It’s still early in the 2019-20 season but not too early for some pundits to muse over Taylor Hall’s future. The 27-year-old New Jersey Devils left wing is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July.
On Oct. 12, Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Devils’ slow start had some observers wondering how patient they’ll be in their efforts to re-sign Hall. Several days later, Friedman suggested the Edmonton Oilers could among the suitors if the winger hit the trade block later in the season. Hall spent six seasons with the Oilers until traded to the Devils in 2016.
Winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2017-18, Hall is considered among the NHL’s elite forwards. Missing over half of last season with a knee injury did nothing to hurt that evaluation of his skills.
The Devils remain keen to re-sign him. Recent reports indicate general manager Ray Shero frequently spoke with Hall’s representatives, though serious negotiations have yet to begin.
Money shouldn’t be an issue. Cap Friendly indicates the Devils have over $57.8 million invested in 14 players for 2020-21. Assuming a modest rise in the salary cap to $83 million, they’ll have plenty of room to re-sign Hall.
The question, however, is whether Hall sees his long-term future in New Jersey. After reaching the playoffs in 2018, the Devils missed the cut last season, in part because of his lengthy absence. Despite the offseason acquisitions of P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and promising center Jack Hughes, the Devils sputtered to a 2-4-2 start.
If the Devils fail to improve this season, Hall could take his services elsewhere next summer. After reaching the playoffs only once in his career, his preference could be signing with a potential Stanley Cup contender.
Shero could entertain offers from rival clubs before the Feb. 24 trade deadline if Hall proves reluctant to re-sign. A star of his caliber would attract considerable interest.
The cost of acquiring Hall, however, will be high. Shero would want the best return possible, perhaps setting the opening bids at a young NHL-ready player, a top prospect, and a first-round pick.
Skeptics will point out the Devils only had to give up defenseman Adam Larsson to the Oilers three years ago to land Hall. Shero, however, will point to Hall’s Hart Trophy as justification for his asking price.
Interested teams could be reluctant to meet that price if Hall intends to test next summer’s free-agent market. The Edmonton Journal‘s David Staples believes the Devils’ star will become more valuable if he’s willing to re-sign with his new club.
Signing Hall, however, could cost between $11-$12 million annually on a seven- or eight-year deal. He turns 28 next month and approaching UFA eligibility for the first time. Not only will his next contract be his most lucrative, but it could also determine where he finishes his NHL career.
Parting with several quality future assets for a player who’ll eat up a big chunk of salary-cap space could prove too expensive for most general managers. They could prefer waiting until Hall hits the open market, avoiding the additional cost of young players and draft picks.
It’s certainly not something the Oilers can comfortably afford. They already have over $57.5 million tied up in just nine players for 2020-21, and over $21 million of that invested in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. A Hall reunion could require depleting their overall depth to make room for his contract.
Of course, the February trade deadline is still far away. A lot can happen over the next several months. A contender could see him worth gambling away some futures as a postseason rental if he can help them win the Stanley Cup. Perhaps an up-and-coming club could see him as a way to accelerate their rebuild or ensure long-term success.
Nevertheless, acquiring and signing Hall will be a costly decision.