June 29, 2016, was a dream come true for hockey fans alike. There wasn’t just one blockbuster trade for hockey fans to go crazy on Twitter about, but two. The Montreal Canadiens sent P.K. Subban packing while acquiring Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators, and then the New Jersey Devils finessed a move that seemed unimaginable.
Devils general manager Ray Shero traded defenseman Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Taylor Hall. Both trades were completely out of the blue and there was plenty of speculation to go around for the surprising transactions. However, at first glance, the trade between the Oilers and the Devils was the more lopsided deal.
Yes, Hall and Larsson were both former first-round draft picks, but Hall’s stats, potential and overall skills arguably entailed more value than the Devils’ 2011 fourth-overall selection and Larsson.
New Jersey fans laughed at the deal as if they’d discovered the fountain of youth; Edmonton’s faithful scratched their heads and probably threw their iPhones across the room more than once.
While at the moment everyone was asking ‘how in the world’ could (then) Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli trade Edmonton’s 2010 first-overall pick for an unproven defenseman – the circumstances have changed three years later.
Two years ago, the answer was that the Devils didn’t lose this trade – but there had to have been some out there who considered the fact that the trade would benefit the Oilers long term and the Devils short term.
Most will point to Hall’s 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy campaign when he carried New Jersey back to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2012; or how his offensive talent and age complements the team’s future considering the Devils’ own two additional first-overall selections in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
Let’s also acknowledge Hall’s impact on Hischier’s career. It’s been a positive relationship as the two are paired together on the team’s top line more times than not since No. 13’s rookie campaign in 2017-18. Hischier’s growth at the center position has progressed and there’s no doubting that No. 9’s presence has affected that aspect.
Entering New Jersey’s contest vs. the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, Nov. 25, Hall’s tenure with the Devils is stapled as a point-per-game player. The winger has posted 203 points (75 goals, 129 assists) in 203 games played. Those numbers on paper are impressive and most would think fans couldn’t ask for much more from No. 9.
He carried the Devils to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017-18 with his 39 goals and 54 helpers, but what about the other two seasons and counting? More than half of his goals scored with New Jersey occurred during his MVP season.
While he missed a majority of last season with a knee injury, does that stat line of being a point-per-game player with New Jersey still seem as attractive after putting his goal-scoring in that perspective?
Keep in mind that he’s posted 4 goals in 22 games played thus far in 2019-20, and none have resembled the same quality that fans are used to seeing the left-handed shooter score.
Since the Hall trade, there’s an argument that the Devils also filled on another void in the lineup and on defense. Ironically enough, the Devils acquired another traded player from that memorable day in June 2016. Shero made another splash this offseason when he traded for blueliner P.K. Subban.
So, since doing away with Larsson it would seem that the Devils upgraded on offense and defense with star-caliber skaters such as Hall and Subban. Still, the $9-million a year man in Subban hasn’t met the expectations as the No. 1 defenseman a quarter of the way through his first season in Jersey. He hasn’t appeared as dynamic as he used to and it’s apparent he’s been trying to do too much in all areas on the ice instead of making the simple and safer plays.
Which leaves Devils fans shrugging their shoulders and asking if the transactions in the post-Larsson era have been worth it? At the time of writing the Devils are the third-worst team in the NHL with Hall and Subban on their roster, while the Oilers are tied for the third-best team in the league.
After the trade Larsson-Hall trade, this hockey enthusiast’s first thought was that there’s more to the situation, and most of New Jersey’s perspective is too nearsighted; my question at the time was – “Who will win more Cups, if any; or have more overall playoff success?”
Surprisingly, Larsson has played in more playoff games since the trade (13) and the Oilers are likely postseason-bound come April while the Devils are set to play golf.
Why Did the Trade Happen?
It was evident that both players needed a change of scenery for reasons probably both on and off the ice. It’s fair to say Larsson would have never met his potential and expectations to blossom into a team’s No. 1 defenseman if he stayed in New Jersey, where inconsistency surrounded No. 5 in too many spaces. Devils fans never wanted to admit it after acquiring Hall, but sometimes the reality is that players needed a change of scenery to fulfill that ‘potential’ mentioned above.
The Oilers needed a different type and caliber of player at the time after several years of portraying a one-dimensional approach on the ice, and Edmonton received that commodity in a low key and humble defenseman.
Larsson never panned out to be the offensive-defenseman that New Jersey expected, but he’s been a top shutdown blueliner since joining Edmonton – and it’s paying dividends now for Oil Country. Plus, it’s a fair assessment to say that top tier NHL defensemen don’t start hitting their peak until their fourth and fifth years in the league, which was a peak Larsson hit after the trade. Don’t believe me – just look back at Victor Hedman’s career as one example…
At the time of the trade, New Jersey needed “change,” and as soon as possible. Both sides received players who were hungry to rebound and prove that they could perform better than with the teams that drafted them.
The Devils received excitement and an offensive scoring threat that its fanbase wanted, while the Oilers finally found stability on defense.
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With the likelihood of Hall leaving New Jersey after a few “good” seasons and one MVP campaign, the Devils ultimately lost this trade. No, Larsson won’t be nominated as an all-star defenseman, but his grungy approach works and does more than just getting the job done.
New Jersey’s dream of owning a sniper such as Hall has been short-lived, after all, considering he is a free agent at season’s end. After Devils fans thought they got away with highway robbery, Larsson and Edmonton will have the last laugh.
Kyle McKenna is a social media specialist & freelancer who also covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Fansided & Hooked On Hockey Magazine.