Devils winger Taylor Hall (9) was the hottest commodity on the NHL market after rumors circulated he wanted out of New Jersey. (Photo courtesy: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images)
The frenzy is over, and – as some Blues fans may have expected – St. Louis was not the winner of the Taylor Hall sweepstakes.
News broke around 3:30pm CT on Monday that Taylor Hall and Blake Speers were traded to the Arizona Coyotes. New Jersey received prospects Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, Nate Schnarr, a conditional 2020 1st-round pick and a conditional 2021 3rd-round pick, which could turn into another 1st-round pick.
While Arizona came out of the woodwork as the top suitor in the Hall pursuit by the weekend, many rumors also pointed to St. Louis being interested in the 28-year-old left winger. I’ll quickly get into why St. Louis was interested and why it’s for the better that the Blues passed on the former MVP.
The reason is simple for the interest in St. Louis: The Blues need scoring. The Blues have the worst goal differential among Central Division teams currently in playoff position. They are 16th in Goals-For across the league with 3.00 goals per game.
A reason for this is the injuries – their superstar Vladimir Tarasenko is out until playoff time (optimistically), Sammy Blais was injured right as he began to show off his scoring talent, and depth scorers like Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev have been on and off for smaller injuries.
As of now, general manager Doug Armstrong has done everything but a landmark trade to plug the holes in the ship. We’ve already seen AHL call-ups of Nathan Walker, Austin Poganski, Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, and Derrick Pouliot. “Army” signed former Blue Troy Brouwer to a one-year deal for bottom 6 depth. Robby Fabbri was traded to Detroit for Jacob de la Rose, 1-for-1.
For all intents and purposes, it’s worked – St. Louis is 1st in the Western Conference and the concept of going for a repeat run to the Stanley Cup no longer sounds too radical.
Of course, small-time call-ups and little signings here and there won’t solve the scoring issue, and top forwards like Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron and Brayden Schenn are still performing admirably. This is where the eye for Taylor Hall comes into play.
Hall scored 39 goals in ’17-18 before he was sidelined with a major injury, and has had 6 20+ goal campaigns since being drafted #1 overall in 2010. Now, struggling to find his groove with the rebuilding Devils, he was traded on the final year of his deal with a $6 million-dollar cap hit to the ‘Yotes. So, what is it that made the Blues finally say “pass”?
The first issue we can obviously speculate on (as we can with any trade) is return. New Jersey was clearly looking for prospects, based on what they received in the trade, but none of the prospects received have really been superstars.
Markley and Schnarr have some promise with the Tuscon Roadrunners for Arizona’s AHL affiliate, and Kevin Bahl has piled on assists with the Ottawa 67s in the OHL. All of those players could see ice time for the Devils as early as next season, but the real home run will lie in the draft picks. The Devils could see the third-round turn into a first-round pick, in addition to one first-round pick already locked.
The Blues, for what it’s worth, may have had the same type of return. Obviously, the first and third picks is a huge factor in the Blues’ future prospects, but current prospects would likely have included (my best guess) something like Perunovich, Alexei Toropchenko and Nikita Alexandrov. Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin may have dodged a bullet in this trade, but it’s still a lot of return St. Louis would have been forced to hand over.
If it’s not all about the prospects, remember that the Devils desperately need some goaltending. Jake Allen would be the apple of their eye (as Husso and Wilcox have not yet proved themselves on an NHL level), but the Snake has been resurging as the Blues go-to road goaltender – a nice luxury to have despite both goaltender’s numbers beginning with a 4.
As far as younger NHL-ers that are promising now, New Jersey definitely had their eye on players like Robert Thomas and Vince Dunn. And if you actually thought Robert Thomas would be involved in a rental trade, you can stop reading now.
The second issue – and, in my opinion, the more pressing one – is the cap. By all accounts, Taylor Hall would have been a rental in St. Louis: utilized for one great playoff push and then allowed to walk the next season. If the Blues were to re-sign him, however, that provides a lot of issues with the salary cap in the coming years.
As of now, the projected cap for the Blues in 2020-21 sits at a little under $7.75 million. Sounds more than manageable, but not so fast: captain Alex Pietrangelo has yet to re-sign his contract (which will be massive), Jay Bouwmeester will become a UFA and doesn’t plan to retire, and Sammy Blais, MacKenzie MacEachern, Jacob de la Rose, and Vince Dunn all become RFAs.
Looking at all those contracts that need renegotiating, there’s barely any room to fit just those players, not to mention Taylor Hall, who is guaranteed at least $5 million wherever he re-signs.
The second part of any contract, of course, is also term – St. Louis already has $30 million reserved in their cap into the 2022-23 season, where they will need to renegotiate Jaden Schwartz, David Perron, Tyler Bozak, Alex Steen, Jordan Binnington, Jake Allen, Colton Parayko, Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo in the meantime (and that’s just the UFAs).
Maybe that’s looking too far into the future, but for a player looking for some reinvigoration with a bonafide playoff contender for the next few seasons, more term is a big deal.
While I recognize Taylor Hall would have been a scoring injection the Blues could definitely use in the moment, I respect Doug Armstrong for trusting the system of the St. Louis Blues by not pulling the trigger on a big trade and not giving away too much for some goals. Despite being a former MVP, Hall is not the player the Blues could use to the max right now, in terms of chemistry on a line, scoring (6 goals in 30 games), and relinquishing the Blues future.
What’s a player that the Blues can pursue? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Chris Kreider. The former first-rounder has perennially scored 35+ points in his 8-year career, he plays the kind of hockey that I think would fit right in with St. Louis, and he’s only been trending upwards. He’s lately been of a little more value to the rebuilding Rangers, but Kreider is an asset I think would be a great fit for the Blues, and potentially far better than Taylor Hall ever would have.
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