Like Luke Wilson’s tragic reporter character in Anchorman, it’s beginning to get ridiculous for Taylor Hall. The speedy and talented left winger is about to enter his eighth NHL season, but has yet to skate in the playoffs. The top pick in the 2010 draft suffered through years of dysfunction in Edmonton, only to be traded to New Jersey before the Oilers got a full season with Connor McDavid in the lineup. With the Devils in a rebuild and McDavid healthy, we all know how 2016-17 ended up.
For Hall, the yearning is strong.
“I’ve had some long summers and this seems to be the longest of all,” he said. “I’d love to get to the playoffs; that spotlight, that energy. Having your team compete for the Stanley Cup, that’s all I want to play for. Hopefully it happens soon.”
It’s probably not going to happen this upcoming season, as the Devils play in a stacked Metropolitan Division and their defense is threadbare, with few viable options available (unless you consider Andrei Markov, Dennis Wideman or Francois Beauchemin to be game-changers at this point in their careers).
Not that all hope has been abandoned in Newark: The Devils will have an electrifying rookie center in the lineup thanks to first overall draft pick Nico Hischier. Hall has seen clips of the young Swiss star and heard nothing but good things, so there is that. Plus, GM Ray Shero made some deft moves up front this summer, inking Brian Boyle in free agency and trading from a position of strength to get Marcus Johansson from cap-strapped Washington. That’s all good news for Hall.
“We’re still looking at a couple pieces, but certainly the guys we brought in this summer are going to be huge,” he said. “I’m excited for camp to start. Being there my second year is going to make it an easier transition.”
A minor knee injury limited Hall to 72 games this past season, but he still tied for the scoring lead in New Jersey. Despite all the adversity his teams have gone through in his career, Hall has been very consistent in his offensive production and he’s still only 25 years old. But as he admitted, the losing is getting tiresome. Keeping focus for a full 82-game schedule while your team dredges the bottom of the standings can be mentally tough on an elite athlete and unfortunately, Hall has become very good at compartmentalizing.
“I don’t want to say it’s selfish, but sometimes you just have to worry about your own game,” he said. “You can’t always worry about the team aspect. If you are preparing the best you can and playing the best you can play, then you’re putting your best foot forward. It is tough sometimes and when you get away from the rink, you almost have to just forget about hockey and decompress a little bit, find something to take your mind off of it. I’ve had some practice with that.”
And obviously he would like to change that paradigm. On an individual level, Hall has switched up his summer routine, moving down to Toronto from his home in Kingston. In Toronto, he can skate with more NHLers and as a side bonus, he’s enjoying the faster pace of life, the Toronto Blue Jays games and events like Smashfest, the Dominic Moore/NHLPA charity ping-pong tournament.
Hall has also been preparing longer this summer. He has already been skating for six weeks, whereas he usually didn’t start until August. For a guy who hasn’t played a meaningful game since early April, that sounds like quite the grind. But Taylor Hall knows about mind over matter…and he is not giving up on his Stanley Cup dream yet.