Earlier today, Mike wrote about Taylor Hall being named a finalist for the Ted Lindsay award. This is essentially the Most Valuable Player award, only it is voted on by the players. I agree with Mike that it is a remarkable achievement. To be considered as one of the best players in the 2017-18 season by your own peers, who have often been opponents at one point or another in the season, is an honor in of itself. What could be bigger? How about the MVP award decided by the media. After swells of #HallforHart on Twitter and months of increasing buzz from the media, Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils was announced as a finalist for the Hart Trophy by the National Hockey League.
This is another remarkable achievement. In his post, Mike broke down the history of Hart Trophy votes for the Devils. Martin Brodeur was the only Devil to be a finalist and he ended up in third in all three times that happened. Kirk Muller’s 1987-88 season did not come close. Patrik Elias’ franchise-record setting 96 points did not get him to the finalist stage in 2000-01. Despite a whole lot of chants and down-low dominance, Zach Parise finished only fifth in voting for the 2008-09 season. This adds further justification to how amazing Taylor Hall was in this past season. (He was unanimously named MVP in our awards, after all)
What makes this more remarkable is that way back in late October 2017, Mike wrote about how “under the radar” Hall was considering how the team started this season. While the Devils were successful as a team (a 6-2-0 start is a success), Hall had nine points and just one goal. Just one! But Mike stressed that his other stats suggested he was putting in good work and the goals would eventually come. Boy, did they ever come. Hall finished the season with 39! 39! Only eight players in the entire league scored more than 39 goals in 2017-18. He arguably had been denied a couple more due to reviews and whatnot too.
And that’s just the goal scoring. Hall assisted on 54 others on a team with only two other players that broke twenty goals: Kyle Palmieri (24) and an apparently not-100% Nico Hischier (20). Yes, he had a hand injury all season long. Imagine if he didn’t. Imagine and smile. As far as shooting, Hall (278) nearly out-shot Palmieri (181) and Hischier (180) by almost a hundred shots. Driving the play? Despite all of the big minutes, tough opponents, games where he was double-shifted, that the team was not positive in the run of play, Hall still posted a 51.28% CF%, a 52.62% SF%, and a 51.8% SCF% per Natural Stat Trick. In other words, when Hall was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils were out-attempting, out-shooting, and out-chancing opponents on top of just out-scoring them. And the good stuff carried into power play, where the only unit that was relatively consistent as a threat had Hall on it in a prominent role. To state that Hall was heads and shoulders above the rest of the Devils on offense may actually be an understatement.
Back in January, I made it clear that Taylor Hall was a Superstar Left Winger for this team. What he did in 2017 alone combined with being one of the best parts of a really crummy 2016-17 team justified that. I compared to what he had going on at that time of the season to some of the most productive seasons in franchise history. Hall was already amongst them. His 2017-18 has an argument of being the very best season by a Devils skater in franchise history. Per Hockey-Reference, Hall is now the franchise leader in point-per-game in a season for players who played at least 20 games with a 1.22 point-per-game rate. His 93 points is fourth all-time and the three seasons ahead of him (the aforementioned Muller 87-88, Parise 08-09, and Elias 00-01) had at least four more games played. Another four games for Hall and he actually could have set a single-season record in points.
What is most amazing about the production is his 2018. I was already enamored with his play, his pace, his passion, and his constant drive to attack that usually succeeded. I still had no idea what I was in for the rest of 2018. Let me put it in this way. Hall played in 40 games in the 2018 portion of this season. He registered at least one point in 36 games. Hall had a point-streak of 26 games starting from January 2 all the way to March 6. After being held pointless on March 8 (vs. Winnipeg) and March 10 (at Nashville), Hall got a goal and an assist in the surprising rout of Vegas on March 14. Hall was held off the scoresheet on March 17 at Los Angeles. Then Hall proceeded to string a nine-game point streak from March 18 to April 3, which culminated in a four-point night over Our Hated Rivals. That’s right. With the exception of that one game in Los Angeles, if you saw Hall put up a point in 2018, he was either on a franchise-record and one of the league’s longest point-streaks ever or an normally-considered-to-be-very-hot nine-game point streak. In these 36 games, Hall put up 27 goals and 30 assists. That is just outstanding and astounding. And these were mostly not cheap points or total flukes either. This torrid 2018 run of scoring included points like:
And I can keep going. So I will. Here’s a collection of all of the points in that 26-game point streak.
The end result of all of this is that Hall was more than just a Scoring Machine or a Human Highlight Reel. He was a key player in driving the New Jersey Devils to their first playoff appearance since their Stanley Cup Finals run in 2012. If the Devils needed an offensive boost, #9 provided it. If the Devils wanted to go power-for-power and try to make it a win, Hall was the go-to guy. When he wasn’t the straw stirring the proverbial drink, he was drinking the other team’s milkshake with every red light going off. I have some memories of 2000-01 and more of 2008-09 (writing about it helped, so was being at a lot of those games), so I have points of reference for amazing seasons by Devils forwards. Taylor Hall had one of the greatest individual seasons I have ever seen. And it could result in something a Devil has never won - the Hart Trophy (as well as the Lindsay).
That’s what makes this so much better. This is decided by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The media has absolutely noticed. They paid attention to the Devils. Hall made the people with the juice take notice in what was happening in Newark. New Jersey was not ignored as they pushed on to make the playoffs ahead of a startling-hot Florida squad. To be named as a Hart Trophy finalist means that he was collectively considered at least one of the top three choices as the Most Valuable Player. There may be griping elsewhere about how Tampa Bay’s top scorers aren’t there or the Second Rate Rivals’ top point-man isn’t there or Edmonton fans touting their top man who’s getting a trophy anyway. Too bad. Just as Hall’s performances helped drag the Devils to the postseason, they were not unnoticed. If nothing else, this announcement strikes a blow to the haters and losers (of which there are many) who decry the Devils as not being worth any attention, for being “small market,” and for not having any stars. Oh, there have been stars. And one of them could be getting a sweet trophy in Vegas in June.
Will Hall win the Hart? I don’t know. The other finalists are Anze Kopitar and Nathan MacKinnon. I’m a little surprised at Kopitar’s inclusion but in addition to being one of the best all-zone players in the league, he was the first King to crack 90 points since The Great One (seriously). While I don’t know if he had a point-streak like Hall did, MacKinnon has a lot of the same (all of them?) credentials for being a MVP candidate as Hall. MacKinnon also played at a top-tier level that drove a massive turnaround in the standings for a team to reach the postseason. The Hart could very well be his by way of scoring more than the other two finalists and being responsible for a bigger turnaround. Being a Devils fan, I have my biases and so I dearly hope Hall wins it to cap off his sensational 2017-18 campaign. But if Kopitar or, really, MacKinnon ends up winning it, then I would not be so upset by that decision.
But, like with the Emmys and other such awards, being nominated is the real honor. Cases could have been made to go with a bigger name like Ovechkin, Malkin, or McDavid. They could have picked Kucherov or Giroux. They could have picked some other players. Hall was chosen over everybody but Kopitar and MacKinnon and he may be chosen over them yet. That’s why I am so happy with this news even if Hall finishes third. We knew Hall would be great in New Jersey. In this past season, Hall established that he is the Devils’ Superstar player. And this is just one more piece of evidence that he is a Superstar.
May we never forget that all it took for this to be possible was Adam Larsson. Just Adam Larsson. Yes, really. The trade was one for one. We can now say that the Devils acquired a Hart trophy finalist in exchange for a gigantic ‘L’ that Edmonton will hold for a while.
The 2018 NHL Awards Ceremony will take place on June 20, 2018. It will be one for the Devils fans all over the world to watch for.