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The Legacy of Taylor Hall with the New Jersey Devils

On the heels of being held out of the last two games for “precautionary reasons,” it appears that Taylor Hall may be dealt from the New Jersey Devils sooner rather than later. Therefore it is a good time as any to look back at his four seasons with the Devils and see what his legacy was.

2018 NHL Awards - Portraits
In a picture: Hart.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

Taylor Hall will not be a member of the New Jersey Devils for much longer. If the first clear sign was Pierre LeBrun tweeting out that general manager Ray Shero was taking calls for Hall at the end of November, then a massive billboard was put up by the organization as the team scratched Hall minutes before the game against Colorado last Friday. The team stated it was for “precautionary” reasons. The only reason to do that in December is because a deal may be imminent. No deal was made on Friday or Saturday night - Hall was scratched against Arizona too - and none has been made as I write this on Sunday afternoon. All the same, Hall’s time as a Devil is coming to an end and it could even be in this week before the NHL roster freeze on December 19.

Rumors, speculation, and all kinds of information with little to no evidence have swirled online about Hall. There have been a myriad of posts on the SB Nation network as well as The Athletic about what it would take for a team to get Hall. Colorado, Edmonton, Arizona, Florida, and St. Louis have all been linked. As always, when a deal actually happens, there will be some thoughts on that here. Before a deal happens - if a deal happens - I think today is a good day as any to look back on Hall’s legacy as a Devil.

Taylor Hall, the Producer

Points are not really the best way to summarize a player’s value. That said, Taylor Hall brought a lot of them to the Devils. Assuming he does not play anymore games for New Jersey this season, Hall has 208 in 211 regular season games plus six out of five playoff games. Any player with a near point-per-game average is an excellent producer. Hall certainly excelled; especially in 2017-18. Here is a summary of Hall’s production across Hall’s four seasons as per Natural Stat Trick:

Taylor Hall’s Production from 2016-17 to December 15, 2019
Taylor Hall’s Production from 2016-17 to December 15, 2019
Data from Natural Stat Trick

Whether he played a full season or not with New Jersey, Hall was consistently a leader in production. Hall created and took a lot of shots. Hall’s shots led to a high for its time expected goals count. He created loads of scoring chances in 5-on-5. He was often involved in goals being scored by the Devils, whether it was off his stick or his teammates.

I highlighted his Hart Trophy winning 2017-18 season because, well, look at the numbers. They point to a big reason why he won the Hart in that season. The 93 points in 76 games alone makes his 2017-18 campaign among the greatest by a Devils skater in the history of the entire franchise. His 1.22 points per game average is the highest in franchise history for a regular player as per Hockey-Reference. I reviewed all 93 of those points in the run up to the 2018 NHL Awards and found that a lot of them - yes, even the secondary assists - were legitimate. Hall’s 2017-18 should be talked about in the same way that fans talk about Patrik Elias in 2000-01, Kirk Muller in 1987-88, Zach Parise in 2008-09, and John MacLean in 1988-89. The Hart Trophy (and First NHL All-Star team selection) cement the legendary season that Hall had. That is not even looking at the on-ice stats or other achievements, such as being a massive reason why the Devils made their first playoff appearance since 2012. I’ll get to that in a bit.

The production alone from 2017-18 should be seen as Hall’s legacy as a Devil. Or at least a very big part of it. I would not completely discount the other three seasons. Before his knee injury in 2018-19, Hall was still putting up the points at quite a good rate. The team stunk, but it was not Hall’s fault. His absence was huge in that lost season. In Hall’s first season in 2016-17, while he was as productive, you could see why his acquisition was a big deal as the Devils were rebuilding. It was apparent he was someone to build around, which certainly peaked in the following season. Lastly, while this season has been contentious all the way around for New Jersey, Hall still managed to keep firing away and keep getting on the scoresheet despite some terrible puck luck. From denied breakaways to plays gone awry to just getting robber, Hall could have had many more goals than he does. Like a lot of other Devils, but Hall is the main attraction so he gets a lot of the heat for it. Even so, he is still your point and shot leader on the Devils.

All combined, 208 points out of 211 games while beating expectations on the power play with 23 power play goals and 76 power play points to go with a very good 109 5-on-5 points is simply great. His points per 60 minute rate in his four seasons with the Devils are 2.28, 3.84, 3.42, and 2.61 (so far). That is fantastic even with any qualms you may have for this season. For those who expected Hall to be significant producer for the Devils after he was acquired in 2016, your expectations were totally met.

Taylor Hall, the On-Ice Impact Player

Taylor Hall was more than just a left winger who was constantly on the scoresheet. When he stepped on the ice for the Devils, the run of play often went in the Devils’ direction. That often meant that the Devils out-attempt, out-shot, and out-chanced their competition. Offense would be created with Hall often involved in its facilitation and/or creation. This was definitely the case in his first three seasons with the Devils.

Taylor Hall’s On-Ice Rate and Relative Rate Stats with New Jersey from 2016-17 to December 15, 2019
Taylor Hall’s On-Ice Rate and Relative Rate Stats with New Jersey from 2016-17 to December 15, 2019
Data from Natural Stat Trick

These are marvelous. Well, 75% of them are. They explain the impact Hall had on the Devils even in his first season with the Devils. If you wanted offense, then you put Hall on the ice. If you wanted tilt the ice more in New Jersey’s favor, then you put Hall on the ice. If you wanted to change the tempo of the game, then you put Hall on the ice. More often than not, he did all that and more. He was not a defensive liability; he was an offensive force. Keep in mind that Hall drew a lot of attention regularly from the opposition’s best players. This did not deter Hall’s on-ice rates and relative rates from being so sensational. These are numbers wholly consistent with a game-changing player. What is astounding to me is that this was apparent in 2016-17. Even if the production was not as impressive, these justify the notion to Hall was just heads and shoulders above the other Devils forward.

If you want to play “what-if,” then his injury-shortened 2018-19 season is a tantalizing choice. Even with the Devils being well out of the playoff picture by the time his knee required surgery, Hall was utterly fantastic in 5-on-5 play for his 33 games with the Devils. He was posting up shots for, scoring chance for, and expected goals for percentages in 5-on-5 play that were simply bonkers. In my view, it establishes that his 2017-18 campaign was no fluke. Hall was an impact player even if the rest of the team did not make much of one. A fully healthy Hall in that season maybe would have led to a lower draft pick, but it would have made that season far easier to watch.

The only downside is this season. This is the first time where Hall has been below 50% across the board in 5-on-5 stats. Even so, they were trending up after a terrible October. And in all situations, he still has an on-ice expected goals for percentage of 60%, which suggests that Hall really is not that much of a problem on this team in the bigger picture. Still, anyone who is looking to acquire Hall for the remainder of this season or for the long term should be prepared to see some good things in 5-on-5 play. I would not think these last 30 games should undercut the previous 178 where Hall was often crushing it on the ice. Overall, these stats clearly show that Hall was more than a producer, he really was an offensive dynamo.

Taylor Hall, the Star

When Taylor Hall was acquired by the Devils back in 2016, I was very excited. A top left winger and only for the cost of Adam Larsson? Wow. A lot of Devils fans all around the world seemingly had a similar reaction. When the 2016-17 season started up, I noticed that a lot of Hall jerseys and shirts were already being worn. Hall’s face was common around The Rock. Hall was a big enough deal on the ice to be the “big name” for a re-building Devils team. And this has only continued in his time in New Jersey.

I think some context is needed. Earlier in the decade, the Devils had two big name players leading the way that did not previously win a Cup with the Devils: Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. The 2012 offseason saw Zach Parise go to Minnesota for a ludicrous amount of money. Kovalchuk has been a source of drama and surprising news. But both players were frequently on merchandise, promotional materials, and on the lips and fingers of Devils fans talking about the team or typing about them on line. After their departure, the team lacked a younger star. Taylor Hall filled that gap and then some.

Hall was a player that would get people excited. Hall was a player that you could show to a new or casual hockey fan and they would quickly pick up how good he was on the ice. Hall took on defenders, played at a high speed, and pushed to create plays and take shots that most others would defer. He would do amazing things, enough to make him New Jersey’s superstar. Hall was an exciting player with a reputation for being one of the top wings in New Jersey - and he joined New Jersey in his mid-20s. While the team did not find immediate success with Hall, Hall became the face of the franchise. More than a top tier forward for Shero to build the Devils around, Hall was someone who helped get eyes on the product, tickets get sold, fans to be patient for a brighter tomorrow, and provide a reason for people to pay attention because at any moment, he could pull off a deke or a move to make something great happen. For a generation of fans who started supporting the Devils in this decade or in recent years, Hall is the best Devils forward they have ever seen. For those who go back earlier, Hall is up there with great Devils forwards.

Taylor Hall, the Achiever

Hall will not be a Devil for more than four seasons. Short of a miraculous run, the Devils are going to miss the playoffs for the third time since 2016-17. Compared to the richer history of the 1990s and 2000s, Hall cannot possibly have as many achievements as the team did in those years. Yet, Hall has achieved quite a bit with the Devils in these four seasons.

Granted, almost all of it is in the 2017-18 season. He is the only Devil to ever win the Hart Trophy. That counts for a lot. He was one of the few Devils forwards to ever be named to a NHL All-Star Team, much less the First Team. Hall put up an epic point streak for 26 games played, which stands as one of the longest in recent history. Again, as per Hockey-Reference, Hall’s 1.22 point per game average is the highest in franchise history. His 93 points in 2017-18 is the fourth ever season by a Devil over 90 points in franchise history. His 2017-18 season was a big reason why the Devils made the playoffs at all and that was massive given it was the team’s first postseason appearance since 2012. That may not seem like a great achievement for a franchise with 3 Stanley Cups and 5 Stanley Cup Finals appearances, but given the context of where the team was and has been recently, that is a big deal.

If Hall does not play another game for New Jersey, his 208 points stand as the 37th most in franchise history as per Hockey-Reference. That does not seem like much until you realize that everyone ahead of him has played at least over 300 games with the exception of Mel Bridgeman (244 in 288 games and also played in the 1980s). Hall was on pace to shoot up the franchise point rankings further. As his time in New Jersey is apparently coming to close, he may sit back there. He may not be regarded among past all-time Devils forwards like Patrik Elias; but in terms of short-term impacts, Hall should be up there.

The Legacy as Determined by You, the Devils Fan

How it ends for Hall may seem awkward. The team is not good. Hall has been snake bit and is on the verge of being dealt away. Some may still be salty about a comment about fans booing a power play made over a month ago. And amid the frustrating losses and turmoil, bad things like a turnover here or a bad play there get amplified to overshadow all of the past. I do not like it but that is reality.

However, I do not think he will be a target of disappointment and derision like Parise or Kovalchuk. Hall is very, very likely to be dealt - presumably on the basis that he will not return to the Devils when his contract ends this season. I think a lot of fans have accepted that. I think many are at a point of just wanting to see the deal done to get it over with and move on. But I do not think Hall will be booed off the ice when he touches the puck like the aforementioned Zach and Ilya. He did not go and sign for big money elsewhere while keeping the team holding still, voluntary retire to get away from the team, or sign with Our Hated Rivals.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, the prospect of signing Hall to a seven or eight-year contract is a lofty one that would have carried a lot of risk. You may enjoy Hall now, but would he be valuable at age 34? That the Devils have two young, burgeoning forwards named Nico and Jack will help ease the pain that will come from losing Hall. The 2019-20 season is all but lost anyway with Hall, so it may not matter much to the team’s fortunes whether he is here or not. To that end, I do not anticipate Hall being lamented or disrespected by the fans.

It is up to the fans how he will be regarded. One thing in Hall’s favor is that he was a star in an age where it is easier than before to capture big moments in games and like. Compare this to when Elias was in his prime. It was not as easy or prevelent to make and share videos, create .GIFs of plays, or take and share pictures online as it is in Hall’s time. We did not have Corsi or Fenwick or expected goals in the early 2000s like we do now. We did not have blogs about the Devils with the reach like this one back when Elias was a dominant left winger. It will be easier to preserve the memory of Hall as a Devil and showcase why he was so great. Just like in this very video:

I think that will greatly help how he is viewed by fans in years to come. I would argue it will be positive. His 2017-18 season was not only Hall’s peak but one of the best individual seasons by a Devil in team history. It was fantastic to see live and wonderful on paper looking back. Given how he was a healthy scratch for the past two games and the rumors are everywhere about how he is going to be dealt, the rebuild will not end with Hall. But he at least made it much more tolerable to deal with it and, hopefully, he was a player that helped the next Devils that will be part of the better tomorrow as they were still young in their careers. What I know for sure was that he was an offensive machine who was a star for a team that really needed one. Hall was a shining star in part of the Devils’ franchise history that has been a dark, dull cloud for the most part. That is how I see it.

Ultimately, Hall’s legacy in the eyes of the Devils fanbase will be up to the People Who Matter: the Devils fans.

Therefore, I want to know what you think of Hall. Maybe he does not get dealt this week. Maybe it will happen after Christmas. Maybe it will happen before the All Star Game in January 2020. Maybe it will happen before the NHL Trade Deadline on February 24, 2020. It is almost guaranteed he will not be a Devil by next season. So I want to know how you regard Hall’s time as a member of the New Jersey Devils. Do you think he ranks among the best players in franchise history and, if so, how? What were your favorite memories of Hall as a Devil? How do you think fans will look back at Hall from five or ten years from now? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Hall in the comments. Thank you for reading.