Premier pending unrestricted free agent Taylor Hall may be a good fit with the Arizona Coyotes in theory based on their needs. In practice there’s less room for him to fit than you may think, though.
To illustrate the point, the Coyotes have one of the highest cap hits in the league. To drive it home, the Devils retained 50% of Hall’s salary to get the trade done back in December. While the move itself was a stroke of general manager John Chayka’s trade-making genius, he’ll undeniably have his hands full, making room for Hall to stay… hell, convincing him to stay in the first place.
Hall Still in Search of a Winner
Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet may say he’s optimistic about the situation, but the sad reality is exactly how he outlines it, minus the bias. This isn’t just Hall’s chance to seriously cash in as a former Hart Memorial Trophy winner who will only be 29 next November. It’s also his opportunity to win, by signing with a team with a legitimate chance at capturing a Stanley Cup.
Granted, the Coyotes would make the playoffs under the NHL’s proposed 24-team format. However, playing for an 11th seed down the stretch can’t be what Hall (or Chayka) had in mind when the deal was made months ago. By all accounts, it shouldn’t be either as Hall moves forward with the next stage in his career.
The Coyotes were admittedly within relative striking distance of a wild-card spot before the season was put on hiatus due to the pandemic, four points out. However, at the time of the deal they had been leading the Pacific Division. It may not have been a comfortable lead as the current standings would indicate, but the fact remains the trade hasn’t worked out as well as the Coyotes had hoped.
Coyotes Need Hall
As alluded to earlier, that isn’t to say it’s a horrible fit. With a 23rd-ranked 190 goals scored, the Coyotes need all the offense they can muster. Hall, even if his production is down from when he won the Hart, does provide what the Coyotes need most.
So, it stands to reason, there isn’t even a parallel universe in which the Chayka’s Coyotes do not at least make a play for Hall come free agency. And some may say that the fact that Hall has now played almost a half-season with the Coyotes (27 points in 35 games) is a point in their favor.
Look at it another way, though: Just because Hall has a feeling for the organization, it doesn’t mean he’s going to stay. He’s also played for the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers. Objectively speaking, he’s unlikely to sign with either of those teams, simply because it didn’t work out. By that same token, it hasn’t worked out with the Coyotes either.
All this audition period with the Coyotes has proven is, as much as Tocchet wants to believe the Coyotes are building something in which Hall can believe, there’s a lot more work to be done. Theoretically, yes, it can include Hall, but this is a league in which Artemi Panarin, who’s the same age as Hall and plays the same position, signed for $11.6 million on average… without having won a Hart Trophy.
Does Hall Need Coyotes?
So, there is little chance Hall’s next deal has a cap hit below $10 million. Excluding Hall, there are just two potential UFAs coming off the Coyotes’ books: Carl Soderberg ($4.75 million), who under normal circumstances would be an extension candidate based on his performance, and Brad Richardson ($1.25 million), who could conceivably end up as collateral damage here, but is still a season removed from a career-high 19 goals.
Even if the two move on, those deals together don’t come close to making up the difference. Admittedly, the buy-out of Mike Ribeiro is also coming off the books. However, the likes of pending restricted-free-agents Vinnie Hinostroza ($1.5 million) and Christian Fischer ($821,666) also need to be re-signed as well. The only big contract without a no-trade clause in some form is Derek Stepan ($6.5 million), but he’s also in serious decline from an offensive standpoint. The Coyotes would have to be unbelievably lucky to stumble upon a rival GM willing to take on his contract in this uncertain cap climate.
In other words, Chayka is going to have to be incredibly resourceful here getting his house in order, even without trying to re-sign Hall. Chayka’s capable of great things as the deal itself proves, but that’s a tall order.
To be clear, the Coyotes had to make the trade to acquire Hall. They had no other choice but to go for it under those circumstances. They even have to go for it with regard to courting him to stay, because they need a player like him. It’s fairly clear it’s not a two-way street, though. The one he’s on seems destined to head out of town.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.