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Simpson: The Case Against Acquiring Taylor Hall for the Isles

The Islanders’ decision to place injured captain Anders Lee on LTIR (long term injured reserve), with its cap consequences, renewed speculation that they are in the market for another player, preferably a winger with a scoring touch. The obvious name being circulated is Taylor Hall, who is toying away with the Buffalo Sabres. Hall will be an UFA (unrestricted free agent) season’s end.

That we’re talking about Hall at all is due to the nature of the NHL salary cap and its loopholes.

Absent our knowledge of the exact nature of Lee’s injury, it is possible for the Isles to decide to keep him on LTIR for the remainder of the regular season, thus taking full advantage of the salary relief offered by the designation. Lee could then be activated for the playoffs, where salary cap considerations no longer play a role (there is no postseason salary cap). At the same time, should the Islanders pick up a player with years left on his contract, they would have to spend the offseason struggling once again with cap issues.

Last summer that cost them d-man Devon Toews. The organization must also make roster decisions in preparing for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. Any player who will be an UFA this coming offseason carries no such liability; the price of renting such a player may be lower than securing the services of anyone with years left on their contract.

In short, the door is open for the Islanders to trade for a former NHL MVP and first-round draft choice who has a reputation for offensive skill and a scoring touch.

The Athletic’s Arthur Staple placed Hall atop his list of 25 trade targets for the Islanders, although he pointed out that Hall’s $8 million cap hit would have to be addressed, either through retention or salary going the other way. Staple also speculated that a trade might also enable g.m. Lou Lamoriello to dispose of another contract in order to address cap consequences, an undeniable benefit.

Don’t do it.

Do not make a deal for Taylor Hall.

One can discuss other options, but a trade for Hall on its merits alone is a mistake.

Advocates of acquiring Hall will recall his Hart Trophy-winning 2017-18 season with the New Jersey Devils, where it looked as if he was finally realizing the potential he had shown in flashes with Edmonton. That was a career year for Hall, who has managed only one other season of 80 points or above (and only one season of more than 30 goals) in an injury-plagued career. In 2018-19 he played in only thirty-three games; in 2019-20 the Devils, realizing they were unlikely to resign him, dealt him to the Arizona Coyotes, where he performed adequately. 16 goals and 52 points in 65 games last year is nice but not a transformational performance. His ill-advised signing with Buffalo has proven an outright disaster, as he’s only registered two goals and 16 points to date in 27 games.

Take away his best year, which looks like an outlier, and he has not been a consistent force on the powerplay during his career. Hall’s shooting percentage has been on the decline over the last three years, with a miserable 2.8% this season.

Hall’s supporters point to his friendship with Jordan Eberle from their days together in Edmonton but rekindling any on-ice chemistry means that Hall becomes Mathew Barzal’s winger, lacking the physical presence of Lee as well as the dedication to play a two-way game.

Would the Isles move Eberle off Barzal’s wing to accommodate Hall with a different center?

Chemistry’s a funny thing: Eberle did not have much chemistry with John Tavares, although his acquisition was one in a series of “find Tavares a winger” deals.

There are rumors circulating that suggest that Hall is enough of a “me” player to be a poor fit for a “we” team, another reminder of how chemistry’s an elusive concept often best assessed in hindsight. That assessment also involves any assets moving to Buffalo, although some players would be more missed than others.

Is this a case where risk outweighs reward?

Hall is  a rental, pure and simple, given that he’ll become a UFA at the end of the season. If he revives his career on the island, his value goes up, presenting a challenge to resign him. If he continues to fall short, the risk will have overshadowed whatever reward remains.

Recall that the Islanders stand to lose a player this summer in the expansion draft, Lee’s salary comes back on the books, and some folks will be seeking new contracts. It’s also unclear what role Hall’s no-trade clause would play in negotiations, although things look much different in Buffalo now when Hall signed with the Sabres.

It would be better for the Islanders to use the situation presented by Lee’s injury to see what they have in their younger players while using the salary cap relief space to address other needs. Hall will not address their problems, and he may create some.

Don’t make this deal.


Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksDSimpson

About Brooks Simpson

Brooks Simpson writes, teaches, and speaks on American history and politics as a professor at Arizona State University. A native Long Islander, he has been an Islanders fan since the franchise's inception in 1972.

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