John Chayka posed the question twice after the Arizona Coyotes acquired forward Taylor Hall in a trade from the New Jersey Devils on Monday.
“Why not us?” the general manager asked.
The Coyotes have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for seven straight seasons, the second-longest drought in the NHL to the Buffalo Sabres’ eight. But they have built a strong defensive team and added forward Phil Kessel and owner Alex Meruelo.
Now they’re in first place in the Pacific Division, spending close to the NHL salary cap, and adding Hall, who won the Hart Trophy voted as the NHL MVP in 2017-18.
“I think we’re changing the narrative here,” Chayka said. “For a long time, it was about existential issues. We were trying to survive. And I think now everyone understands we’re trying to thrive here. We’re trying to be sustainable for the long term and contend for a Stanley Cup. …
“We think we’ve got a good group. We’ve got a chance to contend. You can always look at future years and say, ‘What if?’ But when we’ve got a chance right now, we want to take our shot.”
There is risk here. Chaka said the goal of the trade was to acquire an elite player for the long term, and Hall’s contract expires July 1, 2020.
But the Coyotes traded nothing off their NHL roster for Hall and forward Blake Speers, giving the Devils forwards Nicholas Merkley and Nate Schnarr, defenseman Kevin Bahl, a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and a conditional third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
By making this trade now instead of later in the season, they will give Hall more time to adjust and make an impact this season, and to learn about the Coyotes and decide whether he wants to stay. Hall said he had an open mind.
“He wants to win; we want to win,” Chayka said. “We want to showcase what we’re about and what we have. … It’s a bet on ourselves, but it’s a calculated gamble.”
The Coyotes finished four points out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference last season despite finishing tied for 28th in the NHL in scoring (2.55 goals per game).
They’re tied for ninth in the NHL in point percentage (.600) entering their game at the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, FS-A PLUS, NHL.TV) even though they’re tied for 24th in scoring (2.69 goals per game).
Kessel, acquired in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 29, hasn’t been at his best, with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 35 games. But this is a six-time 30-goal scorer who has won the Cup twice, with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
Hall hasn’t been at his best either, with 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) in 30 games. But this is a player who can drive offense from the wing and push a team into the playoffs. He won the Hart for doing just that for the Devils with 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games. He had 41 more points than any of his teammates that season, the largest margin of any team’s leading scorer in the NHL.
“He’s a game changer,” Chayka said. “He’s an electric player. He’s one of my favorite players to watch just in terms of entertainment value, but then when you really start to dig into some of the deeper analytics of how this guy impacts a game and impacts his teammates in so many different ways … I mean, he can beat you with his feet. He can beat you with stick skills. He can beat you with his shot. He’s got elite vision. He drives play at the 5-on-5 level so well, but he’s also dangerous on the power play.”
This is a player with perspective too. The Edmonton Oilers selected Hall No. 1 in the 2010 NHL Draft and ended up trading him to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29, 2016. It worked out better for Hall than it did for the Oilers.
“I was disappointed when I was traded to New Jersey, and it ended up being a really positive thing for my career,” Hall said. “And since that time, I’ve learned that this game’s a business.”
You don’t know how long you will play for a team. So roll with it. Take care of business on the ice, and the business off the ice will take care of itself.
Hall pointed out twice how he had jumped in the standings because of this trade, vaulting from last in the Metropolitan Division. He missed the playoffs eight times in his first nine NHL seasons, and the time he made it, he played five games.
“Hockey guys will tell you that as the season goes on and the playoff push is really starting to become more important, hockey becomes so fun,” Hall said. “I’ve only played five playoff games, but those five playoff games, I can remember those in great detail because they were so fun and really was the highlight of my NHL career.”
It’s about to get really fun in Arizona.