New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall

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Lichtenstein: Voters Made Right Call Awarding Hart Trophy To Taylor Hall

Steve Lichtenstein
June 21, 2018 - 1:59 pm
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In his media conference after winning the NHL’s Hart Trophy Wednesday night, Devils left wing Taylor Hall said the thought that he could possibly take home one of the league’s highest awards didn’t enter his mind until he noticed a change in the decibel level of the Prudential Center crowd’s “M-V-P!” chants during a 3-2 loss to Vegas on March 4.

Even then, I’m not sure anyone in the building really believed the league’s media would vote for a member of the Devils, a team that would eventually sneak into the postseason as an eighth seed and is a stepchild in its own area.  No Devil had ever captured the Hart.  The chants were more like a prayer, far from a celebration of the inevitable.

Yet the voters eventually got the message, for no one was more valuable to his hockey team this season than Hall.

Edmonton’s former number one overall pick in 2010 was dealt to New Jersey two years ago.  After a so-so first season in red, Hall turned it up in 2017-18, recording 93 points on 39 goals and 54 assists.

The numbers didn’t tell the whole story.  While I don't want to be unfair by overlooking the contributions of certain Devils like goalie Keith Kinkaid, among others, Hall carried this team on his back.

Hall was held off the score sheet only four times in his last 40 games, most of them in playoff-type atmospheres given the intensity of the Devils’ chase to qualify for the postseason for the first time in six seasons.  He broke the franchise record by recording a point in 26 consecutive appearances, and then later went on a nine-point streak that stretched to the final two games of the season.

>>MORE: Taylor Hall Becomes First Devil To Win Hart Trophy

The plays he made were often game-changing, which, when you think about it, turned out to be season-saving.  He netted three overtime winners in his final 23 games.  His breakaway goal after coming out of the penalty box to give the Devils a 2-1 lead with about four minutes remaining in Montreal on April 1 may have been his most crucial to the cause.

Or maybe it was the game-tying marker with 1:21 left in Philadelphia on February 13, giving the Devils a chance to win it, 5-4, in a shootout, to snap a worrisome four-game losing streak.  I’m sure I’m missing others that would qualify.

Though the vote Hall received in the Selke Trophy balloting was somewhat curious, he was far from a one-way player.  He was relentless in puck retrieval and diligent in helping out down low in the defensive zone.  He even blocked 44 shots, per NHL.com, the fourth-highest total among Devils forwards.

The point is that Hall did it all, and he did it best when it counted most.  And he did it while playing with torn ligaments in his left hand since late December that required offseason surgery, not to mention being paired with two rookies (Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt) for nearly half the year before settling in with Hischier and Kyle Palmieri down the stretch.  Hall’s 41-point margin over his next highest-scoring teammate (Palmieri) was the largest in the league.

>>MORE: Lichtenstein: Devils Can Fortify Defense In NHL Draft, Just Not Right Away

Hall was correct in stating that the award could have been given to any of a good number of worthy players.  Some had more points and others had more responsibilities. 

But the Hart goes to the player judged to be most valuable to his team. Hall had to be the call.

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A few words about a more obvious winner at the NHL’s Awards Night ceremony in Las Vegas…

I don’t know if anyone was ever more deserving of the Bill Masterton Trophy, given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, than Devils center Brian Boyle.

Hockey should have been the furthest thing from Boyle’s mind this season.  Just before training camp, a medical report from his physical revealed a diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia.  He was forced to sit out the entire preseason, and then missed the first 10 games of the regular season while undergoing treatment.

If that wasn’t scary enough, Boyle also had to deal with an illness to his three-year old son Declan, who, Boyle said in Wednesday’s press conference, needed “eight or nine operations, all in the last eight months.”

Boyle battled through it all without missing a beat on the ice for a team that signed him as a free agent last summer.  He put forth the same, responsible effort that has been his trademark throughout his 11-year career.  In December, he went on a rare scoring rampage, with 7 goals and 4 assists in 14 games, including a 4-4-8 run in one four-game stretch.

I can’t really quantify the influence Boyle’s ethos had on his teammates, especially all the younger ones in the Devils’ locker room, but I would bet it was highly inspiring to a team that worked its tail off to make the playoffs.

The Masterton vote tally wasn't posted anywhere I could see on social media, but I can’t imagine that it was anything other than unanimous. 

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