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Taylor Hall Had Knee Surgery; The Short Term and Long Term Issues it Raises for the Devils

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Yesterday, the news came out that Taylor Hall had arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee this week. This post goes into the issues that now present the Devils in the short term and in the long term with respect to Hall.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils
Hall, before this season’s injury, was in a better place.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Superstar left winger and the NHL’s Most Valuable Player for the 2017-18 season Taylor Hall has not played for the New Jersey Devils since December 23, 2018. He played 23 shifts for a total ice time of 21:31 where he was credited for eight shot attempts, five shots on net, and no points in a 0-3 shutout loss to Columbus. After Christmas, Hall was listed as “day-to-day” with “a lower body injury.” Devils play-by-play man on MSG, Steve Cangialosi, stated as such on December 27. That became the party line. Days became weeks. Weeks became months. The Devils provided very little detail beyond that he was out. Yesterday, the truth came out thanks to Sportsnet’s John Shannon.

The lower body injury turned out to be his left knee. The “day-to-day” status was misleading. The New Jersey Devils sat on this news and professional reporters were unable to get the news out. Thanks to Shannon - who deserves a lot of credit for being willing to report this or finding out himself - the Devils fessed up and announced it themselves.

When I saw this news, I was displeased and disappointed. The New Jersey Devils have been rather open about the injuries of their players this season. For example, they did not hesitate to announce - through Amanda Stein in this case - that Miles Wood fractured his ankle, that he did not need surgery, and he is out for about four weeks. I can understand that the team may not know the full details of an injury as it happens or even a day or two after. I can also understand that the doctors may want to try other methods before going to surgery. But the Devils did no such thing for Hall. They kept him as “day to day” with as little detail as possible about his status. The professional media - not Stein, she works for the team - clearly did not get any answers about what has kept the reigning MVP of the league off the ice or when he could be expected to return. I’m sure they asked - they just accepted whatever line Ray Shero or John Hynes or their sources fed them.

Looking back, this news does explain the few bits of Hall-related news that did come out after Christmas. This fully explains why Shero said there was “zero chance” he would trade Hall according to this post by Mike Johnston at Sportsnet from February 3. He really couldn’t since Hall had a significant injury. Going back through the updates on Hall at Rotoworld, I found two tweets that now have a new meaning. First, from Mike Morreale on January 29, Hynes stated that Hall was on his own program for skating. Second, from Stein on February 17, Hall was announced as skating on his own. So what does that mean? It could mean that the Devils tried out non-surgical options for a while before resorting to arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. It could also mean his knee was improving but he injured it from skating or off-ice workouts or something else between February 17 and this week. Those could be factors as to why the surgery took place this week and not any time earlier.

As for the initial injury, that did occur in December. Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, Mike Morreale’s post about Hall’s surgery that went up yesterday at NHL.com had this important detail:

Hall was injured during practice Dec. 13 and missed the next two games before returning Dec. 18 but aggravated the injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 23 and hasn’t played since.

The Devils were 12-16-7 after losing that December 23 game, the second worst record in the NHL at that time. It was arguable the season was truly lost by that point. Now we know that so was Hall. At least he was awesome on December 21 against Ottawa.

What disappoints me most is that the lack of information just kind of strung everyone along. Instead of being transparent with Hall like they were with, say, Sami Vatanen’s recent concussion, they said as little as possible. Perhaps to not spoil whatever value he may have. Perhaps to not undercut any negotiations regarding an extension. Perhaps to not tell the fans that in addition to this team having nothing to play for, they’re not going to get to see Superstar Taylor Hall do superstar things. It is silly because Hall knew he was hurt, Hall’s people knew he was hurt, the Devils clearly knew, and the fans do not like being peed on and told its raining and the team has been dunked on enough times this season to stop showing up in droves to the Rock - with and without Hall. The Devils should have just stated that Hall had a knee injury, it is undergoing treatment before going to surgery, and then stating he would have surgery. It still would have been bad news but at least it would have been honest.

Now that I’ve gone over my displeasure, I want to discuss what happens now. Hall had surgery on his left knee. What does that mean for the rest of this season and beyond? It is unfortunately not simple.

The Short Term or You Might as Well Shut Him Down

The New Jersey Devils have eighteen games remaining in a season with nothing to really play for but evaluating players for next season, earning professional pride, and lottery balls. There is no timeline for Hall’s return at the moment but I cannot imagine he will be back in a week or so. With every day that passes, there will be less and less of a reason for Hall to return. He will be rusty, the schedule does not allow for a lot of time for practices or preparation, and there is a six-game road trip that goes through Western Canada right in the middle of the month. The Devils will have three days off from March 26 through March 28, but following that is a back-to-back set and then the final three games of the season. By that point, there is little reason to rush back.

And if the Devils are not minding the possibility of losing a lot of those games between now and then, then it is to their advantage to not have Hall return and do Superstar things like drop a four-point night on an unsuspecting opponent or burn a defenseman for a highlight-reel worthy goal. It could be a lot of fun to watch and would give some fans a reason to pay somewhat attention as the 2018-19 campaign swirls down the drain. But it could hurt an attempt to finish in the bottom five in the NHL.

The only other benefit I could see for Hall returning is to demonstrate that his left knee is OK. That would be important for the offseason, the 2019-20, and beyond. It would only need to be for a game or so. But if he’s not close to skating on his own by, say, the last two weeks of the season, then I’m less inclined to want to see even that. If Hall needs time, rest, and rehab to recover, then I think it is more important to do that than risk further damage in what would likely be some meaningless games.

Of course, if the recovery is swift and he progresses well and Hall can return after that road trip, then fine, let him show that his knee is good. The Devils would then have a homestand for four games, fans can see him do good hockey things, and he will not need to show that he’s healthy in just a handful of games. I do not expect that if only because the surgery was so recent.

The bigger concern is the future.

The Long Term or I Have Deja Vu and That Worries Me

Taylor Hall has one more season left on his current contract. He will turn 28 in November and he will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2020 unless he signs an extension. This means that Ray Shero, Hall, and the Devils organization as we know it is about to hit major crossroads.

Let’s walk it back to the start. Shero traded Adam Larsson one-for-one to Edmonton for Hall. Hall demonstrated a dazzling and tantalizing mixture of speed, skill, and passion in 2016-17. But that season was a lost one for the Devils and Hall missed a significant part of that season with a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery. Last season, Hall demonstrated that he was more than OK. Hall was dominant. Hall was a force. Hall thrilled the Devils fans all around the world night after night. Hall had one of the greatest seasons in the history of the organization, played a huge role in the Devils’ first playoff appearance since 2012, and became the first ever Devil to win the Hart Trophy. Hall is a Superstar. This was arguably his peak. This season has not gone nearly as well for New Jersey, but Hall did not take a major step back. On the contrary, he produced 37 points in 33 games and is still currently third on the team in points. Hall still has some of, if not the best, 5-on-5 rates of the 2018-19 Devils as per Natural Stat Trick. He was not at all failing the larger cause of this season. It is not his fault he cannot play goaltender or make the depth players he doesn’t play with him that much better or make the coaches help the team not get wrecked on the road. Hall has been great for the team and I shudder to think what it would be today if Shero kept Adam Larsson instead.

However, to extend him would to significantly bank on Hall being great for many years to come. Hall was amazing in 2017-18 and his 2018-19 prior to the knee injury was still very productive. But can he keep that up? However, Hall has now had two surgeries on his left knee. And do not forget that Hall was only able to play the vast majority of a season in three out of six seasons in Edmonton. I think it is fair to say that injuries are very much a concern for Hall. You cannot contribute from the IR, after all.

More specifically, knee injuries may force Hall to slow down or play a slower game - which would undercut much of what makes Hall a great player. It is not just that he is a skilled passer and can make some excellent reads, but that he can do so with speed. It is not just that he has a strong shot, but he can bust it out after taking on and beating a defender one-on-one. It is not just that Hall puts out a great effort, but he can just fly out there without the puck and command attention. Hall is not getting any younger. The knee injuries may make him slower earlier than age would and that is a big concern for anyone who wants to see him take an eight-year contract.

And that is assuming Hall will even want to take one now. Even with those 33 games he played in this season, it is likely in Hall’s best interest to wait until the 2019-20 season to discuss an extension. A fully healthy Hall could very well go off and have an outstanding campaign that can increase how much he can earn. The next contract he signs may be massive and maybe the significantly lucrative one he could get. Unless he really wants to stay in New Jersey and he’s confident ownership will pay him a lot, I do not see why he should be concerned with an extension. I can also see it from the team’s side. They would want to make sure that Hall is truly 100% and effective after his second knee surgery in the last three seasons. They would also be wise to see if they can set up the team for success presuming Hall signs and plays like he could. Of course, this would also result in a long, potentially-distracting storyline in 2019-20 of whether Hall would sign an extension or walk on July 1, 2020. Fans would expect the worst, especially after each setback; the Devils would have less leverage for a trade knowing Hall could just hit free agency; and the fate of Shero’s time in New Jersey may hinge largely on whether he can keep Hall and if the contract does not become an issue. No pressure.

The thing that worries me the most is that this is all a familiar situation to me. And by now, you may have realized it too. This is a lot like 2011 with Zach Parise.

The injuries and the players are a bit different. Parise was much more of an up-close, keep-moving-always-down-low player. Parise’s injury was a torn meniscus in his right knee. Parise was a pending restricted free agent after 2010-11 and did not win the Hart despite an awesome run in 2008-09 (he finished fifth in voting that season). So was the situation of the team. This was back when it was expected that the Devils would make the playoffs. The standard was higher back then. The 2010-11 season was a nightmare of injuries and John MacLean behind the bench compounded by Parise’s absence. Parise would go on to play one (1) game after the injury on April 2, 2011 as the season was nearing its end. Parise looked OK in a game that was otherwise a stinker of a team performance as the Devils lost to Montreal 1-3 that night. But that game was it - Parise was shut down after that one with the one appearance being sufficient enough to show he was healthy.

Parise would go onto sign a one-year deal worth $6 million for the final year of his RFA status. The 2011-12 season was a massive turnaround from 2010-11. Parise was healthy all season long, he played quite well on a retooled and reloaded squad that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. You know the story from there on. Parise would wait to hit free agency, wait to July 1, wait beyond July 1, and ultimately decided on July 4 to go home to Minnesota, play with Ryan Suter, and so signed a 13-year contract worth $98 million. It was not the end of the world for the Devils and I really, really do not want to re-litigate the post-Parise era (so please don’t in the comments), but it did contribute to the current dark ages the team is now in.

At the time people were mad and to a degree people are still bothered by Parise’s decision. Some do not want to type out his name. Some just boo him a lot when he’s on the ice when the Wild come to the Rock. Some do both and some other things. But, this is the crucial point, it’s not like Parise went to Minnesota and played like an all-star. While his point-per-game rate with the Wild hasn’t been bad, he has had further injuries since then and has never come close to repeating that 2008-09 season. Just check his Hockey-Reference page. In fact, assuming he stays healthy, the 34-year old Parise is currently on pace to breaking the 60 point plateau - which would be the second time he would do it in seven seasons with the Wild. Parise has not made an All Star Game as a member of the Wild. Parise has not been a serious candidate or contender for an award. He has not been a possession dynamo like he was in New Jersey per Natural Stat Trick in this season or since 2014-15. The Wild have not made it to a Stanley Cup Final and Parise has went beyond the first round just twice as a member of the Wild. Yes, the Devils badly missed Parise and it was not until Hall was acquired did the Devils have a forward of his caliber and at a prime age. But it is questionable that Parise would be truly worth his $98 million deal when it was signed and I doubt it is now given that Parise became older, he lost some of his speed, and so the amazing amounts of production and possession have been downgraded. He’s still talented and someone to worry about when he’s on the ice, but he’s not the same player he once was. Minnesota paid for him in part because he was awesome in past seasons and could command a lot on the open market; but that does not guarantee being similarly awesome in the future. Unhappy as I was when it happened, I can appreciate the Devils do not have Parise on the books until 2024-25 with a cap hit of $7.538 million.

That is a concern for Hall (and really any other star player) when it comes to an extension in their late 20s. The expectation should not be that Hall puts in Hart-worthy seasons for the next five or so seasons. It should be that he is going to decline to some degree. Are the Devils willing to work with that and build a team around him to support what he could be reasonably expected to do? Can Hall adjust his game so he can be a major contributor if/when he slows down? The Devils definitely have the resources to keep Hall around for a long time. He seemingly appreciates the coaching staff and management. He is beloved by the fans. But now that we all know he just had second surgery on his left knee since 2016, should the Devils be willing to pay the cost to keep him around? These are tough questions and I do not know if I would like the answers.

The sad thing is that with this season, I’ve already started to think about the offseason. I was thinking about whether I would want the Devils to extend Hall and my initial thought was: of course. Pay Hall and let him be a star and hope he doesn’t fall apart before he turns 35. Nico Hischier can take over as the leading forward as Hall enters his 30s. My basic reasoning is that teams fall over themselves trying to draft or acquire a player of Hall’s caliber and the Devils already have Hall. Don’t over think it; pay the man. But now that I know Hall underwent knee surgery and we will very likely not see him again, I have doubts about whether the Devils should offer him an extension. They would be allayed if we knew that Hall would return to play more like he did last season or even how he did this season before the injury and that he could do it for many years. That is now a gigantic if. I do not know if a handful of appearances this season would answer it either.

I do not envy Ray Shero.

Your Take

What would you do at this point?

In the short term, do you think it is important that Hall get into a game or two before the end of the season? If so, what do you want to see from him?

In the long term, does this recent news of knee surgery change your thinking about whether the Devils should extend him or not? How much of a concern is it? Do you want the Devils to extend him? If so, what would you offer him? If not, what would you do with Hall before July 1, 2020?

And, in general, how do you feel about the Devils essentially hiding this news? Why do you think they were so vague with Hall’s injury when they have been open about other injuries this season?

Please leave your answers and your thoughts on Hall, the news of this surgery, that Hall’s injury was kept under wraps for the better part of two months, and what would you do with Hall for the future in the comments. Again,please do not re-litigate what happened with Parise. Thanks again to John Shannon for not keeping the news under wraps. Thank you for reading.