With the Calgary Flames being eliminated from the playoffs, the media and fans are discussing what moves the team should make next year. Should a top player be traded? Should the team sign a big free agent?
While general manager Brad Treliving may have a different idea, one name that continues to be linked to the Flames is former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. The superstar winger, who was traded from the New Jersey Devils to the Arizona Coyotes at this year’s trade deadline, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after finishing up the final season of his seven-year, $42 million deal.
There is no doubt that wherever Hall ends up, he will get a hefty raise from his previous deal that was paying him $6 million per season. He is one of the most dynamic wingers in the game and will be paid as such. Of course, he has recently stated his desire to win, which could mean he will take a slight discount, but he will not come cheap.
Adding him to the Flames roster makes some sense, as Hall is originally from Calgary, and they should have the cap room. However, some risks come with signing the 2010 first-overall pick.
While Hall has been an extremely effective player on the ice during his 10-year career, he has had problems staying healthy. In fact, he has played a full 82-game season just once and only has four seasons when he has played over 70. In fairness, one of those seasons (2012-13) was a lockout-shortened year, where he played 45 of 48 games, as well as this season when he appeared in 65 contests.
Still, he has missed plenty of time as a result of some pretty significant injuries, including two shoulder and knee surgeries. To this point, they haven’t seemed to have impacted his play, and despite having an off-year for his standards with 52 points in 65 games in 2019-20, he is one of the best left-wingers in the game. Just three seasons ago, he won the Hart Trophy after putting up a career-high 93-points and carrying a weak Devils roster to the 2018 Playoffs.
However, just because his past injuries haven’t seemed to affect his game doesn’t mean they aren’t concerning. His play is often described as reckless, as he tends to put himself in bad situations, which have caused a lot of his injuries. This critique has followed him around his entire career and doesn’t appear likely to change.
This may sound odd considering Hall is only 28 years old, but it is a near guarantee that any free agency deal he gets will be for the maximum seven years unless he re-signs with the Coyotes, in which case he could get eight. Right now he is in the prime of his career, and he would be going into the final year of a seven-year deal at age 35. Given that some players see a significant drop off in their early thirties, this is something the Flames should consider.
He also has tons of miles on him. During his 10-year NHL career, he has amassed 627 regular-season games and another 14 in the postseason. Factoring that into the injuries he’s suffered, and it is fair to question how many more high-end years he has left. If there is anything we have learned, it’s that free-agent signings can be much, much worse than planned. (from ‘Dom Luszczyszyn: By the numbers: The 15 worst NHL free agents of the last decade’ , The Athletic — 06/16/20)
Lack of Winning
Unfortunately, Hall has played on some very bad teams. He was put into a very tough situation with the Edmonton Oilers where management seemed to have no plan other than to stack up on first-overall picks. Despite putting up good numbers, the Oilers were consistently one of the worst teams in the league throughout his six seasons there.
Then came the trade to New Jersey, who also lacked talent. Though Hall was able to bring them to the playoffs during his second season, they were defeated easily in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fast forward to the 2020 trade deadline, where Hall was traded to the Coyotes and played with what was likely the best roster he has been a part of to this point in his NHL career. Make no mistake, however, they were still nowhere near contenders.
The Flames want to advance to the next level and become Stanley Cup contenders. Often, the best players in that scenario are those who have been on winning teams and know what it takes. This isn’t a shot at Hall, as he has never had the opportunity given the rosters he’s been on, but he has never experienced being part of a winning team at the highest level. Some may scoff at this, but it is something to consider.
The final concern, which ties into all three of the points listed above, is money. While Hall will lose some salary in free agency due to the flat cap in the coming seasons, he will still get a substantial raise. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him command a contract between $8-$9 million per season. All teams, not just the Flames, have to be extremely careful handing out this much money, which can cause many problems down the road.
While Hall is worth that cap hit right now, will he still be worth it in three to four seasons? It’s tough to say. To his credit, he is one of the best players in the NHL for a reason. He is extremely dedicated to his craft, which should go a long way in helping him stay on top of his game. Eventually, though, father time catches up to everybody. There is no way of predicting when it will come and, when it does, it comes quickly and can result in a rapid decline.
Positive Vs Negative
The Flames will have to reflect and decide whether or not the good outweighs the bad in handing Hall a massive deal. It will also come down to what Hall wants. He is a world-class player who will likely have many teams calling his agent once free agency begins, assuming he doesn’t sign an extension with the Coyotes before then. Regardless of what happens, this offseason could see some massive changes in Calgary.