Taylor Hall is one of the Buffalo Sabres’ ”trade bait” players garnering plenty of attention this deadline despite his hefty contract and lacklustre on-ice play. Hall is not far removed from the National Hockey League’s MVP award in 2018, but you wouldn’t know that by watching his game in a blue and gold sweater this season.
Still, many sources around the league believe general manager Kevyn Adams will not have any trouble finding the talented winger a new home. The only question is will the return be enough to entice the rookie GM to pull the trigger.
Whatever Hall garners through a trade this time — in what would be his third trip around the trade Ferris wheel — is bound to be less than what the New Jersey Devils got when they shipped Hall off to the Arizona Coyotes in 2019.
In that deal, the Devils took Kevin Bahl, Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley, a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 draft (Dawson Mercer), and a conditional third-rounder in the 2021 draft. The conditions were that the third-round pick would upgrade to a second if the Coyotes win a playoff round. If Hall had resigned with them AND the team won a playoff round, the pick would have been upgraded to a first. Obviously, none of those things happened for the Coyotes.
Bahl (who played junior hockey as a teammate to Sabres’ prospect Jack Quinn with the Ottawa 67s), Schnarr and Merkley are a nice mix of middling-to-depth level prospects. These three are spending time with the American Hockey League’s Binginham Devils. They are on track to become third/fourth-liners, with the lone defenseman, Bahl, tracking to be a comparable player to the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Oleksiak or the Boston Bruins’ Jarred Tinordi. Dawson Mercer seems to be the real prize in the Hall deal for the Devils, who is projected to be a top-six forward in the NHL.
What Hall Would Fetch For the Sabres
This time around, Hall will likely pull in less — but not drastically so. Any deal for the 29-year-old is not necessarily going to be the one-for-one hockey trade either, unlike the one that saw him leave the Edmonton Oilers (his first stint with Ralph Krueger) to the Devils for Adam Larsson. That would not be in the Sabres’ interests as they look to the future.
You can be sure that GM Adams will attempt to maximize the price tag for Hall, who would be a great addition to many teams looking to make a deep push in the playoffs. There will be multiple suitors for his services, at least until more conversations happen and teams either back away or step up. The number of parties involved could drive the price up. He is, arguably, the main deadline prize this year, especially now that Jack Eichel’s injury has put off his potential Sabres departure until at least this summer.
Will He Stay With the Sabres?
Hall does have complete trade protection, and according to The Athletic’s Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek, he might be staying put.
“…according to an NHL source, he’s enjoyed his time in Buffalo and wouldn’t necessarily be eager to waive it. It’s possible that a contract extension is more likely than a trade here.”‘NHL Trade Deadline Big Board: Rickard Rakell, Elvis Merzlikins and 27 others who could be dealt.’ Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek The Athletic 3/12/21
Still, others, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, think he will be moved.
“The way that this season has unfolded as a four-alarm dumpster fire for the Buffalo Sabres… I don’t see a way in which they don’t trade him at the deadline(to) try and recoup some assets,” he said during a March 1 appearance on the network to kick off the trade-bait season.
Since the beginning of the month, Hall has moved down on trade boards, like The Athletic’s.
Earlier in the year, I mused with my The Hockey Writers colleagues about Hall being in Buffalo for a good time and not a long time.
It made for some interesting conversations, but it’s not going well if that was his plan. Which it turns out it wasn’t at all. With family in Toronto, Hall might just want to play in Buffalo for a while and be a part of this rebuild and possibly, the next one (because they happen so frequently in the Queen City).
“I was never treating this as a one-year thing,” Hall told The Buffalo News. “I was always coming into it open-minded, and we’ll have to see what happens here if there’s interest on their side. But yeah, of course, I have interest… like we said from the start, my agent and myself, we’re open to anything.”‘Sabres Notebook: Taylor Hall’ open’ to returning to Buffalo next season.’ Lance Lysowski 3/4/21
None of these sorts of statements will cease any Hall trade talk, because as we know, hockey is a business, and it’s results-oriented.
The Numbers Game
Hall is on an $8 million one-year contract. As of today, the Sabres have paid him $4,275,862. If he were to be traded to any team right now, his remaining cap hit this season would be $3,724,138. If Hall does get traded, the Sabres will likely have to eat half of his salary for the rest of this year. This should sweeten the deal to bring in some better prospects and high draft picks. Perhaps even a roster player.
All that to say that at the pro-rated amount remaining on his expiring contract (assuming the Sabres retain half of his salary), an interested team could bring Hall onboard for the rest of the season and the playoffs for the bargain-basement price of $1.86 million against the cap. Once again, that’s if the deal were to happen today. A deal closer to the deadline would make that hit even smaller.
With that in mind, let’s look at who is rumoured to be interested in Hall’s services. With limited playoff experience (only two appearances totalling 14 games over a decade in the NHL), the itch to win — or even have a chance to win a championship must be huge for Hall. Of course, he would have to sign off on a deal to be complete since, as mentioned before, he has a full no-movement clause.
New York Islanders
According to the team, captain Anders Lee’s lower-body injury is expected to put him out of the lineup for the rest of the regular season. That means the Islanders will be without their leading goal scorer (12 in 27 games). But it could be a blessing in disguise.
The team was right up against the cap. With Lee on the long-term injured reserve and his $7 million average annual value coming off the books, general manager Lou Lamoriello is free to use the money once tied up in that contract to find some reinforcements for the playoffs. Since the postseason is a cap-free zone, the Islanders will be fine even if Lee returns in the first round and they exceed the cap.
The Isles’ first-round pick is likely to be in a decent spot at the draft but one that Lamoriello might also think about cashing in for Hall. Even if it would be the second first-rounder, he trades away in consecutive seasons. It’s part of what GM Adams would be asking for if this deal were to go down.
However, in one NHL executive’s opinion, the Sabres won’t get a first-rounder for Hall.
“…I don’t know what pick they’re getting to do it. Maybe a second? They’re not getting a first,” said one executive. “There still aren’t many top-six guys you can add, and he’s a top-six. No one is going to want to take on the pro-rated $8 million cash.”The Athletic
That might mean multiple lower-round picks or that exec could be dead wrong. Adams might ask for Kieffer Bellows, but that probably wouldn’t fly. The Islanders might part with other prospects, though. Including the high risk-high reward forward Josh Ho-Sang — if Adams is interested.
Others to keep in mind for this hypothetical trade: Dmytro Timashov, an aggressive bottom-six potential winger with solid playmaking abilities and a penchant to rack up the hit count, Anatoli Golyshev, University of North Dakota’s Collin Adams, Robin Salo, Samuel Bolduc, Cole Bardreau, Tanner Fritz or Simon Holmstrom would all draw interest from Adams.
As for roster players, Leo Komarov and Thomas Hickey have been tied to trade talks by The Athletic.
In October, on an NHL Network appearance, Elliotte Friedman reported that the Boston Bruins were among 25 teams interested in signing Taylor Hall as a free agent. It seems there could be interest once again in Beantown for his services, according to some reports.
The Bruins need some help up front, and Hall would look great on a second line with David Krejci. The Bs have a projected $9.7 million in deadline cap space, which is more than enough for Hall’s contract.
Hall wouldn’t net quite the return that was rumoured to be heading the Sabres’ way in a potential deal for Eichel with the Bruins reported earlier this year in The Athletic. But what the Sabres could wrestle out of the Bruins might include Anders Bjork and a 2021 first-round pick. Bjork hasn’t impressed much this season but could benefit from a change of scenery. He’s a speedy winger with plenty of upside. He’s stuck in a depth role with the Bruins but could flourish elsewhere.
Another thought: Might Adams convince GM Don Sweeney to let go of prospect Jakub Lauko for Hall?
The Sabres might ask for a winger like Jake DeBrusk in the trade, who has been rumoured to be on the move.
The Panthers have been a mighty big surprise, currently sitting at the Discover Central Division’s top. Poised to make their first playoff appearance since 2015 (they technically didn’t make it last year, losing in the qualifying round), GM Bill Zito might want to load up this deadline. With a projected $16 million in deadline cap space, there’s plenty of room to bring Hall in for a playoff push.
The Panthers inquired about Hall when the Devils were shopping the forward in 2019. His experience could be helpful on the wing. On a line with Jonathan Huberdeau, the two could find the magic he and Eichel failed to conjure up. The Panthers, with his help, might finally get over the hump and win their first playoff series since 1996.
Option 4: Hall Stays
When the trade deadline has come and gone, there is still the chance that Hall will remain a Sabre. Both because of the reasons mentioned above and the possibility that Adams could just use this deadline as homework for the trade market this off-season.
As the Sabres season sputters along, there’ll be no shortage of trade talk surrounding the team. Especially in the next few weeks.
Mike Carter is a freelance writer and contributor for the Buffalo Sabres with The Hockey Writers and NHLTradeRumors.Me He is @mikecarterlives on Twitter. Mike has been writing professionally since 2012, with stints as a reporter in northern British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. He now calls Salmon Arm, B.C. home.