As the New Jersey Devils continue to add significant pieces to their club in hopes of convincing former Hart Trophy-winner Taylor Hall to re-sign with the team before he hits the free agent market next summer, Edmonton Oilers fans cannot seem to help but fantasize about a possible reunion with the team that drafted him first overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Throughout the summer, Taylor Hall’s camp has made it abundantly clear that he is in no immediate rush to sign a contract extension with the Devils and will likely evaluate how promising a future in New Jersey seems further into the 2019-2020 season. Hall’s hesitance to commit long term to New Jersey and the growing possibility of him waiting until July 1, 2020, to decide where he spends the next bulk of his career, led Oilers fans and media figures to blow up Twitter with rumours last week that the Kingston, Ontario, native would be open to returning to Edmonton for a fresh start.
In light of this excitement, esteemed writer for the Cult of Hockey Kurt Leavins made a case for Taylor Hall returning to Edmonton in his most recent “9 Things” segment, pointing out that the Oilers brass who shipped the dynamic, flashy forward out the door has been usurped and have brought in a new outlook for the team. Additionally, Leavins suggested that it would be difficult for Hall to turn down an opportunity to play with alongside his good friend Connor McDavid again and possibly dominate the Pacific division with their blistering speed. Having only played in a total of five postseason games in his nine-year NHL career, Taylor Hall will certainly see playing alongside McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent- Hopkins as a great path towards being the perennial contender he has always wanted to be.
Hall always liked playing in Edmonton and I hear that most of the sting from the trade is past. The opportunity to play with Connor McDavid again also probably wouldn’t be a negative.(from ‘Can Evan Bouchard Emerge from Edmonton Oilers training camp with an NHL job?: 9 Things’, Edmonton Journal – 08/18/2019)
However, Leavins also noted the harsh reality of this fantasy, reminding Edmonton fans how much significant cap space the team would need to shed in order to keep the four star players together for years to come. Expanding upon this, written below is why it does not make sense for the Oilers to pursue Hall.
Edmonton currently has $36.1 million committed to just six forwards for the 2020-21 season (which would be the first year of Hall’s contract if he were to sign with the Oilers next summer). With Hall’s MVP calibre statistics and reputation, there is no chance that the former Oiler commands less than a $11 million average annual value (AAV) if he hits the free agent market.
If the Oilers were to sign Hall to a lucrative contract similar to the one Artemi Panarin signed with the New York Rangers, the Oilers would have more than 50% of their expected $84 million cap salary tied up in seven forwards, leaving little to spend on depth players and pending RFA defensemen Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, and Caleb Jones. To make matters even tighter, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will likely be expecting some sort of a pay raise when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, thus putting the Oilers in a situation similar to what the Toronto Maple Leafs currently face with so much talent but so little cap space.
If the Oilers really make a push for Hall, will it be worth putting the club in a tight cap crunch with top-heavy contracts and no capital to spend toward bringing in effective role players or high-end defensive pieces? Will there be enough money to to keep the highly touted defensive core of Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, and Caleb Jones intact in the future?
With the way things sit with current RFAs such as Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk, I believe it is highly unlikely that players in the next few years will be accepting team friendly contracts to give the club that flexibility. Taylor Hall will most definitely be expecting a big pay raise from his current $6 million AAV contract and with the amount of young talent the Oilers have and the little cash to go around, it does not make sense for GM Ken Holland to put all of his eggs into a basket of just a few star forwards. Unfortunately, good players will have to be moved out to bring in Taylor Hall, which could ultimately jeopardize the overall team play.
With the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft looming over NHL clubs, each decision Ken Holland makes from now until two years from now will not be done without considering expansion implications. By signing Taylor Hall in the summer of 2020, the Oilers would be obliged to add Hall to their list of players shielded from Seattle. Hall would slot into my “No Brainer” category of Oilers players to protect that I mentioned in a previous article, thus taking a spot away from the other Oilers such as Caleb Jones, Adam Larsson, and Tyler Benson who I believe must be protected if they were to choose the eight skater and one goalie format.
Is it worth it for the Oilers to risk losing an effective defenseman or a promising young forward in the expansion draft to a divisional rival in Seattle? Is Taylor Hall really the answer for a team that lacks a marquee defenseman who can control the pace of play from the back end or a consistent headstrong goaltender that can backstop a team in slumps and give the club a chance to win on a nightly basis? Essentially, the question is going all in on Taylor Hall worth it at the expense of some of the young prospects coming up?
I think Taylor Hall would be a fantastic addition to the top-six core, but I get the sense Hall likes being the focal point of the offence generally, whereas in Edmonton he would have to share that once again with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But I believe at this stage in his career, Taylor Hall would do anything to get a taste of success. I could see him definitely being open to a return to where he played for the first six years of his career, but I do not think Edmonton would be the right match for him given the difficult implications financially they would have to deal with in the future if they sign him.