As of right now, the Arizona Coyotes are in a playoff spot. Acquiring Taylor Hall, as general manager John Chayka just did, only strengthens their chances of clinching one come April (if not before).
Acquiring Hall Is the Right Move
Of course, there are no guarantees. After all, even though the Coyotes lead the Pacific Division entering Monday night action, they are just one point up on second place and two points up on the second wild-card spot.
Nevertheless, this is the right move for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since before the last lockout. There comes a point when you have to take a chance and, while the Coyotes still aren’t necessarily championship contenders after the trade, they were at least ones to make the playoffs before. It may be a cliché, but that has to be their Stanley Cup at this juncture.
Chayka will undeniably receive some criticism for giving up as much as he did, but second-guessing is the nature of the business. However, armed with a new extension, Chayka has been on the job for three-plus years and, at face value, this is one of his stronger deals: A lottery-protected first-round pick, a conditional third-rounder and prospects Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr and Kevin Bahl for Hall (and Blake Speers).
The prospects he gave up have NHL potential. There is no denying that, with Merkley being a former first-round pick, albeit a late one in 2015. For their parts, Bahl and Schnarr are former second (2018) and third-round (2017) picks respectively.
Still, none of the three can legitimately be considered blue-chip prospects, especially not in the same vein as either Barrett Hayton or Victor Soderstrom. Chayka deserves props for not giving up either one of them or even a roster player. It’s a sign he’s confident in this group, even if he did just acquire the player who would have been the single-biggest fish on the trade-deadline market to bolster their ranks. It may very well push the Coyotes over the edge.
Playing Devil’s Advocate with Chayka
Chayka’s critics may argue he sacrificed organizational depth for a player who’s far from a sure thing, both from a help-clinching-a-playoff-spot perspective this season and a re-signing one this summer. However, Chayka paid a fair price, arguably around what any other team would have easily given up at the deadline, but in exchange for four months of Hall instead of just one and a half. Secondly, Chayka didn’t lose organizational depth. He added to it.
When you gain an elite talent like Hall, just a few seasons removed from a Hart Memorial Trophy win, you push everyone down the lineup. You presumably give Phil Kessel someone to play with, who can drive him to be better. You give the MVP of this team, goalie Darcy Kuemper, more offense with which to work. I mean, as great as Conor Garland has been, a guy averaging the 18th-most ice time on your team should not be your leading goal-scorer.
Maybe Hall won’t fit in and the Coyotes will tail-spin. Chayka had to at least try. With that sentiment in mind, this isn’t Chayka’s screw-up. It’s Devils GM Ray Shero’s, because he fired his ex-head coach John Hynes, hinting at a desire to salvage this season, only to trade his top player in Hall soon thereafter and effectively give up the fight.
Shero had more runway left in his season. Things could have changed for the better for the Devils. If he thought he’d be driving the price up higher by auctioning Hall off to a bunch of teams unsure of how strong their chances of a Stanley Cup are soon after American Thanksgiving and just ahead of Christmas, he sorely miscalculated. Chayka may have given up a lot, but he arguably got more. He got a whole lot of hope.
Hall may very well realistically not re-sign with the Coyotes, but it’s not about that. It’s about this season, which is barely two months old. If someone would have told you this past summer your team could sign a top-line left-winger for $3 million (half of Hall’s salary, with the Devils retaining the other half) effectively for the season, wouldn’t you have taken it? Even if meant giving up a few futures as compensation?
Probably, because to start every season, regardless of the shape its team is in, every fanbase generally has some degree of that hope… hope that everything will fit together just right and they’re just one piece away. The only difference here is Chayka has seen his team in action. He knows his team is a good one. And he just picked up that piece that gives them the best chance at making good on that hope Coyotes fans already had. It’s a lot stronger now.
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.