On Dec. 16 the New Jersey Devils finally ended some of the weirdest days in franchise history when they traded Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes. Three days earlier, minutes before they were scheduled to play the Colorado Avalanche, Hall was pulled from the lineup for ‘precautionary reasons.’ The game ended and Hall traveled with the team to Arizona where the Devils were playing the next night.
Hall was once again held out of the lineup and after the game traveled with the Devils back to New Jersey. After a quiet day on Sunday, a deal was finally announced late Monday afternoon that the former Hart Trophy winner would be heading back to Arizona (with Blake Speers) and coming back to New Jersey are a trio of prospects – Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, and a pair of draft picks (2020 1st Rounder, 2021 conditional 3rd Rounder).
It’s never easy trading such a talented player and considering the circumstances New Jersey GM Ray Shero was dealing with, he made a decent deal. It wasn’t like he traded Hall for a singular defenseman. He also didn’t let Hall walk away without getting anything in return like former Devil Zach Parise, and more recently former Islander John Tavares.
For Devils fans, the sting of this trade should be a little less than when Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left the roster without anyone coming back the other way. This roster still has two cornerstones currently under the age of 21 to build around in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
Writing on the Wall
Somewhere around the end of October after the Devils found another new way to lose a game in his postgame availability Hall spoke out about the home fans booing the team after a failed power play. He had a point, but the manner in which he said what he said resonated with the fans. Their frustration was growing with the team’s uninspired and sloppy start to the season (two wins in the first month) and no. 9’s comments struck a nerve. A few nights later when Hall scored one of his six goals this season, he put his hand to his ear as if to suggest he wanted to hear the boos turn to cheers or something like that.
There was already a large faction who believed that if Hall started the season without signing an extension that there would be a black cloud hanging over the team. They were right, and with each bone-crushing, unfathomable loss during the season it got worse.
What They Got
The two forwards, Merkley and Schnarr, were both currently playing in the AHL with the Tucson Roadrunners and will likely join the Binghamton Devils. Speers, who will likely head to Tucson, only played three games in the NHL and was buried on the depth chart in Binghamton.
Bahl is a large, left-shot defenseman who is currently with Team Canada for the 2020 World Junior Championships, and when he’s done there he will rejoin the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL where the Devils currently have three prospects – Mitchell Hoelscher, Graeme Clarke, and Nikita Okhotyuk – so they have seen a lot of Bahl and obviously liked him enough to ask for him in the deal.
Getting a first-rounder that isn’t contingent on Hall re-signing is a huge get by Shero. Also having the option for another if he re-signs and they win a playoff round is a nice sweetener in the deal. If only one of those things happens, the pick is a second-rounder and if neither of those two things happens, the pick stays as a third-rounder.
They avoided a PR nightmare by dealing Hall before the next home game on Dec. 18 and before the holiday roster freeze on Dec. 19, but he likely isn’t the last player on this roster that will be dealt this season. I do think that another trade is not imminent at the moment though. With that major distraction now miles and miles away Shero will want to see how the players remaining react.
For now, it appears that Michael McLeod will get the first crack at taking Hall’s spot on the 23-man roster. The 21-year-old who the Devils selected with the 12th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft had two points in his second game of the season this past Saturday in Arizona and he has earned a shot to stick.
Other players on the roster that will be expected to try to shoulder some of that scoring load vacated by Hall will be Pavel Zacha, Jesper Boqvist, Jesper Bratt, Nikita Gusev, Hughes, and Hischier. Waiting in the wings down in the AHL are Nathan Bastian, Joey Anderson, and Brett Seney.
Looking for a silver lining? Hall’s departure means that’s one less player the Devils have to protect in the upcoming Expansion Draft for Seattle. Names of note who are exempt from that list: Hughes, Gusev, Boqvist, Bahl, Fabian Zetterlund, Ty Smith, and Mikhail Maltsev.
So who would they protect today if the list was due? Here’s a good guess at the 11 players they protect: Kyle Palmieri, Zacha, Blake Coleman, Anderson, McLeod, Hischier, Bratt, Will Butcher, Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, and Mackenzie Blackwood. Obviously things could change between now and when the list is actually due, but it is something to think about going forward. Who would you protect?
In a perfect world, sure you want to re-sign Hall and keep him around but the Devils got some value for the 28-year-old who played in his only five career playoff games with New Jersey. In three-plus seasons as a Devil Hall played in 211 games and scored 208 points (76g-132a), but he never played a full season once.
No one knows when Hall will return to New Jersey as a visitor because Arizona already played at Prudential Center this season. When he does return expect a combination of cheers and boos with the latter drowning out the former.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.