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Taylor Hall and His Surprisingly Disappointing Start to His Contract Year

Taylor Hall is a pending free agent. 2019-20 is a contract year for him. Hall has begun this crucial season by not producing as much as he did last season and being absolutely terrible in 5-on-5 play. That is not good for business or anyone. This post explores his surprisingly disappointing start to the 2019-20 season.

Edmonton Oilers v New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall has not had a good start to this season. In fact, he has been quite Bad.
Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Taylor Hall is the face of the New Jersey Devils franchise. He is the return of One For One. Hall’s 2017-18 campaign was one of the best by any individual skater in franchise history. He became a Superstar in that season. He became the first Devil to win the Hart Trophy. His knee injury last season, which was not initially reported when it happened, was lamented as the season spiraled into a pit of despair and lottery balls. Hall demanded that the team add more talent for 2019-20 and the team accommodated him. As his current contract ends after this season, this is a crucial season for Hall and the Devils. Fans are anxious about his future in New Jersey as Hall presumably wants a lot of money from a team expected to compete in the playoffs. As such, that the Devils have fallen flat on their collective faces to start this season have only increased worries. What some many have missed is that Hall himself has also been quite disappointing to start this season.

It seems silly to declare that seeing that he is currently the team’s leader in points and shots. He remains as the most talented forward and arguably the most talented player on the team. Hall is without question a top-tier left winger. But Hall has not been playing like one so far in 2019-20. Hall’s past may drive a desire for a contract with a cap hit of potentially eight figures. He is not at all playing like it, though.

The Production

For starters, the basic stats at belie larger issues. Hall does lead the team with seven points: one goal and six assists. His 36 shots on net is the most on the team by far. That means he has an incredibly low 2.8% shooting percentage. Definitely unlucky in that regard. Hall has a point-per-game rate of 0.78, which leads the team and much lower than either of the last two seasons. As bad as 2018-19 was, Hall put up 37 points in 33 games for a rate of 1.12. Seeing him start off at a rate closer to the 0.74 point-per-game rate from the 2016-17 season, his first in New Jersey, is a concern. It is not uncharted territory for Hall to produce at that level and it would be crushing for both the Devils and his own personal career to return to that level in 2019-20. The supremely low shooting percentage should resolve itself in time and, with that, Hall should be on the scoresheet more often. Until then, Hall is not producing at the level that the team really needs him at.

It gets murkier when you break down the production. Two of those seven points have come on the power play. Both have come from when Hall hooked Jack Hughes up with two sweet cross-ice passes for two sweet power play goals. Again, that belies a larger issue. The Devils’ power play was ineffective in their first six games and they did not set up for a goal until their eighth game (Kyle Palmieri ended the futility with an individual effort in Game #7). With a power play hopefully working more normally, production from Hall should also follow as he plays a lot on their primary unit. This also means that Hall was also unsuccessful in those first six games at making the power play function.

Hall has his one goal and four other assists from 5-on-5 hockey. Surely, he should have more given his low shooting percentage, right? According to Natural Stat Trick, not exactly. The expected goals model does calculate individual goals based on the shots the player has taken. Hall has an xGF of 1.13. That means having only one goal scored is reasonable based on how the model considered his 20 shots in 5-on-5 play. That is not good. What’s more is that he is not leading the Devils in this category. Miles Wood (1.79 xGF), Wayne Simmonds (1.47), and Blake Coleman (1.32) are all ahead of him. It is telling that only Coleman has out-performed the model with three goals as Wood’s one goal was a deflection off his pants and Simmonds remains goalless. But Hall was previously a team leader in this category. Not so so far in 2019-20. And if you account for ice-time and look at ixGF per sixty minutes, Hall falls further behind other Devils. His 0.53 ixGF/60 is below Wood, Simmonds, Coleman, Nico Hischier, Hughes, Nikita Gusev, and Palmieri. Again, last season Hall was among the team leaders in this stat. So far, he has dropped off.

If you consider all points in 5-on-5 play, there is also another drop off. In 2017-18, Hall’s MVP season, he led all regular Devils with a 2.42 point-per-game rate. Last season, in the 33 games Hall did play in, he was even more productive in 5-on-5 play with a rate of 2.54. As I pointed out when Hischier received his extension, Hall’s 5-on-5 point per game rate was the 15th best in the entire NHL from 2017 up until the extension was signed. Hall has been a significant producer in the most common situation in hockey. But not so far this season. Hall has a 5-on-5 point per game rate of 2.36.

There is a lot of hockey left to play but it is further evidence that Hall really is not producing at the levels he did in the last season. It can absolutely change. I believe the 2.8% shooting percentage will not remain that low for long, although his low ixGF is a concern. Hall can absolutely turn it around. The Devils need him to do so. Especially in other areas.

The Run of Play

Offense in hockey is not just in how many points are taken or how many shots or attempts are made. It is also seen in what the team does on the ice. All of those “little things that do not end up on the scoresheet” play a role in whether the team is out-performing their opposition in 5-on-5 play. That is why Corsi and expected goals are good models. They may not measure everything but a player who is losing pucks, losing battles for possession, making bad passes, and such are generally going to rate low in this regard - points aside. And Hall is currently rating really low in those categories.

As of October 27, when Taylor Hall is on the ice in 5-on-5 hockey, again the most common situation in hockey, the Devils have the following stats per Natural Stat Trick:

  • Corsi For% of 43.84% - CF/60 of 45.28, CA/60 of 58.01
  • Shots For% of 41.53% - SF/60 of 23.11, SA/60 of 32.54
  • Scoring Chance For% of 42.73% - SCF/60 of 22.17, SCA/60 of 29.71
  • High Danger Scoring Chance For% of 45.71% - HDCF/60 of 7.55, HDCA/60 of 8.96
  • Expected Goals For% of 39.56% - xGF/60 of 1.74, xGA/60 of 2.66

Whenever Hall has been on the ice, the Devils have been outplayed and by a lot. Despite Hall playing with offensive players, the Devils’ offense has not created a lot. In part that is because the opposition has been taking it to the team when Hall is out there. Hall is not the very worst among the Devils in these categories, but he is close to it. Hall’s xGF% is the fourth lowest, just below the mighty Kevin Rooney and ahead of eighth-defenseman Matt Tennyson. (Aside: Gusev is “leading” with a heinous 28.26%). To quote the King of Bros, “Bro.” This is astonishing for any player, much less an all-star level talent looking to get paid incredibly well for next season. It is also astonishing just in comparison to last season’s stats. As bad as the 2018-19 Devils were and as much as Hall has only played in 33 of those games, Hall and the Devils were much better in 5-on-5 hockey then. He actually broke 50% in CF% on a team that had no other regular achieve it.

This is also arguably more damaging to the team than Gusev, Rooney, Bratt, or John Hayden to pick a fourth player. As much frustration has been expressed about the team’s bottom six, their minutes are all limited. Hall plays a lot more than those four and most of the other forwards. He is currently the team’s average ice time leader among forwards in 5-on-5 play (14:08) and in all situations (19:14). This means that if the Devils are getting run over in the run of play when Hall is on the ice, then it is a more frequent occurrence than if a forward getting 8 to 10 minutes. It also means that Hall and his teammates are unable to create as much offense as they could. You can see that with all of the against rates (e.g. CA/60, SA/60). They are much higher than whatever the team is creating, which would usually involve Hall given his skillset and how often he has the puck on offense. Hall is not so defensively deficient to be a liability. Hall has also faced tough competition throughout his entire career so it is not as if facing a difficult match up is new to him. But percentages in the low 40%s and high 30%s in Corsi, shot, expected goals, and scoring chances (both types) are simply abysmal.

It gets worse when you look at relative stats, the difference for the Devils when Hall is on the ice compared to when he is not on the ice in 5-on-5 play:

  • Corsi For%: Down 4.05%, CF/60 up 0.17, CA/60 up 8.91
  • Shots For%: Down 8.86%, SF/60 down 4.59, SA/60 up 5.27
  • Scoring Chances For%: Down 5.06%, SCF/60 up 1.81, SCA/60 up 7.47
  • High Danger Chances For%: Down 5.03%, HDCF/60 up 0.41, HDCA/60 up 2.04
  • Expected Goals For%: Down 11.41%, xGF/60 down 0.16, xGA/60 up 0.83

When Hall and his teammates have stepped on the ice, the Devils have been allowing more shooting attempts, shots, scoring chances, and expected goals than when he is not. Any gains in Corsi and scoring chances pale in comparison to how much more the team has allowed in those two stats. That is not what you want to see out of any player, much less the team’s top left winger in terms of both talent and ice time.

To put it another way: If you have been watching Hall and wondering why he is not doing as well as he did in past seasons with the Devils, then these stats help support what you have been observing. You’re not just imagining it.

The Expectations & The Issues

It is true that the New Jersey Devils have a lot of problems right now. Taylor Hall alone is not why the team is 2-5-2 and could end up at 2-6-2 by Halloween. The coaching by John Hynes and his staff has been quite poor. The goaltending has not been anywhere league average. Others in the lineup have had issues with scoring, surviving in 5-on-5 play, or both. Mistakes have often ended up with goals against and fans booing. However, this is not to say that Taylor Hall does not have a hand in this either.

While some of the issues can be chalked up to a poor run of luck, his low individual expected goals for suggests he could be doing so much more. His points per game rate in 5-on-5 play is not that much lower than the past two seasons but it is lower and when you throw in the power play woes that maybe hopefully are improving, it explains why his total point per game rate is just above his rate in 2016-17. Hall alone is not why the team’s shot share and attempt share and chance share all crater but he is “contributing” to that and it is a concern that the offensive rates are overwhelmed by the defensive rates rising in the wrong direction. Since Hall plays more than all of the other forwards, these effects are exacerbated.

It is tempting to write this all off as a poor start to the season. It is only nine games. Those awful performances in the face of Sean Couturier’s line and Aleksander Barkov’s line may wash away in time. The shooting percentage will surely rebound. The team’s failures have worn on everyone. But at the same time, the season is only 82 games long. New Jersey is just about an eighth of the way through it. Those terrible 5-on-5 numbers are from six home games and three away games; as the team will play more on the road soon, they could get worse without the Devils having the benefit of the last change on draws. Signals can be found amid the noise and those early signals are not going to be good for the team and for Hall. Their six points out of a potential eighteen earned is not only low but at a rate well behind. For the Devils to get back in the playoff race, they will need to do more than just turn the corner or play “.500” hockey. They need to excel to get back into thick of it. For that to happen, just as the coaches need to figure it out, the players need to step it up. That begins with Taylor Hall, whose 5-on-5 on-ice rate stats are way too low for someone of his talent and history. The Devils need their most talented players to be their best players. With an xGF% below 40%, a CF% below 44%, and a production of one goal and six assists in nine games, Hall has simply not one of the Devils’ best players. It is not even close.

As Hall is a pending free agent, it is fair to think that Hall is expected to command and demand a lot of money. Former Hart Trophy winners would not settle for a pay cut or the same salary he has received. To that end, I do not think it is unfair to expect a lot better than this from #9. While the coaching has a hand in those poor on-ice and relative percentages, Hall has been far better even during an awful Devils season in 2018-19 under the same coaching staff with most of the same teammates. His most common new teammate is Jack Hughes, which was a result of Hischier missing two games and has lasted all of 33 minutes in 5-on-5 play. I really wonder whether Hall is 100% or Hall is “gripping his too stick too tight” or Hall has different instructions from the past or something. Because to go from where he was even last season in those 33 games to now is a stark fall. It is bad for his potential earning power as much as it is bad for the Devils in this season so far.

Many fans have lamented that the Devils’ poor start may lead to Hall walking away on July 1, 2020 or being traded. I get that fans are anxious and worried about Hall leaving and, by extension, the Devils going back towards square one from it. I understand it. I also think the fans are basing that on Hall’s play from two seasons ago or even from the 33 games he was in last season. Taylor Hall has not played anything like either season in this season so far. That is a problem. He may be the team leader in points and shots but with one goal and only seven points, those are not irreplaceable numbers. He may have the most talent among all of the skaters but he is playing worse than a bad fourth liner in 5-on-5 hockey. He may deserve to be on pretty much every top line and power play unit in the NHL but he does not have the results this season to justify either. Even if he bounces back up in this season, will he reach the level of performance and production from 2018-19, much less his MVP-winning 2017-18 campaign? If not, then would you even want the Devils to give him an eight-season contract worth at least $80 million (or something similarly lucrative)? I do not know if I would want Ray Shero to do that. I do not know if other teams would make that bet on somehow “fixing” him to return to his past glories as he gets older and adds more mileage to his body. They very well might but it may not be a smart one.

The expectations have been high for the Devils and for Hall and both have failed to meet them. They go hand-in-hand; Hall owns the 2-5-2 record as much as anyone else in the organization. If it does not get rectified quickly, then it will have an impact their respective futures.

Final Thoughts & Your Take

I am not intending to be defeatist. Again, there is a lot of hockey left to be played. A lot can still change in this season. Hall’s shots could start getting in more and that will ease the production issues. It may even lead to some more points in the standings, which will also be welcomed. Yet, as they are now, it is not happening. Hall’s start to this season has been surprisingly disappointing. Since he plays so much and has been better in the recent past with New Jersey, I do not think anyone expected him to be so bad in 5-on-5 situations and produce at rates lower than previous seasons. Something has to change for Hall so he can return to performing like he is one of the team’s best players. The Devils will need it in order to have a chance of coming back from a outrageously awful October this season.

Whatever is the issue that has led Hall and others to have such abysmal 5-on-5 on-ice rates needs to be addressed and as soon as possible. Whatever it takes to keep the power play functioning more often with Hall needs to be facilitated. Whatever is necessary to have the team’s most talented players be their best players has to happen. Taylor Hall is far better than this. We know that because we have seen it before. We can believe it is possible because of his past. Now he has to actually get it together, game-by-game, to put this surprisingly bad start to this season behind him. May the rest of the Devils follow suit.

Hall has been bad to start this season. The 5-on-5 on-ice stats suggest this. Comparisons to previous seasons of production suggest this. Even observing him play so far this month brings it to mind. I am hopeful he can turn it around in part because it is in his best interest to do so and in part because it is in the team’s best interest that he does. Do you think he will? What will a more successful performance from Hall look like? Why do you think he has had such a poor start to 2019-20? Has the start changed your opinion on whether the Devils should try and keep him (or how much they should give to try to keep him)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Hall in the comments. Thank you for reading.