Let’s say you’re flipping a dilapidated house. Your eyes are caked with plaster. Your hands are covered in splinters. You think the foundation could be solid, but they keep finding asbestos in the attic and termites gnawing at the support beams.
But then things started really turning around because, uh, you won the lottery. Upgraded kitchen. Gorgeous living room. One of those claw-footed tubs off the master suite. All the toil, all the trouble, it’s finally going to pay off …
… and then someone says the house isn’t yours to profit from.
And then he trades you to New Jersey.
“You get attached with a team, and when that’s taken from you, it’s disappointing,” said Taylor Hall, formerly of the Edmonton Oilers, now of the New Jersey Devils after the controversial trade that swapped him for defenseman Adam Larsson on Wednesday. “I feel like I’ve been a good solider for six years. I did as much as I felt I could on the ice.”
In six seasons after being drafted first overall by the Oilers in 2010 – ahead of Tyler Seguin, who Peter Chiarelli also traded while GM with Boston – Hall scored 132 goals and 196 assists in 381 games. He’s considered one of the top three left wings in the NHL. Hall didn’t consider himself part of the problem in Edmonton, but rather part of the solution.
“I voiced my disappointment with what happened,” said Hall, when asked about his conversation with Chiarelli.
Unfortunately for him, Chiarelli though Hall was a solution, as well – to a different problem, on the blue line.
“He felt that he was part of the solution,” said Chiarelli, “But this is the price that you have to pay. It’s unfortunate, for a player of Taylor’s caliber, but this is the price you have to pay.”
What is Chiarelli buying? Larsson was drafted fourth overall in 2011 by the Devils. His first few seasons were rather brutal – AHL stints, scratches, public admonishments from coach Peter DeBoer – but the last two seasons showed him rounding in a complete defenseman. He defends well. He logs minutes, to the tune of 22:31 last season. He moves the puck quite well and is right-handed, even if he doesn’t exactly have the best wheels. At 23 years old, the 6-3 Swede has a world of potential.
Which is to say that the Oilers traded an established star for potentially a great defenseman.
“It’s a significant trade,” said Chiarelli.
But will it be seen as a fair trade?
“I don’t know. I can understand when you look at the accomplishments of Taylor vs. Adam in this league, I can understand that [it might not],” said Chiarelli.
Which is, of course, an understatement: This is the kind of trade the artificial intelligence on video games and fantasy hockey leagues would deny teams from making.
But Chiarelli believes in Larsson’s abilities to become a player that, eventually, tips this trade in favor of the Oilers – not in being a better player than Hall, per se, but by helping to build a blue line that isn’t close to playoff caliber right now.
“He’s not a sexy defenseman. He doesn’t deserve to be in the spotlight because he hasn’t done it yet,” said Chiarelli.
Hall has, which is obviously why the Devils felt they needed to deal their best young defenseman for him. It’s a team that desperately needs goals. It’s a franchise that desperately needed a star. Hall reunites with Adam Henrique, his junior teammate, and the Devils hope that’s a winning combination.
But winning isn’t something Hall has experienced in the NHL, and that’s an underlying facet of this: He wasn’t Chiarelli’s draft pick. He’s suffered through six seasons without a playoff appearance. The Oilers have talked for years about needing the break up the nucleus of a losing team and change its DNA. Connor McDavid was part of that. Trading Taylor Hall – and basically turning his cap space into Milan Lucic, as appears to be the plan – is part of it too.
“That may be a byproduct. It wasn’t the primary objective,” said Chiarelli.
Also a byproduct: Larsson is signed through 2021. It’s easy to say that Hall should have been flipped for Cam Fowler or Kevin Shattenkirk, until you realize the former could have bolted in two years and the latter after next season. The fact is that Edmonton isn’t, at this point, a place where players desire to stay.
Well, save for Taylor Hall.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing. You develop a relationship with the city, the team and the fans. Disappointed I’m not going to see that through,” he said.
But disappointment can be channeled into a different energy.
New Jersey, after all, is a state with a perpetual chip on its shoulder. And as Taylor Hall goes to the land of Taylor Ham (sorry, Pork Roll acolytes), so does he.
“I’m a proud person. I take this as an indictment on me as a hockey player. I think it’s safe to say I’m a very motivated player now.”
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