We’re now several weeks into an NHL postponement and there is still no clear timeline on when professional hockey will return. While fans of the sport have received small tidbits of news over that time, including college signings and contract extensions, the thirst for discussion has rarely been quenched.
With that in mind, we’re happy to continue our new feature: The PHR Panel. Three times a week, our writing staff will give our individual takes on a question many hockey fans have been wondering about. If you’d ever like to submit a subject for us to discuss, be sure to put it in the comments. This series will run each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
To catch up on the previous edition, click here.
Today, we’ll each give our thoughts on the future of a pending free agent.
Q: Which team is the best fit for Taylor Hall in 2020-21?
Brian La Rose:
Hall has not done himself any favors this season when it comes to helping his market value. It wasn’t crazy to think that a big year could have had him thinking about a deal similar to the one Artemi Panarin received but now, he’ll come well short of that and has managed just 27 goals in 98 games over the last two seasons.
At this stage, Hall could still fit in on a number one line but is better off as a matchup-beating second liner and that’s where his best fit is. But the teams where he’d be in that role are largely cap-strapped and a flattened or reduced salary cap will only make that more challenging; even Arizona is going to have a hard time keeping him around unless they find a way to get some cap relief.
With all of that said, I think Columbus could be the best fit among teams that can afford him in free agency. Their cap situation is pretty clean and they have some sizable deals coming off the books in 2021 that would allow them to mitigate some of the risk of a long-term deal that Hall will likely still get. The Blue Jackets are a team on the rise with some young talent that could push Hall into more of a secondary role as his contract progresses while in the short term, he’d be an offensive upgrade to a team that has struggled to score this year.
Usually when a team goes out and acquires a star player just before that player hits free agency, I assume that the player, this time Taylor Hall, will sign a long-term deal. Or at least that’s how it feels. The only recent exception I can think of is Matt Duchene when he got traded to Columbus. However, that move seemed more like a gamble and when neither Panarin, nor Sergei Bobrovsky re-signed, Duchene opted not to.
However, I get a similar feeling from Hall. While the situation is quite different for an Arizona Coyotes team that does seem to be up-and-coming, the team struggled once acquiring Hall with a 14-17-4 record—although much of those struggles had to do with their goaltending injury issues.
Hall has been on losing teams throughout almost his entire career and likely is getting tired of it. He has appeared in just one playoff series, losing four of the five games that he played. He might be more interested at this point in his career to sign with a top playoff team because of that.
The best option might be the Colorado Avalanche. While they have a lot of money invested in Mikko Rantanen as well as Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, the team should have the cap space to lock Hall up as a top-six winger who could turn the Avalanche into Stanley Cup frontrunners for many years to come.
Every team in the NHL can and will try to make a case that Hall is a fit on their roster. But which team is the best fit for Hall? At this point in his career, Hall deserves to paid his fair value and to compete in the postseason year in and year out. At first glance, the only team with the cap space and the talent level to make that happen is the Colorado Avalanche. They are the likely favorites to land Hall this summer.
However, you can never rule out the hometown team. While Hall moved to Ontario as a teen, he spent most of his childhood in Calgary. The Flames have a surprising amount of cap space this off-season for a team with a considerable amount of talent. Most expect that they could use that room to replace the potential losses of defensemen T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic, they could opt to go in a different direction and supplement their scoring, especially after down years from many of their top-six forwards. Consider the possibility of compliance buyouts and the removal of Milan Lucic’s contract and Calgary could have even more spending power. Hall would be able to land the contract he has earned and play for a winning team with the added comfort of a familiar city, no less. The Flames are a dark horse option, but a good fit.
You can bet that Hall will have his eyes set on a playoff team in free agency, but how many playoff teams will have their eyes set on him? The Blue Jackets, Avalanche and Flames are all good fits if they can make the money work, but I have an outside-the-box idea that may just be my favorite fit of them all.
In 2007, long before he was the Hart Trophy winner, a World Championship gold medalist or the first-overall NHL draft pick, he was selected in a different kind of draft. Hall was the second pick in the OHL priority draft, nabbed by the Windsor Spitfires who had gone 18-43-7 the previous year. Hall would burst onto the junior scene in 2007-08 as a rookie, scoring 45 goals and 84 points in just 63 games with Windsor. He, along with a second-year head coach that had only recently retired from the NHL, turned the Spitfires into a powerhouse that would go on to win consecutive Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010. Hall was named the tournament’s MVP both times.
That coach, who had struggled so mightily in his first year leading the Spitfires, was none other than Bob Boughner. Boughner was given the reins of the San Jose Sharks this season after Peter DeBoer was let go and now has the “upper hand” to land the full-time job moving forward. If he is hired, what better player to try and bring the Sharks back to contention than his old prodigy from the OHL?
Sure, the Sharks aren’t in a great financial situation moving forward because of some hefty contracts they have previously given out, but it’s clear that they won’t be rebuilding next year. GM Doug Wilson has always been willing to go after the big fish and perhaps bringing in another top-flight winger (along with some improved health from Erik Karlsson) could jump the Sharks right back into the playoff hunt next season.