What is Taylor Hall now? Or, more to the point, which Taylor Hall is he? Is he the goalscoring machine that won the Hart Trophy just three short years ago, whose scuffles since can be blamed on inferior linemates and bad puck luck and the general cursedness of Buffalo—and therefore can be reversed by surrounding him with talent? Or is he just washed? That’ll take some time to answer, but the trade return for the newest Bruin makes it seem like front offices around the league aren’t betting on him returning to form.
The 29-year-old Hall, a pending UFA, is heading to Boston along with checking-line forward Curtis Lazar, in exchange for depth forward Anders Bjork and a 2021 second-round pick. And if you’re shocked that the Sabres couldn’t get as much draft capital for Hall as teams were willing to give up for Nick Foligno or even David Savard, well, you’re not alone. Hall is priced like a middle-six rental here, and I’m going to give the Sabres the benefit of the doubt and assume they shopped around only to realize this was the going price.
(Everyone’s been kind of cagey about this so far, but it seems plausible that Hall used his no-movement clause to engineer his way to the team he wanted. At the very least, Boston is the first non-cursed city he’ll have played in in his career.)
Hall surprised everyone when he signed a one-year deal in Buffalo this season, but at the time it made some sense. He’d be an undisputed first-liner, and playing alongside Jack Eichel would goose his numbers and allow him to cash in on one last big contract. It hasn’t worked out that way, obviously. Eichel has been hurt and Hall has put up just two goals and 17 assists in 37 games. If we were going just off production, the slight haul for Hall makes sense.
But Hall is not a two-goal guy; at least, the Bruins are counting on it. He’s a year removed from putting up 52 points in an abbreviated season, and three years removed from a 93-point MVP campaign. He obviously remembers how to score (if perhaps having lost a step on being able to create his own chances), despite his current 16-game goalless drought. Slotting him on the second or third line alongside David Krejci or Charlie Coyle instantly upgrades Boston’s left side down the lineup. By how much? That is the question. Hall’s a classic deadline rental, with the Bruins thinking first to secure a postseason berth—they’re four games up on the Flyers and Rangers for the East’s final playoff spot, and with two games in hand—and second about making a deep run. Boston has a number of flaws that aren’t addressed by this deal, but Hall’s as likely as any trade target to get red-hot in the playoffs, and who knows what happens once they’re in? The Bruins took a flyer that may pay off and may not, but they didn’t give up much.
Hall now heads to his fifth franchise in five years, arguably the most functional one he’s ever been on, and with free agency looming, motivation shouldn’t be an issue. Of course, that’s what Buffalo thought last fall.