Don’t sleep on the Desert Dogs.
Sitting first in the Pacific Division and on track for their first playoff appearance in eight years, the Arizona Coyotes won the Taylor Hall sweepstakes on Monday, acquiring the 28-year-old left winger from the New Jersey Devils.
Not exactly “one-for-one,” like when the Devils first acquired Hall from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29, 2016.
Hall is currently in the final season of a seven-year contract with a cap hit of $6 million per season, which he signed with the Oilers in August of 2012. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2020. Known for his explosive speed and tremendous skill with the puck, Hall’s best season came with the Devils in 2017-18, when he put up career highs of 39-54-93 in 76 games. He earned the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player as he almost single-handedly dragged New Jersey into the postseason for the first time in six years. Last season, Hall was limited to 37 points in 33 games. A leg injury caused him to miss more than half the year.
With Hall’s return to the lineup in full health in 2019-20, Devils’ general manager Ray Shero spent the offseason aggressively trying to bolster his lineup to help facilitate a return to the playoffs — and to establish a winning culture that would convince Hall to stick with the team rather than testing unrestricted free agency.
But the best-laid plans quickly went astray. In the first game of the 2019-20 season, the Devils blew a 4-0 lead to drop a 5-4 overtime decision to the Winnipeg Jets. That set off a downward spiral that saw them go 0-6-2 before earning their first win, and struggle to keep the puck out of their net.
By November 1, New Jersey was already eight points out of a playoff spot. That gap grew to 10 points by the time Shero dismissed head coach John Hynes on December 3.
All along, Hall remained non-committal about re-signing with the Devils, but has made no bones about his desire to play for a contender. Though his resume includes two OHL championships and two Memorial Cups from junior hockey and two gold medals with Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, Hall is desperate to expand his playoff resume. In his nine-year NHL career to date, the first-overall draft pick from 2009 has competed in the playoffs just once — with the Devils in 2017-18.
He’s joining an Arizona team that is almost as inexperienced. Since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996, the Coyotes have missed the playoffs in 14 of 22 seasons and won just two series in total — both in 2012, when they reached the Western Conference Final.
The Coyotes have also endured more than their fair share of off-ice challenges as they tried to make NHL hockey a viable entity in the Southwest.
But in recent years, things have started looking up. General manager John Chayka has brought some organizational stability since joining the team in 2016, putting a big part of his focus on drafting and developing young talent.
In 2017, Rick Tocchet stabilized the coaching position when he returned to the franchise where he’d spent three seasons as a player in the late 90s. Tocchet led the Coyotes to a 16-point improvement last season and had them knocking on the door for a playoff spot.
Last summer, new owner Alex Meruelo quickly made it clear that the days when the Coyotes would struggle to reach the salary-cap floor were gone. Meruelo was announced as a potential Coyotes owner last June and the deal was completed at the end of July — just a month after the Coyotes acquired superstar sniper Phil Kessel, and $6.8 million of his $8 million-a-year cap hit, from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last season, the Coyotes’ 86 points got them within four points of a Western Conference playoff berth, despite finishing the season ranked 29th in scoring. This year, they’re getting Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltending from Darcy Kuemper and their offense is up slightly — from 2.55 goals a game last season to 2.63 this year, good for 24th place.
Hall will help with putting the puck in the net. Despite the Devils’ struggles, he had 25 points in 30 games before being held out of last weekend’s games while his trade was finalized. At 208-328-536 in 592 career games, Hall has averaged 0.91 points per game in his NHL career.
Here are the rest of the details of the trade:
- The Coyotes also acquire Blake Speers, a 22-year-old center who was drafted in the third round by the Devils in 2015. He has played three career NHL games and has no goals and one assist in 10 AHL games with the Binghamton Devils this season.
- The Devils will receive two draft picks from Arizona — a first-round pick in 2020 that is lottery protected, and a conditional third-round pick in 2021. If the Coyotes end up missing the playoffs and win the draft lottery to earn one of the top three spots in the 2020 draft, the pick will be deferred to 2021. If the Coyotes are able to sign Hall beyond the end of this season *or* they win a playoff round, the third-round pick upgrades to a second-rounder. If both those things happen, the pick will become a first in 2021.
The Devils also receive three players:
- Kevin Bahl is a 19-year-old defenseman who was drafted 55th overall by the Coyotes in 2018. He is currently in his fourth season with the OHL Ottawa 67s, where he has 5-15-20 in 28 games, and is on Team Canada’s roster for the upcoming 2020 World Junior Championship.
- Nick Merkley is a 22-year-old forward who was drafted 30th overall by the Coyotes in 2015. Known for his strong playmaking skills, Merkley can play center or wing. He has 3-13-16 in 26 games with the AHL Tucson Roadrunners so far this season.
- Nate Schnarr is a 20-year-old center who was drafted 75th overall by the Coyotes in 2017. He had 102 regular-season points and won an OHL championship last season with the Guelph Storm, and has 1-8-9 in his first 22 pro games with the Tucson Roadrunners this year.
Hall is expected to be in the lineup when the 19-12-4 Coyotes visit the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. After a 2-1 win over the Coyotes in Arizona last Saturday, the 10-17-5 Devils open a two-game homestand on Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks.