There are fans, writers and commentators who can’t help but think of big things when they hear Taylor Hall’s name. A first overall pick, a Hart Memorial Trophy winner, a back-to-back Memorial Cup MVPs and Championships. He must be excellent. Who wouldn’t want him? That answer was made pretty clear the last offseason. Nobody wanted him. He sat and waited until the lowly Buffalo Sabres mercifully offered a one-year deal. Boy, has that paid off. His two goals cost $4 million each. Yet for weeks Hall has been the name hockey observers are saying teams are pursuing at the trade deadline. The same guy 30 franchises ignored a few months ago. Let’s be honest. Would the Sabres be any free agent’s top-pick?
Hall fans are seeing red, so let’s try to look at this objectively. I’ll remove the name from the equation and work our way backwards, focusing on the cold hard stats, and facts. Player X has two goals in 37 games. That is not a typo. Despite playing top-line minutes, including the first unit on the powerplay, he has two goals and a minus 21.
Man on the Move
Some will say it’s a product of an awful team. No doubt the Sabres were terrible this season. Fair enough, let us look back to the previous season. In 2019-20, Player X dressed for 30 games with the New Jersey Devils, registering six goals and was a minus 11 player. He did manage 19 assists. The numbers were enough for the Arizona Coyotes to jump at the chance to add him to the roster. The Coyotes sent a first-round in 2020, a third in 2021 and three prospects for Player X and Blake Speers.
In 35 regular-season games with Arizona, he registered 27 points and was a minus 3. Not too bad. However, when he got to Arizona, the Coyotes were the top team in the Pacific Division. They took a nosedive after that trade, finishing 5th in the shortened season, before getting knocked out in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche. The Coyotes did not approach Player X to figure out a way to keep him on the team.
There will still be people defending that, and it’s admirable to want to keep the rose-coloured glasses on. In 2018-19 he had an injury-plagued season and underwent knee surgery. In 33 games, he scored 11 and got 37 points in all. This performance was one season removed from the 93 point campaign that won him the Hart Memorial Trophy. Yes, there is no denying that he won the League’s MVP award in 2017-18. Eight years after being selected first overall, he finally showed what many observers had been waiting to see. That’s three seasons ago and after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Before that, he had his first season in New Jersey, recording 53 points in 72 games.
What Could’ve Been in Edmonton
Then there was the Edmonton Oilers chapter. From 2010 to 2016, Player X was the poster boy of the organization. He was fresh off winning back-to-back Memorial Cup Championships, where he was named the tournament MVP in 2009 and 2010. The Oilers made him the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was considered the phenom who would lead the team back to glory. However, the Oilers never made the playoffs with Player X. His number four jersey was thrown on the ice more than once by frustrated fans who regularly booed him and the team. It was six tremulous seasons. In 2015, the Oilers had won the lottery – again – and the franchise was clearly going to be Connor McDavid’s team. Player X was shipped out in one of the more perplexing trades in recent history.
In 11 seasons, Player X has played for four franchises. The Oilers traded him for a top-four defenseman. The Devils didn’t wait until the trade deadline, and they moved him out early in the season after his injury. The Coyotes did not even start a conversation to keep him in the desert. After both sides claim his one-year deal in Buffalo could’ve become long-term, and it was a potential turning point for the franchise, he will be traded once again after just 37 games.
There are many who defend this run saying that the teams he has played on were the problem. Once or twice, perhaps that could be it. But the common denominator on all four of those teams was Player X. Yes, Taylor Hall’s resume is not one of a star player who could mesh with a team and be the final piece for a playoff run. It is now a resume of a player whose numbers are declining, who can’t stay on a team for long and is now in need of a franchise to give him another chance.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.