As reported earlier today, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom had some interesting (and somewhat unfounded) remarks about former teammate Taylor Hall when asked about the blockbuster trade earlier this summer that sent Hall to the New Jersey Devils for a potential new defensive pair mate for Klefbom, Adam Larsson. As translated from Kelfbom’s native Swedish, he stated that “Taylor has been our best player in recent years, but it’s also hard to tell what he has contributed. He never played his best games against the tougher teams, when we really needed it. However, he was fantastic when we met the little inferior teams.” That is a lot to take in, as Klefbom both praised and criticized the 2010 first overall pick, who had been met with mostly praise and little criticism during his time in Edmonton. While it’s easy to take a teammate’s word when it comes to the analysis of a player, that’s not always fair. Instead, we have numbers. Take a look at each of Larsson’s arguments from a statistical point of view:
“Taylor has been our best player in recent years” is hardly up for debate. Hall was taken #1 in the 2010 NHL Entry draft and stepped right into a top six role as the new face of the Oilers. In his rookie year, he led Edmonton in goals with 22 and was tied for second in points with 42, just one notch behind Jordan Eberle. In 2011-12, Hall again finished behind only Eberle, recording 53 points in 61 games. The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season proved to be the breakout campaign that Hall needed to assert himself as the best player on the Oilers and an elite NHL power forward. In 45 games, Hall scored better than a point per game, leading the team with 50 points, 12 points more than Sam Gagner in second and 13 more than Eberle in third. Hall continued to produce at more than a point per game clip in 2013-14, with 80 points in 75 games, good enough for sixth in the NHL in scoring. Meanwhile in Edmonton, only Eberle was able to finish within 20 points of Hall. Hall suffered his first career setback in 2014-15, as injuries limited him to just 53 games and 38 points. Astoundingly, 38 points was all he needed to finish third on the team in points, behind Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He got back on track last season, leading the team in points with 65, and greatly improving his defensive game and physicality with career highs in hits, blocked shots, and penalty minutes. Six straight seasons of finishing in at least the top three in scoring in Edmonton and even finishing in the top ten in scoring in the NHL twice means that there is no question that Taylor Hall has been the Oilers’ best player in recent years.
“It’s hard to tell what he has contributed” and “he was fantastic (against) inferior teams” are two statements that can only be taken with a grain of salt. The numbers clearly show what Hall has contributed to the Oilers in his first six seasons, but Klefbom is not incorrect in implying that those contributions have not been enough to change the success of the team. The highest that Edmonton has finished in the NHL league standings since drafting Hall is 24th, and that was the lockout-shortened season. It was also Hall’s best per-game season to date, so there may actually be some correlation there that proves Klefbom wrong. Other than that though, the Oilers finished last in Hall’s rookie year in 2010-11, have two second-to-last (29th) finishes, and have two third-to-last (28th) finishes. The fact is that as good as Hall has been, it has not been enough to single-handedly right the ship in Edmonton. Did anyone expect him to do so? Hall was the first of four first overall draft picks that the Oilers have had in the past seven years, and only now does one of those players, Connor McDavid, actually have the pieces around him to maybe turn the franchise around. Hall entered a situation where even as a rookie, he was hands down the best player on the team, and no talent was ever brought in that could rival his. Had the Oilers taken Tyler Seguin (selected #2 in 2010) instead of Hall, the results likely would have been the same in Edmonton, and Hall would likely be a valued piece of the Boston Bruins’ core. Questioning what Hall has contributed because his strong numbers have not made the Oilers a playoff team is more of a commentary on the ineptitude of team ownership and management than anything.
As for “inferior teams” during Hall’s tenure in Edmonton: there are none. Oscar Klefbom entered the league in 2013-14 and since then could have only seen Hall and the Oilers play against four “inferior teams”: the Buffalo Sabres in 2013-14 and 2014-15, the Florida Panthers in 2013-14, the Arizona Coyotes in 2014-15, and Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015-16. However, if you total the points of all 30 NHL teams in the six years that Hall has been playing, no organization has been “inferior” to the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton has only 380 points during that time span, 40 less than the next-worst, the Sabres. In fact, only nine teams have been less than 100 points better than the Oilers since the start of the 2010-11 season. So in reality, nearly any team that Klefbom claims Taylor Hall has played “fantastic” against has been a superior team to his own.
Finally, there is the allegation that Hall “never played his best games against the tougher teams, when we really needed it.” Unfortunately for Klefbom and the Oilers, every team has been “tougher” for years now and they haven’t “needed” a win in the traditional sense of a playoff contender in a long time. However, if Klefbom’s belief that Hall does not play to the same level against playoff-caliber teams as he does against others holds weight, than that is a legitimate concern about Hall and a fair assessment by Klefbom, rather than just an insult hurled by a scorned ex-teammate. But that is simply not the case. Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Anaheim, the New York Rangers, Washington, San Jose, Los Angeles, Detroit, Vancouver, and Tampa Bay make up the top dozen NHL teams in total points since Hall’s playing days began in 2010. Against those twelve teams, Hall has 135 career points in 175 career games, better than .75 points per game. If you take away a lack of success against some unfamiliar Eastern conference foes in the Bruins and Capitals, that rate jumps up to over .8 points per game. Counter to Klefbom’s assumptions, Hall has actually been dominant against some of the league’s best teams like the Blackhawks (22 points in 18 games), Sharks (20 points in 22 games), and the division rival Canucks (26 points in 29 games). While he has also been wildly successful against lesser teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames, there seems to be no noticeable drop-off in production over the course of Hall’s career between “good” teams and “bad” teams.
Klefbom has never been known to be outspoken or a locker room problem, and his comments may have been lost in translation or simply just misguided by emotion. Regardless, the positive remarks about Hall being the best player in Edmonton ring true, while the accusations that he plays poorly against stronger competition and better against weaker competition seem to be unfounded based on his scoring numbers. Sorry Oilers fans, Taylor Hall is still an amazing player, and will likely continue to excel in his new home with the New Jersey Devils.