The Taylor Hall Era is Officially Over, and the Devils Can Begin Tending to the Growing Pains of Yet Another Lost Season
Failure. In nearly every sense of an-too-familiar word, that’s what yesterday’s trade of Taylor Hall represents. I’m not even referring to the specifics of the deal, though we will get into that later. The fact that not even half-a-season after moving heaven and earth (or, ya know, just a handful of mid-round picks) to put more talent around your Hart Trophy winner, you had absolutely no choice but to ship the former league MVP out of town is, in and of itself, a disastrous disappointment.
All is not lost, as signing a star who hasn’t shown the same shine recently to a poorly-aging anchor of a 8-year, 80-something-million dollar contract would effectively end the ability of a near hopeless team to get significantly better long-term. After being offered a harsh glimpse of how far away from contention the Devils were with Taylor Hall, it only makes sense for their front office to humble themselves and build around the promising pillars of Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes that they lucked into in the lottery.
Still, Ray Shero pushed in his chips this offseason to impress the bombshell whose place on his arm was understood as conditional and last night basically served as the light-pocketed, long, and lonely walk back to the casino parking garage. The Devils, as a franchise, tried to take the next big step and fell flat on their face faster than an infant whose parents were heavy-handed with the liquid courage in trying the dab of whiskey under the tongue trick. Perhaps what they learned from such a cruel and unusual experience will serve them well going forward, but that doesn’t make the expedited execution of what now seem like asinine expectations any less of an organizational catastrophe.
As for the deal itself, the return is, for lack of a better term, meh. That's hardly unprecedented, as trading a soon-to-be-unsigned stud almost always nets you nothing more than a mixed bag of potential duds, but meh nonetheless. Ray Shero got more for Taylor Hall than he originally gave up for Taylor Hall, but not even the magic he’s worked in previous trips to the negotiating table could swindle suitors into giving up the top prospect+ that would have helped wash down what is a torturously tough pill to swallow.
Maybe Kevin Bahl turns into a towering-yet-fluid mainstay of a left-handed defensive defenseman for years to come...
Maybe the Devils make great use of another first round pick (fingers unconfidently crossed for two) by continuing to draft well. Maybe a couple middling prospects find their footing/fit and crack the bottom of the NHL lineup eventually. Maybe Taylor Hall’s age and injuries catch up to him sooner rather than later, and make this trade look more than tolerable down the road. If we are talking in definites, however, the Arizona Coyotes definitely won’t have buyer’s remorse any time soon. After being led to believe that the Devils were a group worth the cost of contention, that is simply a soul-draining reality to sit back and self-loathe.
There will be a fair share of (stupid) people blaming Taylor Hall for this team tragically plummeting back down to earth and beyond after an offseason that had everyone emotionally invested in their success rocking a shit-eating smirk from atop...pun incoming...Cloud 9. It’s just an easier thing to do than accepting the truth, which is that - be it due to unforgiving timing or unforgivable hockey - he wasn’t even close to the main reason his relationship with the Devils became doomed.
I will surmise that I don’t think he ever had the mentality and mettle required to compartmentalize his on-ice effectiveness and his off-ice impending free agency (that he absolutely earned the right to explore after suffering through one of the most excruciating early career paths imaginable). Based on his underperformance alone, he was hardly able to turn a blind eye to the black cloud that billowed bigger and bigger with every boo-worthy blown lead. Regardless, this torrential shit-squall of a season is the result of multiple futile fronts colliding to form a perfect storm of putrid. If anything, his personal struggles were just the most blatant byproduct of the saying “when it rains, it pours” coming to a fatal fruition.
Personally, I’ll always appreciate Taylor Hall for reminding Devils’ fans what it’s like to truly enjoy watching hockey again by interrupting the organizational equivalent of 'The Great Depression' with a playoff appearance that was the direct result of thee most impressive season-long solo effort (and point-streak) in the history of an otherwise accomplished franchise...
The suckfests that sandwiched it were pretty distasteful, but he took on far more than his fair share during his relatively short time in New Jersey. Therefore, I see no reason to root for anything but his continued success. I tend to think he hadn’t dismissed the possibility of doing his long-overdue winning as a Devil, but it made little - if any - sense for either party to explore a future once it was made painfully clear that that of the Devils was still far from present.
He wasn’t even close to alone in doing so, but Ray Shero woefully miscalculated whatever he thought he saw in this team. The price of doing so was always going to be the one addition that served as the pride of it since he took over. Perhaps its ends up being a blessing in one downright depressing disguise and the cap flexibility he just stretched out saves his ass in the long-run, but getting a handful of quarters in exchange for a gem of a player, whether it was just prior to what his asshole of an agent will insure as an awe-striking appraisal or not, is essentially the rotten cherry on top of a failure sundae.
Hopefully pulling the trigger on the unspoken admission of such takes the pressure off the shoulders of a relatively young roster whose play has collectively looked distracted, deflated, and defeated in part due to their most dominant player’s imminent departure. If the last two games are any indication then this should have them playing a little looser, winning once in a while, and allowing some simpletons to wrap themselves in the false sense of security that is the notion that Taylor Hall's presence solely sabotaged a largely lost season. Regardless, the full-scale inability to handle that pressure - from the never-minded net mouth, to the tumultuous top of the lineup, to the bitter bottom of the lineup, to the blunderful blue-line, to behind a befuddled bench - was proof that said roster was not even remotely ready to put one foot in front if the other, never mind go on a playoff run.
Taylor Hall himself undoubtedly makes for the easiest target, but you're going to need to put down the all-too-convenient grudge to free up even a third of fingers necessary to point out all the other people responsible for wasting his talent.