To many, this will be the most important storyline in franchise history.
Let’s just start there. The Devils have never, in their 45-year history, which included 3 hall of famers in their prime and 3 Stanley cups, had an MVP. In 2018, that ended, as Taylor Hall edged out Nathan MacKinnon and Anze Kopitar en route to being awarded the Hart Trophy.
And this is the last year of his contract.
I’m really going to talk here about just two things: A) The situation we’re in — landscape from Hall’s and the Devils perspectives along with comparable contracts — and then B) the pros/cons of signing him to a high-price, long-term extension.
A) The Contract
I’ll be splitting this category into 2 subtopics: 1) the landscape surrounding this deal, 2) the projection and comparables.
1) The Landscape
From Taylor Hall’s perspective, he was a #1 overall selection who has one of the best wingers ever since entering the league in 2010. During that time, despite being 7th in the NHL in winger scoring, he hasn’t seen much success from a team standpoint. He gave 6 very good years to the Edmonton Oilers before the since-fired GM Peter Chiarelli traded him to the Devils for 2nd-pairing defender Adam Larsson. Aside from that being disrespectful from a value standpoint, Hall also didn’t enjoy watching Larsson join generational talent, Connor McDavid, in taking the Oilers to game 7 in the 2nd round the year after he left. However, he likely felt somewhat vindicated when, the very next season, he was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy for the league’s most valuable player while dragging his New Jersey Devils into a postseason that did not included the McDavid & Larsson Oilers. Unfortunately, as has been a recurring issue for him as a pro, Hall fought the injury bug in what he claimed to be the toughest year of his career. In a press conference, he acknowledged the need to add talent this offseason, and Shero agreed. This endeavor was given a jump start when the Devils were vaulted from their #3 spot to #1 after winning the draft lottery, a pick most agree will be used on American, Jack Hughes (see Brian’s profile here).
From the Devils perspective, Hall is a pillar, if not THE pillar of the Devils rebuild. He is the franchises first MVP, a top 10 player in the NHL at the moment, got us a free taste of the postseason way before we were supposed to, is the most visible member of the team, and is a model for the young players based off his work ethic. That said, injuries have been a problem, and at 28, he does have a few years on the rest of the young core (Hischier, Bratt, Smith, Hughes/Kaako, Blackwood). Signing him to a long-term extension would definitely help us in the short term, and it would likely be harmful at the tail end — no knock on Hall, there are basically zero 36-year-olds worth $11M+. More on that later.
2) Contract Projection and Comparables
Last year, after an MVP season, his contract projection was at 11.22% of the cap which would be a $9.3M AAV contract in next year’s projected $83M cap. That would put him just outside the top 25 cap hit percents in the league.
In looking for comparables, I used the play index from hockey-reference to produce this list of players who performed similarly to Hall in their age-25 to 27 seasons
Notes: OPS, DPS, and PS are “Point Shares” — a fairly primitive catch-all metric that uses AG and AA (adjusted goals and adjusted assists).
For Kessel, the last of those 3 years was the first of an 8-year, $8M AAV (12.44%) contract. Neal was in the first 3 years of a 6-year, $5M AAV (8.3%) deal for that segment. Stamkos (the most similar player in these metrics) got a contract in the middle of this section, but it was a constant cap hit (11.6%) and the current deal is 8-year, $8.5M AAV. Panarin has been very comparable to Hall the last 3 seasons and is projected in EvolvingWild’s model to get 8-years $11.25M AAV (13.56%). And Tavares, famously, signed a 7-year, $11M AAV (13.84%) last year with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That chart is from hockey reference and similarities were run on just those metrics (sum of the z-scores of the absolute differences from Hall in each metric). But if we include WAR/82, we get an even more interesting picture:
Hall’s last 3 seasons are more valuable than any of those stretches. That 19.3-GAR, 82-game pace over 3 years is bonkers. For reference, Crosby’s age 25-27 pace was 21.2, Malkin’s was 21.4, and Alex Ovechkin’s was 16.2. Yeah, Hall’s per game contributions are better than Ovechkin’s were at his age.
To me, he seems well over the 11.22% that was projected originally, and likely higher than Panarin’s projected 13.6%. Hall’s mark of 19.3 GAR/82 the past 3 seasons is 5th in the NHL behind only McDavid (24.4), Stone (22.6), Barkov (20.2), and Stamkos (19.4). He’s a top 10 forward in the NHL and should be paid as such. I’d have a hard time putting him over Crosby (14.5%), but I also think he’s more valuable than Tavares (13.8%). If we split the difference, a 14.1% would be $11.75M AAV which seems possible. There may be discounts for not reaching UFA and for his injury history, but even with that, you’d expect him to be comfortably into 8-figure territory.
B) My Thoughts
1) Arguments against Extension, for Trade
I know, I know, it’s sacrilegious. But there is absolutely a scenario in which the Hall extension does not get signed. Maybe we suck again and he bolts, maybe he wants to be the #2 paid player behind McDavid. But it’s possible enough that it’s worth talking about that NOT signing an oft-injured 28-year-old to a high-money long-term contract when most of our core is 18-22 years old isn’t an entirely bad thing, especially if we bail and get massive trade value in return. Let’s analyze the elements of that last sentence.
First of all, his injury history is not insignificant. According to NHL injury viz, he has missed 138 games, due to a combination of 15 different injuries over his 9-year career (about 15 games/year). Among the 8 non-shortened seasons, Hall played over 65 games only half of them. The best ability is availability and for a team that plans on centering the rebuild around this player, Hall is not on the ice with troubling frequency. Think of the players that are good late in their career — recently that would be Jagr and currently I’d say Thorton. Look at Jaromir’s GP totals, now look at Joe’s. Compare that to Hall. Being unable to stay consistently healthy is a problem in itself, but it also exacerbates the next issue which is his age.
It might sound silly to worry about age for someone who is 28, but the current research indicates that forwards peak around age 25. We would be paying Hall based on some of his most valuable seasons, with only declining seasons to come. As I said above, Hall has very few peers with regards to his per game production which makes finding aging precedent a little more complicate. There are only 5-10 players in the league at any time that are this good. Here are some examples of the aging of players that are were, fairly reliably, 2 standard deviations above the mean at some point.
Crosby has managed to be remarkably consistent in his per 60 production in his full seasons. Crosby is likely the best player of the generation, though. Do all elite players stave off aging? Well, Jonathon Toews peaked at 24-years-old in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season when he finished 4th in Hart voting, won the Selke, and led the league in even-strength goals and has been in consistent decline since. A counterexample, though, could be Steven Stamkos, who, on a per 60 basis, has been steadily increasing in value all the way through this, his age-29 season.
So could Hall stave off father time? Yes — it would not be unprecedented for a player of his caliber. But based on the NHL-wide trend, paying someone for his age-29 to age-36 seasons based off production from his age-25 to age-28 seasons is a great way to overpay.
And don’t think that just because I showed you an example of one of each type of player that it means all those scenarios are equally likely. Time wins more often. This is the list of players who have had era-adjusted point totals of 80 (roughly a point per game) or higher at age 33 or later in the modern era (since 1967-68). It’s been just over 50 years, and there are only different 54 names on that list, and 89 total occurrences. At any given point there are only 1-2 players age 33 and over that remain elite. I believe Taylor Hall is very good — I do not believe he is one of the two best players in the NHL. This means he’s likely to be significantly overpaid for the entire back half of an 8-year deal after being appropriately paid on the front half (maybe).
iii) Devils Rebuild Clock
The Devils have a big chunk of players that are very young and very good. Mike talked, Friday, about how good Nico Hischier (20) was this season — Gerard will open that extension conversation tomorrow. Jesper Bratt (20) was at times the most efficient scorer on this team behind Hall. Ty Smith (19) is absolutely obliterating the WHL with 69 points in 57 games and has the look of a potential top pairing defender. The Devils will presumably add either Jack Hughes (18) or Kappo Kaako (18) using the first overall pick. And it’s possible that Mackenzie Blackwood (22) has finally emerged as the franchise goaltender. Hall has 6 years on the oldest of them (Blackwood) and nearly a decade on the incoming draftees. The core of this team will be entering its prime when Hall is in his 30s.
iv) Trade Value
JUST not re-signing him may seem fairly boneheaded. But even if it is, we have to consider that we could very likely be getting more than cap space in letting him walk. If we don’t think we can sign him to our price, we can look to trade him. A recent MVP winger is likely to command hefty value in return — value that may be more in line with our aforementioned timeline.
2) Arguments for Extension
i) Scarcity of “elite” talent
The reason that guys at the top end of the salary projections get so much money is because they are so rare. It’s difficult to consistently get contributing players off the trash heap — but it’s possible if you’re able to Moneyball it and take advantage of a market inefficiency. But these elite guys on post-ELC deals you can only really by shelling out dough, even if it’s an overpay.
I mentioned that 4 players have a higher GAR/82 than Hall over the past 3 years. Even if we look at the Corsica model which likes him slightly less, he’s still over guys like Draisaitl, Malkin, Point, Giroux, Tavares, and Barkov. There are VERY few players worth what Taylor Hall is worth, and the ones that are out there are almost never available. We have one that seems to like playing here, and no one else can sign him right now. When you have a head start on the field you have to pounce and secure it.
ii) We suck, let’s stop that
Yeah, our “core” is a bit younger, so what? Does anyone think Nico isn’t already amazing? Does anyone think Hughes is gonna flop hard? Does anyone think Smith isn’t making the team next year? We have a lot of young talent and we’re now entering the 5th year of the rebuild (assuming Shero’s hiring is the beginning). It’s gotta be time to start competing soon.
If you adopt the strategy that you can never overpay for old guys, then every good player is going to walk out your door come age-28. That’s no way to manage.
There comes a time in a rebuild when you as a GM have to demonstrate to your players, to the organization, and to the fans, that you’re not just playing for tomorrow, you’re playing for today. Go out and improve in free agency. Sign your franchise forward. Capitalize on ELCs. Profit.
iii) He’s SO good
Taylor Halls presence is felt up and down the lineup. His absence would be felt similarly. EvolvingWild’s RAPM metrics attempt to isolate the impact of a player on specific metrics (EV corsi for, PP goals for, EV expected goals against, etc.) using regression to adjust for contextual variables like opponents, teammates, venue, and zone start. Think of it as “Fancy Rel” stats. So, the “Off_CF” RAPM is like CF60 Rel, but better.
Read more about the metric in my 2019 on-ice stat summary.
He’s above average in even strength expected goals against and a full standard deviation above average (~84th percentile) in all other EV metrics. And it gets even better on the PP where is goal impact is matched only by Braden Point — Hall literally breaks the scale with how much he matters to the PP. His absence was palpable in the waning days of this season where we scored in only 8 of our last 64 opportunities (12.5%) — this included droughts of 5 games (13 PP opportunities) and 9 games (24 opportunities).
When a player is good at some of these things, you can normally pick and choose to fit your narrative. When someone is insanely good in all of them over a 3-year sample, that guy is simply a boss.
Having him on a line will completely change its complexion due to his ability to drive play. He is at least 89th percentile in ALL A3Z metrics.
When Hall is on a line, you don’t need anyone else. He drives the play out of the defensive zone, into the offensive zone, and he fires away once he’s there.
For a sanity check, we can confirm this using traditional on-ice metrics. Of 452 players with 2000+ minutes the last 3 seasons, Hall is 14th over the last 3 years in CF%Rel, 5th in xGF%Rel, and 4th in GF%Rel.
In philosophy, we become much more confident in an assertion when we arrive at the same conclusion via multiple differing methodologies. Taylor Hall’s value is measured explicitly in his goals, assists, zone entries, zone exits, etc. to be among the most elite in the league. He’s value is measured implicitly through his impact on the ice (RAPMs/Rels) to be among the most elite in the league. Hall, when on the ice, is as sure a bet as there is in the NHL right now.
I’ve shown what the landscape looks like heading into this contract, analyzed comparables, given pros and cons to signing/trading him, and it’s probably about time I make a decision. I think the Devils will give Taylor Hall 8-years at $11M AAV. I’d personally rather give him something like 6-years at $13M AAV. I do fear that the $11M price tag is going to look pretty bad when Hall hits 33 or 34. Are the first 4-5 years worth the last 3-4? That’s up for you guys to decide.
The comments section is yours, friends. Lay it on me. What do you think Taylor Hall deserves as a contract? What do you think he will get? Does the prospect of giving any 28 year old an 8-year deal concern you? How catastrophic would not signing him be?
Thanks for reading and leave your thoughts below.