5 (and #6) had to play a lot of defense in 2015-16 and did their best from getting entirely overwhelmed. To me, it is more of the fault of the team and its systems as opposed to Larsson or Greene being porous. If nothing else, Larsson showed he could handle it for twenty-two and a half minutes per game, per NHL.com. For less than $4.2 million per year on the salary cap, I think Larsson provided good value.
With Greene getting older, it seemed certain Larsson would become the de facto leader of the blueline and perhaps as early as 2016-17. That will not happen now. The Devils will have to eventually find someone to fill in Larsson’s hole in the lineup on top of needing a second-pairing defenseman to strengthen the blueline. Bringing back David Schlemko alone may not be enough. The hope that Damon Severson can break out next season just became more important for the Devils’ immediate and long-term future. If Severson can pick up on the lessons Larsson eventually learned before he commanded more minutes, then he can do that. But he needs to learn them as soon as possible. The team will have to discover, perhaps the hard way, who can take on tough minutes and difficult situations in 5-on-5 and shorthanded situations in 2016-17. Oh, and have a right-handed shot, too. The team’s need for help on the blueline just became a priority on defense.
That all said, it is important to note that while Larsson became an important part of the Devils, he wasn’t without flaws. Larsson did not receive power play time, which hurts his production; but it wasn’t as if his production was exceptional to begin with. His shot was not bad, but with 65 in 82 games, it’s hard to really state he utilized it fully. While he can make a beautiful breakout pass now and again, it never happened often enough for him to be a reliable passer for the team’s breakout. It’s arguable Severson is better on the puck than Larsson in terms of carrying it up and leading a breakout now anyway. I’m not trying to bury Larsson now that he’s not a Devil. I’m pointing out that he wasn’t the complete package in New Jersey. That’s important to realize why this trade was such a good one for New Jersey.
What the Devils Get in Hall
For the relatively low price of $6 million per season for the next four seasons, here’s what Hall brings to the table.
Position - Hall is a left wing. The Devils did not have a set top-six left winger after Mike Cammalleri. They now have two, provided they stay healthy. (My concern for Hall is allayed as he played all 82 games last season. Cammalleri, well, I’m not confident). Hall fills an immediate need in the roster.
Production - According to Puckalytics, Hall’s individual points per sixty-minute rate in 5-on-5 play in the last four seasons is 2.49. That’s third among all NHL skaters. Only Sidney Crosby (2.71) and Jamie Benn (2.54) have had higher rates among skaters who played at least a thousand minutes in 5-on-5 play. (Hat-tip: Thanks to Jonathan Willis for highlighting that on Twitter.) That’s the company kept. For comparison’s sake, the highest Devil in that category is Kyle Palmieri with 1.84, which is tied for 89th on that list.
If we increase that to all situations (still among skaters who played at least a thousand minutes), Hall’s points per sixty minute rate does slide to sixteenth in the entire league with a rate of 2.82. For comparison’s sake, the highest Devil is a tie for eightieth between Mike Cammalleri and Kyle Palmieri at 2.28.
Nevertheless, this is a man who provides the numbers on the scoresheet and has provided them on some really bad Edmonton teams. The Devils got a scorer.
Shots - Hall was not just Edmonton’s second leading scorer since 2010. According to Hockey-Reference, he led the Oilers in total shots with 1,241. That’s a shot per game rate of 3.25. Only two Devils players have reached that mark between 2010-11 and 2015-16: the two seasons Parise played in that timeframe (3.60) and the three seasons Kovalchuk played in that timeframe (3.48). The Devils got a shooter.
Possession - According to Corsica, Hall has finished four out of his six seasons in the NHL with a CF% rate above 50. His only sub-fifty seasons were his rookie season in 2010-11 and 2013-14 where he had a miserable 44.38%. He’s since rebounded. What’s more is that his relative CF% - that is, his on-ice CF% subtracted from the team’s CF% from when he’s off the ice - has always been positive. Aside from that 2013-14 season, his relative CF% has been at least +3.49% (2014-15) and as high as +8.7% (2013). While he’s had different coaches and teams over his six seasons, this suggests he will help and not hinder possession. Given that the Devils finished second from last in CF% last season at 46.17%, Hall will be helpful in that regard. With more possession will come more opportunities for offense. The Devils got an offensive player.
Speed - I can’t quantify his on-ice speed with currently available information, but there’s a reason why Derek Zona tried to make the nickname “The Kingston Cannonball” stick. Here’s an example of him breaking away for a score that shows it off:
The Devils got a fast player.
Remember, the Devils got all of this for the cost of $6 million per season for the next four seasons. (By the by, the Devils are now only $8.5 million from the cap floor, so adding Hall helped that little issue). Hall is 24 now. The Devils will get some of the best years in Hall’s career for quite some time and he could surpass his salary. This is a guy with top-ten scoring potential in the league. To that end, there’s another factor. Hall is a name.
He was a first overall pick not that long ago and his style of play is exciting. He can just power ahead and make things happen on the puck. He can help others make plays as well, which is something the Devils really need up front. He can just go all out, full speed ahead, and command one’s attention. For a team that is still in a re-building mode, there’s value to having someone to get excited to watch. He’s someone who can draw some extra people into The Rock and give the current fans something to enjoy even if the wins aren’t there yet. He’s someone who will sell quite a few jerseys - with a new number, #4 is Stevens’, of course. Cory Schneider definitely is a star; Hall is another and that will help some of the business be it in merchandise and/or tickets. The Devils got a name player.
One more thing: check out this post by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice. Here’s a key quote from the newest Devil:
“I expressed my disappointment in what had happened,” Hall said when asked about his conversation today with Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli. “I don’t want to sound like I’m not excited to join New Jersey because that’s not the case. I’m a proud person and I do take this as an indictment of me as a hockey player. I don’t think there’s any other way to treat. It’s safe to say that I’m a very motivated hockey player now.”
Oh, yes. I don’t know about you, but I am grinning after reading that. Widely. The Devils got a fast, productive, name offensive player who fills a roster need with a point to prove.
My brother put it best to keep it short: The Devils traded a ‘B’ or a ‘B+’ for an ‘A’ player. The Devils moved someone who’s was quite good for someone who’s one of the best left wings in the league. As rare as an under-25 first pairing defenseman may be, an under-25 first-line star winger is rarer. The Devils traded a guy who’s effective for a name player who will be very effective in areas the Devils have long needed help in. Quite simply, Ray Shero made a fantastic deal to get Hall for Larsson and only Larsson. It makes one wonder why didn’t Edmonton deal Hall at the NHL Draft last week to get some extra picks, or, I don’t know, see if Montreal was willing to give up Subban for him. But instead of getting extra assets or getting an ‘A’ defenseman for an ‘A’ forward, Shero took advantage of Peter Chiarelli’s madness of his methods.
Yes, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops for the Devils. The Devils still have some areas in their roster and in their system to fix before striving for the postseason. The defense is definitely weaker and definitely became a priority for when free agency begins on Friday. Greene needs a partner at a minimum, and just hoping that Severson will become real good, real fast doesn’t fill me with confidence. Of course, Hall has to be able to prove his point on the ice and do so many times. I think he will and I am definitely looking forward to this Fall to see it happen. Larsson being the cost of doing business isn’t nothing, but I think it’s worth it. In fact, I’m still in awe of what Shero did today.
Therefore, it should not surprise you that I really like the deal for the Devils. I want to know what do you think? Would you make this deal if you were Shero? Do you think Larsson was worth getting Hall? What do you expect Hall to do with New Jersey? Are there other aspects I may have missed in this trade? Please let me know your answers and other thoughts about the Hall trade in the comments. Thanks to Chris for getting the news up earlier and thank you for reading.