Lichtenstein: Devils Receive Prayers, Not Prizes, For Hall

MVP Winger Fetches Meager Return In Trade With Coyotes

Steve Lichtenstein
December 17, 2019 - 10:40 am

In 2017-18, Taylor Hall had the greatest season of any Devils skater in the franchise’s history.

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And now he’s gone.

New Jersey announced Monday that they had dealt Hall, an unrestricted free agent after this season, to Arizona.

When you’re trading a 28-year old who was the league MVP a mere two seasons ago, there’d better be at least one prize in the return package.

New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall

In this case, all Devils general manager Ray Shero received from Arizona were a bunch of prayers.

The best the Coyotes could offer for Hall and minor league winger Blake Speers was their first-round pick in 2020, which could easily land in the 20s given their current rank atop the Pacific Division and the likelihood that Hall will provide a boost to their lineup, a 2021 conditional third-round pick (that becomes a second-rounder if the Coyotes win a playoff round or Hall signs an extension, and a first-rounder if both happen), plus three prospects. 

The best of those youngsters -- defenseman Kevin Bahl -- is ranked third in the organization by most experts. New Jersey also reportedly had to retain half of Hall’s $6 million salary for this season.

This was bound to happen after Shero opted to allow Hall to become a rental. Had he shopped Hall in July, before salary caps were fully committed, Shero would have found a larger market of suitors and most likely higher-quality bids.

Instead, Shero rolled the dice that he could get his club back on the competitive path this season, which would then convince Hall to make New Jersey his home for the next seven or eight years. In addition to selecting center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Shero traded for defenseman P.K. Subban and wing Nikita Gusev and signed wing Wayne Simmonds to a free agent contract. 

The moves didn’t take. The Devils are once again mired in the Metropolitan Division cellar, the second-worst team in the NHL at 10-17-5.  Shero fired coach John Hynes earlier this month.  Hall couldn’t really contain his misery with the club destined for Lottery Land for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.

The lone exception was the Hall-driven 2017-18 campaign in which the All-Star left wing set the team record for points per game (1.22). He was beyond dynamic, the perfect combination of speed, force and will. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise -- his Hart Trophy was deserved.

Unfortunately, Shero never was able to surround Hall with the requisite talent to build on that limited success. New Jersey’s defense has been neglected for years, and the goaltending bet on Cory Schneider turned sour.  Other than wing Kyle Palmieri, Shero’s second-most savvy trade acquisition after the one-for-one deal in 2016 that brought Hall to New Jersey in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson, and center Nico Hischier, the Devils’ other lucky lottery pick, there’s no one else on this roster who puts fear into the hearts of the opposition.

When Hall was felled by knee woes that required surgery a year ago after playing just 33 games, the Devils’ season was effectively over.

Devils fans found out then that life without Hall wasn’t very pleasant on the eyes. Well, at least they’re used to it, because Shero did not acquire anyone of immediate help to fill any part of the humungous void in the lineup.    

At 6-foot-7, Bahl, 19, is at least intriguing to a team that is woefully undersized on the back end. The Devils could use a guy on the left side who can end plays. He’s playing for Team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championships. 

The other two -- forwards Nick Merkley and Nate Schnarr --  have lower projections, more like “just guys out there” types in the mold of Devils minor leaguers Joey Anderson and, before he was included in this deal, Speers.

Offloading Hall was likely just Step 1 in Shero’s sales plan for this season. Expect other pending free agents, like defenseman Sami Vatanen and Simmonds, to be put on the block in advance of the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline.

Tear it all down again. Oxymoron aside, pray for Devils fans.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and Devils, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.