Sabres Fetch Underwhelming Return in Taylor Hall Trade

In what would be their final move of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, the Buffalo Sabres traded forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to the Boston Bruins for winger Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in the 2021 Draft. Hall, who had been a healthy scratch since last Tuesday in anticipation of a trade, failed to net the Sabres an additional first-round pick and leaves the team after a disappointing 37-game stint.

Hall Failed to Help the Sabres Become Cup Contenders

Hall was the top free agent during the offseason. He practically had his choice of team to sign with before he ultimately agreed to a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sabres. This decision many scratching their heads, as Hall had expressed his desire to play for a team that could compete for a Stanley Cup. It was also reported that he was drawn to Buffalo by the allure of playing alongside Jack Eichel and being reunited with his former head coach, Ralph Krueger. Despite the Sabres’ successful offseason, Hall didn’t live up to his reputation.

In his 37 games, Hall scored just two goals and 17 assists. He had not scored in over a month before he was traded. He is minus-21 and has a 2.3 percent shooting percentage (S%), both on track to be career-worsts. He is also on pace for the lowest points total of his NHL career.

Taylor Hall Buffalo Sabres
Taylor Hall, former Buffalo Sabre (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kevyn Adams was off to a running start in his tenure as Sabres general manager this offseaon. He acquired Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild to shore up the team’s center depth before signing Hall, which was enough to give fans some much-needed excitement, and dare I say, hope. While the team’s problems run much deeper than Hall’s lack of production, he certainly had little impact on the ice and didn’t do much to help the Sabres out of their rut.

Sabres Never Lived Up to Expectations

In the first episode of Sabres Embedded that aired during the offseason, Adams and owner Terry Pegula are seen heading into Adams’ office talking about the Sabres’ goals after signing Hall. As the door closes on the two men, Pegula says, “I mean, we sign this guy, we’re not only trying to make the playoffs, but we’re trying to win the Stanley Cup.”

“Yeah, I mean this is…yeah,” is what Adams musters in reply.

With a 10-25-6 record through 41 games, the Sabres are last in the NHL standings and just 11 games from tying the longest playoff drought in NHL history at ten seasons. Given his response to Pegula, perhaps Adams knew his roster wasn’t good enough. From the start of the season, the Sabres were never in a position to make the playoffs, and were out of the race from the start. Hall’s failure to produce was just the cherry on top of a disappointing season.

Granted, Buffalo has been much better of late, putting together a five-game point streak with a 3-0-2 record. In fact, since Krueger was fired, the team has played better in general. In 28 games under Krueger this season, they had just 15 points. They have since earned 10 points in 13 games under interim coach Don Granato.

Ralph Krueger Buffalo Sabres
Ralph Krueger (right), and Don Granato (left), Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While speculation suggests that this season could have been different with a different coach behind the bench, that doesn’t change the Sabres’ situation. Whether it was Hall, Staal, Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner – you name it – no player performed as well as expected, which translated into another poor season.

Hall’s Trade Value Declined

We have to wonder if the Sabres could have received more in return for Hall if they had traded him a few weeks ago, maybe even a month ago. It was clear during the team’s 18-game winless streak that they were not going to recover, so no one would have blamed Adams if he had decided to pull the trigger early and ship the winger out while he still had some value.

Adams’ patience became indecisiveness, and Hall’s trade value lessened almost by the day. Analysts speculated that since Adams waited so long, he was unlikely to get a first-round pick for Hall, as teams would find other trade partners to mitigate the mandatory quarantine delay players must undergo after being traded. Every day in this shortened season counts, and unfortunately, the Sabres found that out the hard way. Hall’s poor play did little to increase his value, but teams still would have been willing to cough up a first-round pick, just not on deadline day.

Analyzing the Sabres Trade Return

Early reactions to this trade indicate that the Sabres got an incredibly underwhelming return. The centerpiece for the Sabres is Anders Bjork, a 24-year-old left-winger. He was the Bruins’ fifth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and has yet to become a regular in the lineup. The most games he has played in a season are 58.

Anders Bjork Boston Bruins
Anders Bjork, former Boston Bruin (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Bjork made his NHL debut in 2017 and has played in 138 career games for the Bruins, scoring 16 goals and 39 points. In 30 games in 2020-21, he has two goals and five points. Despite the additional second-round pick, this return is low considering Hall’s initial value. And, given the Sabres’ historically poor drafting, it’s not reassuring to receive any draft picks at all.

In a press conference following the trade deadline, Adams sang Bjork’s praises: “We really like Anders Bjork as a player. … For us, that was something that was important. … I’m excited about Bjork.” Among Bjork’s traits, Adams listed his speed, compete, and “offensive upside.” Curtis Lazar, the other player the Sabres sent to the Bruins in this trade, has four more points than Bjork this season.

Hall Could Disrupt the Sabres for Years

“I’d love to be a Bruin for a few years,” Hall told reporters after Monday’s trade. He expressed his interest in signing with Boston in the offseason, saying that, “It’s obviously been a bad year for me personally, and I need to play well. I need to contribute. Most of all, I want to be part of a team that wins games. I really believe we can do that here.”

Hall signing a long-term deal with the Bruins would be disastrous for Buffalo, given that the teams are in the same division. That means, next season, assuming the NHL returns to normal, the Sabres will have to face Hall more times than had they traded him to any other division or the Western Conference.

Hall went from saying he wanted to stay in Buffalo past his one-year deal and was open to a contract extension, to wanting out and wanting to a long-term contract elsewhere. If he stays in the division, the Sabres will have another former star player to face, making it that much harder to compete for a playoff spot in the future.

In the past month, the Sabres traded Hall, Lazar, Brandon Montour, Staal, and goalie Jonas Johansson. In return, they got Bjork, a second-round pick, two third-round picks, a fifth-round pick, and a sixth-round pick. All things considered, I am not impressed by the return Adams negotiated for these players before and at the deadline. If Bjork turns into a serviceable forward, that might be the only redeeming quality of these moves. We can only hope that one of the skeleton scouting department’s darts hits a bullseye with all those draft picks.