An 0-3-2 start is not exactly what was expected of the revamped New Jersey Devils to begin the season. The team added pieces that they felt would improve the offense in Norris-trophy winning defenseman P.K. Subban, veteran power forward Wayne Simmonds, KHL superstar Nikita Gusev, and No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. At least on paper, it was supposed to provide a major boost for the Devils, but the results on the ice have not reflected the influx of talent just yet. While the off-season investment was primarily due to the team’s disappointing 15th-place finish in the Eastern Conference last year, GM Ray Shero was also surely looking ahead to next summer and trying to convince the team’s biggest star, 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, that New Jersey is a good place to be for the next stage of his career. However, if the team continues to struggle and Hall is unconvinced of future success with the Devils, Shero and company need to make a move, and the sooner they do the better return they can command. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Devils’ win-less start to the year has others around the league wondering how patient the team will be on making a decision on Hall.
Should he reach the open market this off-season, Hall would undoubtedly be the prize of free agency. While the likes of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Pietrangelo could potentially be available as well, Hall will be just 28 years old and already has an MVP performance on his resume. Especially if his injury issues are behind him, Hall represents an opportunity to add a player with 40-goal and 100-point upside perennially over a long-term deal. If he could produce at that level on a very shallow Devils team two years ago, there’s no limit to what he could do finally playing for a true contender for the first time in his career. The Devils would like Hall to think that they have the makings of being that true contender that can surround him with elite talent for years to come. However, if they fail to back up that assertion with continued struggles this season, the last thing that Shero can do is wait too long and allow Hall to walk away without any return.
According to Friedman’s colleague Chris Johnston, Hall’s agent Darren Ferris has had little communication yet with the Devils on an extension. While Johnston doesn’t rule out the two sides agreeing to a new deal, the outcome will grow more and more unlikely with each notch in the loss column. Even if New Jersey fails to put up points, Hall will. He has shown in the past that he can produce at a high level on losing teams and, barring another injury-riddled campaign, his market value is nearly concrete. Ferris and Hall know that New Jersey is not the only team that would be willing to give him the contract he desires and will likely hold out on extension talks until there is more sign of promise coming from the Devils’ results on the ice.
If there is no hope of such a resolution, due to the Devils’ miscues or otherwise, Hall will have to be traded. At a $6MM cap price tag, his contract is hardly an albatross that interested teams would struggle to add, especially as the season wears on. Regardless of when Shero chooses to pull the trigger, the team will get a great return for Hall’s services. Yet, the team would obviously maximize that return by making the decision to deal him before the trade deadline in late February. In fact, the earlier the better, especially in light of Hall’s recent injury concerns. But is this too early? While he reports that there are already rumblings from interested persons across the NHL, Friedman says that it is “way too soon” for the team to talk about moving Hall. He notes New Jersey’s difficult schedule to begin the year and feels that they deserve to give themselves a larger sample size of Hall playing alongside their talented new additions before making any sort of projection on how the season will turn out. Friedman admits that Shero is a bold general manager, but doesn’t expect a move at this point or in the immediate future.
So then just how soon could Hall be dealt if the Devils don’t improve? While Canada celebrates Thanksgiving today, it is American Thanksgiving in late November that is commonly used as a benchmark for the likelihood of success of a team’s season. Over the last six years, more than 70% of teams in a playoff spot at that point have earned a postseason berth. If New Jersey is not in the playoff picture or at least close and there is no alternative reason other than the team continuing to underperform relative to their talent level as they have through five games, that’s likely when the status quo could change on Hall. In the meantime, interest will continue to build in Hall as he remains unsigned and pressure will mount if the Devils don’t begin to win some games with regularity.