In talking to friends and colleagues about the Devils this season, I’ve heard several opinions about the team and Taylor Hall. After last night’s 5-1 loss to the Bruins, I decided to take the question to Twitter.
This is going to be a silly little article. I’m going to first tell you (my twitter followers) why you’re wrong, and then tell you why you’re right anyway. So this article really won’t change you in any important way, other than after reading it, you’ll be right for the right reason.
Here’s the first moving piece I’d like to set in place, the Devils are NOT out of the playoff hunt. As of yesterday, some models have us as low as 8%, but others have us around 21%, and some have us closer to 35%. We dug ourselves a bit of a hole, but what if it just took us a little while to figure things out? Would it be that unfair to say, “scrap the season-opening losing streak, we’re a different/better team now.”? I wrote about how well the Devils turned things around a couple weeks ago, and despite John’s witty retort the following game (yeah, John, I noticed), the Devils still have some math that looks fairly positively upon them. If you extrapolate our record since the 0-4-2 start (before Boston) through the rest of the season, we would finish with 95 points. Notice, I’m not saying that there’s some spooky regression formula that says our results should increase even though we haven’t seen it yet — I’m saying that if we do the exact same thing and get the exact same results that we have been for the last 13 games, we’ll be right on the playoff bubble. If you think we should trade Hall because the season is hopeless, you’re wrong.
So we should keep him right? Well ...
He’s not actually been anywhere near as good as his point totals suggest this season. John wrote about his rough start to the season, and since then, it’s gotten worse, if anything. According to the xGAR metric — “expected goals above replacement” (designed to be merit-based than GAR, which is strictly descriptive) — Taylor Hall has been the least valuable member of the team. I can already hear the skeptics, but check out John’s article (linked above) if you don’t understand how a team’s point-leader can be the most harmful player on the roster. Hall has benefit from some pretty excellent shooting linemates and beneficial PP time, but has been very poor defensively.
That is NOT the output of an MVP.
Why is this happening? It’s been suggested by some that either his head or heart is not in it anymore. He went at the fans for booing, gestured to the crowd after scoring in the next game, and reports came out that he’s unlikely to sign an extension shortly thereafter. Is this a possibility? I suppose — I gave it as one of the three reasons in why he’s underperforming last week. But, I generally don’t ascribe malice or pernicious motives to things that can be explained by simpler means. In this case, Hall has had 2 knee surgeries since joining the Devils, and is on the wrong side — perhaps the very wrong side — of the aging curve.
This is the first true pillar of why the Devils should not re-sign Hall. He’s an aging, injury-riddled, winger with an MVP award and point pace that will drive his value up into the 8-figure territory over 7-8 years. If the options were losing him, or needing to hand out that contract, I think the weight may already be on the side of letting him walk.
But, that’s not even the case here — it’s worse. We don’t have to lose him. We can trade him right now for players, picks, and/or prospects that will help the team moving forward. We can avoid the Tavares situation by making sure we shop Taylor Hall as early as possible. Acquiring assets from other franchise may seem to some like a move that is perpetuating the rebuild. But, it’s not immediately clear that Hall is the same player, his prime window doesn’t line up with the rest of the team’s big talent, and we can get assets back that are ready to play right now as well. So while it may delay a playoff appearance, I think it shortens the wait time for Cup contention.
So, the main tenets of the argument against re-signing Hall are NOT that the season is lost. They are:
- Forwards peak at a very young age and Hall’s unlikely to be close to his MVP level moving forward. Injuries exacerbate this.
- His contract would he expensive from the trophy case and “shallow” stats. We have other players we’ll need to pay without inflated price tags.
- His “prime” doesn’t line up with the younger pillars like Hischier, Hughes, and Bratt.
- We can avoid losing him for nothing by trading him now.
Now, I’m curious to hear what you guys think. Do you think the Devils are done? Why do you think Hall’s game is lagging? Is he likely to fully recover? Do you think we should trade him? Why or why not?
Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below.