Yesterday, the cord was cut, the Band-aid was ripped off, and the trigger was pulled. After weeks of speculation following months of non-activity about a contract extension and bad hockey by the team, the New Jersey Devils traded their most talented player, left winger Taylor Hall, to the Arizona Coyotes. The full details of the deal are: Arizona receives Hall with the Devils retaining 50% of his salary for this season and Binghamton forward Blake Speers. The Devils receive Tuscon forwards Ryan Merkley and Nate Schnarr, Ottawa 67’s defenseman Kevin Bahl, a lottery-protected first round pick in 2020, and a conditional third rounder in 2021 that is upgraded to a first if Hall re-signs and Arizona wins a playoff series (if only one happens, it is a second rounder).
The former Hart Trophy winner from 2017-18 is now on an Arizona team with more realistic playoff hopes. He is a rental and potentially a game-changing one that could help a good team become a very good or even a great team. General manager Ray Shero acquired a package for Hall which was very much like many rentals. The best player in the deal was dealt away and the return is unlikely to ever match it.
This was massive news in the hockey world. A deal was somewhat expected since Hall was scratched for “precautionary reasons” before the team’s games in Colorado on Friday and in Arizona on Saturday. It seemed like Hall would not return to the Rock as a Devil on Wednesday. After not being traded on the weekend, perhaps he would and a deal would have to wait until after Christmas. Then the word got out in the late afternoon and the team confirmed it at 4:43 PM ET. Devils fans are still reeling from the news, as indicated by the 500-plus comment section from the post here about the trade. (Thanks to Brian for getting that up yesterday afternoon.) With takes flying every which way, it was suggested by one of the writers - Chris - that a roundtable was in order. I agreed. Questions were sent out surrounding the deal and less than 24 hours later, these are the answers from some of us for you to chew on, react to, and discuss further.
1. What was your initial reaction to the news of Taylor Hall being traded?
Devin Yang (DY): Somewhat surprised, and admittedly somewhat relieved. The news was going to drop eventually, and hopefully this gives the Devils some added direction, and allows the rest of the team to step up their game.
CJ Turtoro (CJT): Relief. I was glad the whole ordeal was over. It wasn’t what I hoped for, but I’m still happy to avoid the Tavares (or Parise, for a more Devils-centric example) situation.
Alex Potts (AP): “About time” was my initial reaction. While I know it is possible that having those trade discussions drag out could benefit the team giving up the star player, I was not too confident that was the case here. It would be awkward to just sit Hall for however many games before he got traded to ensure his health. That also could not be good for his trade value. So the sooner the better seemed about right for me.
Chris Fieldhouse (CF): I wasn’t spoiled by a text or someone telling me in person - I learned of the trade on Twitter. The Devils’ announcement had been posted just under a half hour earlier, and I let out a considerable sigh, but not of relief, and not really some form of grief over the matter either. It was like a feeling of nothingness - because while the ordeal is over the next few years become all the more daunting for the Devils, now. It already felt bound to happen, sooner or later. Shero took some of the sting out by doing it so early, but that doesn’t make the ending any more dissatisfying. Regardless, I felt like it was just time for the Devils to get back to work on becoming competitive again. That dominated my thoughts on the matter.
John Fischer (JF): It was a mixture of emotions. I figured it was going to happen back when Pierre LeBrun stated on Twitter that Shero was taking calls for Hall before the embarrassing loss to Our Hated Rivals on November 30. I was not happy about it, but I understood why it was going to happen. The rationalization of “get something instead of nothing” does not mean it is false. I was surprised when he was scratched last Friday and just assumed a deal was imminent - that never came. I was expecting not a lot of quality in return just because this was going to be rental and rentals do not yield a lot of return. I was surprised again that the deal came to light on a late afternoon on Monday. I was whelmed at the actual details of the deal; I figured it would be like getting 50-60 cents for a dollar. Lastly, I felt relief that my “The Legacy of Taylor Hall” post was not blown up to irrelevance on Monday. I felt a lot of things.
2. What about the deal did you like the most? What about it made you scratch your head?
DY: As mentioned before, the clarity and ability to finally have direction is the big bonus. On the other hand, I thought the return was somewhat weak. I referenced the Mark Stone deal as a similarity, and while Ottawa did not get a first round pick, they were able to receive a premium prospect in Erik Brannstrom. The Devils took more flyers, with less of a big name and more fringe prospects.
CJT: I liked that we could get two first rounders, the spread of pieces, and getting it done before suitors buy elsewhere or Hall gets hurt. But I came in hoping for one or more of the following -- 1) An NHL or NHL-ready player, 2) a high pick or premier prospect, 3) a goalie. Getting NONE of those things is disappointing, especially from a team that has all three.
AP: I love that the 3rd round pick has the potential to go up, and not vice versa. It is a hard first and hard third no matter what, and that is not a bad return just right there, especially compared to Adam Larsson.
On the other hand, what made me scratch my head was that Shero clearly was not looking to get talent to help the team immediately. He has to know that if the Devils are bad in 2020-2021, he is probably going to be fired. So not trying to get a player to plug in immediately, or at least sooner than later, seemed weird to me.
CF: I liked the quantity of return. I was hoping for a higher end prospect, of course, but I’ll take the decent chance at having a second rounder in addition to the 2020 first rounder, and the slim chance at an additional first if the conditions for it are met. That, I think, would make the deal really good.
JF: What I liked most about the deal was that the Devils received two picks out of the deal instead of just one. Getting a first round pick for 2020 is very helpful as the Devils only had their first in the first three rounds for 2020. Shero now has some wiggle room with that first, which should hopefully be 16th or later. I doubt that both conditions will be met, but I like Arizona’s chances at a playoff win. It would be beneficial for the Devils as they do not have their own second rounder in 2021, so that would fill the gap. Shero and Paul Castron have to hit on these picks to get the most value out of this trade but these are not long-shot picks at all.
What made me scratch my head were the minor leaguers involved. Sure, if Ryan Merkley can somehow stay healthy, he could be useful for Binghamton at least. And Schnarr may help too. But I echo CJ’s complaint about a lack of a goaltender in this deal. I can understand with Arizona (or any other team) not putting their best prospect up in a rental, but surely Shero could have inquired about Tuscon’s goalies or the others in their system. I do not know much about them but I do not think it is a high bar to clear Gilles Senn and Evan Cormier as goalies in the pipeline. It is a bigger organizational need and even if it would only be for the B-Devils, it would have made the trade a little more likable.
3. Of the five assets the Devils received in the trade, which of them do you think will be the most important?
DY: On the basis of him being the “headliner”, I would have to pick 6’7” defenseman Kevin Bahl. The offense may never come, but if he develops into a stable defenseman the Devils have lacked in recent years, he’s a piece to watch.
CJT: Of the prospects, probably Bahl, by default? I think the first rounder probably carries the most trade value. None of them are really great individual pieces -- a clear quantity over quality move.
AP: Of course the first round selection is going to be the most important piece of this deal for NJ. It will probably be a later first rounder, but still. It is the pick/player right now with the best odds of being anything more than perhaps a fringe NHL player in the future. My choice changes if that third rounder becomes a first rounder and Arizona is bad next season, which is obviously unlikely.
CF: The first round pick. If Shero hits on that pick with a sliding prospect, that’d be pretty nice for rounding out the team and keeping it competitive over the span of the next several years. Or, if he trades it around the draft for a good defenseman - you never know what team might be trying to move an RFA to stay under the cap.
Kevin Bahl could be huge for the team if he can be on the left side with Ty Smith and Will Butcher in a year or two. He would certainly add a missing element to the defense, and I think he and Damon Severson could make for a huge pairing that has above-average puck movement for being in the bottom four. Here’s a link to a Year D+1 review from Five For Howling on Kevin Bahl. Given his points per game from his D+1 to D+2 has improved from 0.5 to 0.71 so far, the stats say he’s growing at a good pace to go along with high coach praises for him. He should impact the team quicker than the 2020 first rounder or the conditional pick will, unless either of those assets are traded for a current NHL player.
JF: The 2020 first round pick has the most value in my view. If Kevin Bahl becomes somebody someday at the NHL, that would be great. (It would still raises the question of why Shero and Castron picked Okhotyuk, Misyul, Vukojevic, and McCarthy back in June and then go out and get another prospect of that type.) However, I have more hopes in what that 2020 first round pick becomes. The only way it will not be 2020 first is if Arizona misses the playoffs and wins a lottery - which makes the pick become an unprotected 2021 first round pick. Even if the pick is in the mid-20s, there will be very good prospects who can go on to have very good careers at that point of the draft. I think the Devils can find them in this year’s crop of prospects. It is also possible that Shero packages that pick for a NHL player to immediately help in 2020-21 such as a goaltender or a scoring left winger. Or even to get more picks to use in that draft as the Devils do not have their second or third rounder in 2020. Hopefully they will not be used on big, defensive-minded defensemen again, but more picks are more opportunities for future success.
4. Why do you think Ray Shero made this move before the NHL Holiday Roster Freeze? Should he have waited?
DY: It was evident that Hall wasn’t focused when playing, and his production likely wouldn’t have increased his value. Perhaps Shero thought that this was the best return he could have gotten. I personally don’t think he should have waited, but I can understand fans who think so.
CJT: My morbid curiosity as a fan wonders what would’ve been available closer to the deadline, but it doesn’t seem there was any shortage of competition in the bidding war so I’m not sure it would’ve changed things other than maybe getting teams when they’re a bit more desperate. But by the deadline, Hall could be injured or teams could have already solved their problems and dropped out of running. This was the right time, in my opinion.
AP: I think Shero made the deal now because of what I mentioned in #2. Healthy scratching him already would have been very weird if the trade process was drawn out. Does Hynes put him back in and risk injury? Does he remain out and not playing? That can’t be good for his trade value if that happens. So once he was deemed a healthy scratch, I think Shero had to move fairly quickly, and I think it was the right decision.
CF: He did it to get it off his plate. I think he’s now intent on finding out who he can trust to perform for next season, and he’s trying to move that along as quickly as possible. Now McLeod, Merkley, and maybe someone like Joey Anderson could get an extended look without Hall taking a roster spot.
He could have waited to see if Hall might bump his scoring numbers a bit under Nasreddine by January, but I think given the under point-per-game pace he was playing at, Shero wanted to make sure he wasn’t trading a struggling Hall with, say, 30-35 points in 45-50 games. I doubt they would have gotten as much. But if Hall has like, 15 points through his first 10 in Arizona, I wouldn’t blame anyone for reacting by saying Shero should have waited.
JF: I think Shero thought he had a deal just about ready to go, something went awry, and a deal had to be made just to save face. After being scratched for two games and traveling home, it would have been awkward for Hall to keep on playing as a Devil. Plus, the entire hockey world knew he was on the trade block. This further hurt the leverage that the Devils did have much of to begin with. I would not be surprised if that drove the deal to be made before Christmas. If it were me, I would have waited until the All-Star Game weekend or even the February 24 trade deadline and hope Hall would have been well out of his low-shooting percentage funk and back to clearly being a play-driving forward. To quote a former coach of the Devils, it is what it is.
5. Do you think that Ray Shero should have asked for something else/different that was realistically possible?
DY: I would have tried for more, but I obviously don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. Having heard theories of a Conor Timmins or even (though unlikely) a Bowen Byram deal, this deal seems lacking in comparison.
CJT: Having found out the Hall wouldn’t re-sign until after the season, his value probably decreased significantly. That said, if you put the actual list of offers Shero could’ve accepted in front of me, I’m skeptical this is the one I’d pick. The rumored Avs deal included similar picks and better prospects. The Panthers were rumored to have offered Vincent Trochek -- who, alone, would be a better value then what was accepted -- or Aleksi Heponiemi and/or Henrik Borgstrom who are definitely better pieces as well. Even just from the Coyotes, I feel someone like Jan Jenik was totally gettable. But Shero’s got this new thing for big defenders that I think turned him away from the best value deals.
AP: I think Shero got a fair return for Hall. The only thing I would have looked for is an actual player with better odds to be an NHL regular than the ones they got. Picks are nice, but even the odds of a late first rounder becoming a quality NHL regular is like the toss of a coin. If he could have gotten even just one prospect instead of three, but that prospect been more NHL ready, or had more NHL potential, I would have preferred that. And my preference for that player would have been a goaltender. If they could have squeezed Adin Hill out of Arizona instead of the prospects they got, I would have been much happier.
CF: Jakob Chyrchrun. I even would have packaged more with Hall to get him in place of something else in the deal. Vatanen is of a similar cap hit and they wouldn’t have to commit to him long term, and he’d be their best right handed defenseman in Arizona. Currently that’s Jason Demers, who is out with injury and has five assists in 30 games this season.
But if Arizona’s GM was really stubborn about it, then I would have moved onto getting a goalie in addition to Bahl.
JF: I would love to know if Shero even asked about goaltender Ivan Prosvetov. Yes, his time in Tucson has been limited and he is very young. But the Devils’ goaltender depth is quality without much quality and it would have been worth taking a flyer on him - even if it meant Merkley and Schnarr stay in Tuscon. With Arizona set in net for the time being, I do not think he is necessarily a “top prospect” like Victor Soderstrom or Barret Hayton - whom I understand were not available. At least with Prosevtov the trade would have addressed an actual need and not a perceived need like a big, defensive-minded defenseman.
I will say I appreciate that Shero opted to go for prospects and picks because I cannot imagine the pressure a NHL player would feel for being “the guy traded back for Hall.” Even if it was a different position with different expectations, he would be tagged with that as unfair as it may be and that could have been really rough.
6. If Taylor Hall re-signs with Arizona and Arizona wins a playoff series, then the 2021 third rounder becomes a first rounder. Does this mean you are rooting hard for Arizona to win a playoff series and Hall to sign there? Or do you not care because of its unlikeliness?
DY: I would root for Arizona to win the playoff series, because that would still increase the draft pick from a third to a second. I doubt Hall resigns in Arizona, however.
CJT: Definitely. 100%. Go Yotes!
AP: I am absolutely now an Arizona fan this season. I like Hall anyway as a person and player, I want to see him do well and find the playoff success that has eluded him in Edmonton and New Jersey. But especially now if they win this year, because there are bonuses for the Devils, I am all-in on Arizona. Maybe I should buy the NHL package to watch more of their games...
CF: Eh. I don’t know. I’m not really expecting Arizona to miss the playoffs, so I think the draft pick will probably be a second. I guess Arizona would be better a place for Hall than another Eastern team, but I still say Ray should do his due diligence on the likely best UFA of the 2020 free agent class and call him on July 1. I don’t think he’s getting Hart money given his analytically down start to 2019-20, but I’d place the Devils’ chances of signing him at around 2% anyway. He’s still as young (28) or younger than all of the UFAs near his scoring (he’s leading with 25 points in 30, followed by Evgeny Dadonov (31) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (28) at 24 points in 34 and 33 games, respectively).
JF: I doubt Hall is going to stay in Arizona short of the owner giving him oodles of cash and the team playing well enough to make him want to stick around. But I do think the team will be a playoff team; I think they could have home ice in the first round; and I think they can grind out a series win. So, Go (get NJ a second round pick,) Yotes.
7. Will Ray Shero be the Devils GM when that conditional 2021 Arizona pick comes is used?
DY: Fans were praising Shero for the work he did over the Summer, and I haven’t forgotten his effort during that time. The only part of Shero’s tenure I find extremely annoying was his unwillingness to get rid of Hynes, and even that seems he was forced to do so by the fans more than his own accord. I’d give Shero one more year, and my answer would depend on how the Devils do next year.
CJT: I don’t think so. I was hoping for something that would help us in 2020-21 out of this trade and I think none of these pieces sniff the NHL until the year after, if at all. That means we have this team, plus a new coach, minus an MVP heading into next year. If he doesn’t address the goalie position in the offseason he should be fired before the first game is played. If he does, he might get one season with a new coach to look respectable, which seems somewhat unlikely given the exodus of value likely to continue. Depending on how bad things are, he may not make it to next deadline, let alone the draft.
AP: I am leaning towards no on this one. I think he makes it through this year and does the 2020 NHL Draft. But if the Devils are bad again next year, he is most likely gone. And again, this confuses me because he did not get anyone close to NHL ready in this deal, and that would have been potentially huge for his job security. New Jersey had a culture of winning for over two decades, and while this decade has not been a good one, it has not been so long that people have forgotten this should be a winning organization. I don’t think he can outlast another losing season next year. We need to see some winning.
CF: I think that depends on how well the 2020-21 season goes, and not this one. I think that the team will probably improve from this one, but I’m not sure if they can make the playoffs if they don’t have Taylor Hall. But there are two competent goaltenders and a non-AHL level defense in 2020, he’ll be making the pick.
JF: Short of Josh Harris and David Blitzer having a massive amount of faith in Shero and whatever his plan is now, another epic failure of a season in 2020-21 and he is gone by its end. That he stated this is not “Rebuild 2.0” in his press conference on Tuesday is baffling to me and makes me less confident in his future.
8. As Hall’s time in New Jersey is officially over, what was your favorite moment by Hall from the past 3-plus seasons?
DY:. His overtime goal against Minnesota and Parise signaled a new era for the Devils in my head, and I can’t forget that. It’s a shame it had to end so soon.
CJT: His childish smiling at the Ric Flair video. Hall was literally considered the most valuable hockey player in the world one season. He’s a former 1st overall pick. He’s never not been a phenom. And that moment was the most memorable of several occasions in which we were reminded that he’s still, at heart, just a kid playing the game he loves. Here’s hoping he gets to play a bit more of it this season than normal.
AP: I think the best Taylor Hall moment as a Devil was his game-tying goal in game 3 against Tampa Bay. The Devils were already down 0-2 in the series, and giving up that first goal was so deflating. Then he tied it up, and his reaction was priceless. Hands up, letting his skates take him into the boards as he soaks in the fan reaction and looks up to the sky. You could see how much that goal meant to him, it was pretty awesome.
CF: Travis Zajac’s connection with number nine on a lifted stretch pass against the Montreal Canadiens for a breakaway goal to win the game. That sentence describes one of my favorite goals by Zach Parise as a Devil and my definitive favorite goal by Taylor Hall as a Devil. Hall’s meant so much more - it was April 1 - Game #79. I just watched the Hall replay again and its still a sure way for me to get nostalgia goosebumps. If he didn’t score that goal, the Devils could have missed the playoffs - but he was amazing for that last stretch that put them in. I’ll miss him, for sure.
JF: While his OT winner against Washington in 2018 made me write about how he is a Superstar, Hall scored one of the greatest goals I have ever seen in my life late in the 2017-18 campaign. On March 31, 2018, Hall took on three Islanders and roofed a perfect shot off the frame and in, all in one smooth motion. It was one of many exclamation points on a MVP-caliber season. It was an individual triumph on a level rarely seen in hockey. It can be best described in one simple word: glorious.
Thanks to Devin, CJ, Alex, and Chris for providing me their answers and thoughts on such short notice. And if you want a sixth opinion, Dan and I recorded this week’s Garden State of Hockey on Monday night so can hear Dan’s take and my own take without the benefit of sleeping on it for a night.
Now I turn these questions over to you - the readers, the People Who Matter.