This story appeared in the Oct. 10, 2016 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Subscribe to the magazine by clicking here.
Sitting at his family home in Kingston, Ont,. in late June, Taylor Hall received a text from his agent relaying a rumor: the New Jersey Devils were interested in trading for him. Hall was surprised. Then two hours later, rumor became reality—the Edmonton Oilers traded Hall to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson.
Having spent six seasons in Edmonton, including the first two years as a teenager, Hall didn’t know how to feel. “It was a pretty quick transition and [it] really caught me off guard,” Hall says after a September practice in Newark, N.J.
The hockey world was caught off-guard too. The 24-year-old Hall was drafted first overall in 2010 with the assumption that he would lead the Oilers back to their former glory. In 2012, Edmonton rewarded him with a seven-year, $42 million extension. But instead of lifting Edmonton to better days, the team sunk. The Oilers finished in last place in three of his six seasons, in second-to-last in two more, and received the number one pick three more times.
The trade to New Jersey is a new start for Hall, away from the intense Edmonton spotlight and the shadow of superstar center Connor McDavid. Hall, a left wing, has scored 132 goals and 328 points in his six years, good for 34th in the league in that time frame, despite playing just two full seasons due to an assortment of injuries. With the Devils, Hall gets a second chance at re-writing the fortunes of another down-on-their luck franchise.
Hall joins a Devils team that is need of an offensive boost. Long a team focused on defense, trapping and stellar goaltending, the Devils have finished in the bottom five in goals per game the last four years, including finishing in last place this past season, with 2.22 goals per game. Hall becomes their first high-end offensive threat since Zach Parise left for the Minnesota Wild in 2012. Adding Hall to talented wingers like Team USA’s Kyle Palmieri (career high 30 goals last season) and former junior teammate Adam Henrique (also a career-high 30 goals last season) should give this team more punch.
Hall’s offensive improvement could help propel the team into the bottom of the playoffs. The Devils, despite their poor offensive output, were one of the strongest defensive teams last year. Goalie Cory Schneider finished fourth with a 2.15 goals-against average, and the team allowed just 2.49 goals per game, eighth best in the league.
The Devils are in the midst of an organization-wide transformation. Gone are the days of Lou Lamoriello (now in Toronto) and the infamous left-wing lock, designed to bring games to a slow slog. And now they play with more speed and creativity under second year coach John Hynes. Hall, a punishing north-south player who competes with an edge and has tremendous speed, is the perfect person to spearhead the turnaround.
Hall may not have brought the Oilers out of the doldrums. But freed from the media glare spotlight in Edmonton, and with a good goalie in Schneider behind him, Hall just might re-create some ‘90s magic in New Jersey.
Says Hall: “It’s going to be a really good thing.”