Among the biggest names on the free agent market this summer, perhaps the most prominent is a name that is very familiar in these parts. Yes, Taylor Hall is almost certainly headed to free agency after a short stint in Arizona. Hall and the Coyotes upset the John Hynes-coached Predators in the play-in to secure a playoff spot in this crazy NHL postseason, but were then summarily punted into the sun by the Colorado Avalanche in an absolute bloodbath of a five-game series. With the Coyotes in cap hell and not looking much closer to contention than the Devils at this point, Hall staying in Arizona seems unlikely. With him on the market and the Devils looking a bit thing at the wings, could a reunion be in order? Well, given where both Hall and the Devils are at in their career and ongoing rebuild, respectively, at this point, these are two exes that should probably stay split.
Why Hall Won’t Do It
On the surface, it’s not like there aren’t reasons that Taylor Hall could conceivably circle back to the Devils. Hall enjoyed the single best year of his career in New Jersey when he carried the team to the playoffs and won the Hart Trophy in 2017-18. Hall quickly morphed himself into a beloved figure among the Devils fanbase that year and got his first taste of postseason hockey after years of toiling in a bad situation in Edmonton. The following season in 2018-19 did not go as well as everyone had hoped and when Hall went down with an injury that would linger through the final four months of the season, the seeds of his departure were sown. After another poor start in 2019-20 and no traction on an extension with then-GM Ray Shero, the Devils decided to move on from the only MVP in franchise history only 18 months after he won the award.
If not for the injury in late 2018, it’s easy to see things playing out differently with Hall than they did, and besides a little bit of snippiness between the fans and Hall towards the end when the 2019-20 season was making a beeline towards the trash, I don’t think there is much ill will between Hall and Devils fanbase. Just because things didn’t end on particularly poor terms, though, doesn’t mean that Hall is going to be interested in being a part of rebuild 2.0(ish) here in New Jersey.
Hall will turn 29 in the fall and he has played almost exclusively on terrible teams over his career, so you have to think he will be looking for a spot on a team a bit closer to contention than the Devils. The trouble for the erstwhile Devils star will be finding a good team that has cap space to spare to fit the type of contract he will be looking for on their roster. There are a couple teams that might be able to swing it. Colorado stands out as the most obvious example, but a few other teams theoretically closer to contention than the Devils could probably fit him under their cap with the right strategy.
The flat cap will certainly complicate things for Hall, and one has to wonder exactly how much money he could end up having cost himself by not re-upping with the Devils last summer. Hindsight is of course 20/20 on this front and nobody could have predicted what this year had in store for all of us, but it seems unlikely that Hall is headed for an eight-figure AAV payday now, whereas it seemed like something of a foregone conclusion last summer. If the Devils threw enough dollars his way, he probably would have to consider it, given the market, but that doesn’t feel particularly likely and I think with the management team that Hall felt most connected to (which is to say, John Hynes and Ray Shero) being shown the door last season, the odds of a rekindling of the old relationship feels like a longshot.
Why the Devils Might Not Want to Do It Anyway
Hall has been a great player and is owner of perhaps the most impressive individual season in the history of the Devils franchise, but even if he were interested in getting the band back together after a short stop in the desert, it’s hard to say if the Devils would be wise to entertain that scenario. At his best, Hall was truly electrifying in New Jersey. He took over games in ways that 99% of NHLers can only dream of. I do think it’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen the last of that version of Hall, though. Hall never seems to have gotten right from that lingering knee injury that derailed his 2018-19 season. Perhaps it’s something that will improve with time, but he was not the same player the first few months of this past season before he was traded and, as far as I can tell, he wasn’t taking over games in Arizona, either. And while he was a productive enough player on the scoresheet this past season, the numbers were far from elite and some of the underlying numbers were, in a word, troubling.
Hall has, almost without interruption, been an absolute wrecking ball at even strength over his career prior to 2019-20. His teams were consistently leaps and bounds better with him on the ice than they were with him off for each of his opening nine seasons in the league. Any blame that he got for his teams not being good enough was typically misplaced, sometimes outrageously so. But a look at his isolated impacts show a big collapse in his game in the 2019-20 season. See the below career year-by-year isolated impacts from HockeyViz.
The top row of heat maps is offensive impact (positive is good) and the bottom row is defensive impacts (negative is good). One of these things is not like the others. Hall had extraordinarily positive impacts at both ends of the ice in the four years before 2019-20 in particular. Put simply, he was dominant and probably among the most effective 5v5 players in the league over that stretch. This past year, though, his defensive impact, well, “fell off a cliff” feels like a bit too mild a descriptor. The violent swing in impact in his own end feels so out of place, you almost have to chalk it up to lingering effects of his knee injury. The question, of course, is whether he can return to form with the benefit of another offseason.
I don’t see a scenario where Hall doesn’t get a pretty substantial payday in free agency, but whoever pays that contract is inevitably going to be gambling on getting pre-2019 Taylor Hall instead of the diminished version from this year. Given how many holes the Devils have to fill at this point and how disinterested Hall likely is in being on another lousy team, it seems like this is a relationship that best remains ended for the parties involved.