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NHL trade rumors: Five destinations for Taylor Hall that make sense

NHL trade rumors: Five destinations for Taylor Hall that make sense

Taylor Hall is one of the most talented forwards in the NHL, but the New Jersey Devils star could find himself on his third team before the 2019-20 season concludes.

The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported Saturday the Devils are listening to teams interested in making a trade for Hall.

It's important to note Hall is not asking for a move:

This season has been a major disappointment for the Devils. They enter Tuesday's games with the second-worst record and second-worst goal differential in the league. Trading Hall, who won the Hart Trophy in 2017-18 but missed more than half of last season due to injuries, is an opportunity for the franchise to stockpile prospects and/or draft picks to accelerate its retool/rebuild.

Hall is 28 years and has a $6 million salary cap hit in a contract that expires after this season, so he'd be a rental for many teams. He's tallied 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 26 games for the Devils as of Tuesday.

Which teams should pursue Hal ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline? Here are five potential destinations based on fit and/or need (all salary information via Cap Friendly).

Colorado Avalanche
The Avs have $8,027,294 in salary cap space as of Tuesday, which is the third-highest in the league and enough to fit in Hall's $6 million cap hit. Hall would add another top-tier goal scorer to an already loaded Avalanche forward group. Could you imagine Hall playing left wing alongside center Nathan MacKinnon and right winger Mikko Rantanen? This would be one of the most feared lines in the league from an offensive skill perspective. Even Hall playing alongside Nazem Kadri on Colorado's second line would be a tremendous fit. The Avalanche already rank No. 1 in goals scored per game, so Hall isn't a need, but making this move would give Colorado tremendous depth ahead of what should be a very, very tough Western Conference playoffs. The Avs are in second place in the Central Division and have a very real shot at winning the Stanley Cup, so adding Hall -- even as a rental -- is a risk worth taking.

Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are in a tough fight in the Metropolitan division, where just six points separate second place and fifth place. Carolina ranks 10th in the league in goals scored per game, but a lot of its offense is generated from the blue line. Dougie Hamilton leads all defensemen with 10 goals and ranks second in scoring with 28 points. Acquiring Hall would provide the Hurricanes with a proven goal scorer to upgrade their top-six ahead of a fierce playoff race.

Montreal Canadiens
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin typically waits until the offseason to make major moves, but without a significant addition in the near term, Montreal's season (and Bergevin's job) could end soon. The Canadiens have lost eight consecutive games, with the most recent defeat coming to the rival Boston Bruins at TD Garden after a horrendous third period performance. The Canadiens sit in fifth place in the Atlantic Division, and it could be sixth place very soon when the Tampa Bay Lightning (one point behind Montreal) finally get their act together. Montreal also has the cap space, around $7 million, and upper echelon prospects to make a deal for Hall work. Bergevin swung and missed on Sebastian Aho over the offseason when the Hurricanes matched an offer sheet. It's time for the Canadiens GM to make another bold move for a goal-scoring forward.

Edmonton Oilers
You knew the Oilers were going to be listed.

The Oilers drafted Hall with the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, but they never made the playoffs with him because management made so many awful roster moves. He was traded to the Devils in 2016 in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson, which was a laughable move from Edmonton's perspective given Hall's elite talent. Fast forward three years and the Oilers are finally good, and the thought of Hall playing alongside Oilers star center Leon Draisaitl is pretty exciting for Edmonton fans. Hall knows Edmonton, knows many of the players there, and would be playing for a top Western Conference contender if dealt to the Oilers. 

St. Louis Blues
The Blues' run to a Stanley Cup championship in 2019 was not an aberration. The defending champs lead the Central Division with 42 points and have won four games in a row. St. Louis' best goal scorer, right winger Vladimir Tarasenko, dislocated his shoulder in October and might not return before the postseason. Hall would be an ideal replacement for Tarasenko, and if the latter does return this season, the two of them would give St. Louis excellent scoring depth in the playoffs. If Tarasenko doesn't return or isn't 100 percent when he does, Hall's presence would be even more valuable.

Keeping Hall beyond 2019-20 could be difficult for St. Louis given its lack of cap space and need to re-sign captain and No. 1 defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who's an unrestricted free agent after this season. However, the Blues went more than five decades without winning a Stanley Cup, and their core remains championship caliber. Why not acquire Hall and try to win back-to-back titles before the team's veterans move past their prime?

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Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

As the Bruins lament the lack of scoring from the middle of their forward lineup amid a five-game losing streak, a viable option might be just about to drop into their lap.

The latest out of Los Angeles is that Ilya Kovalchuk is about to have his contract terminated with the Kings after last playing a game for them on Nov. 19 and essentially having been told by Kings management a month ago that his time with the organization is over. The 36-year-old Russian winger has three goals and nine points in 17 games this season, but is also a minus-10 and hasn’t been all that good at any point the past few seasons with the Kings.

Kovalchuk had 16 goals and 34 points along with a minus-26 last season in 64 games, but clearly wasn’t a good fit with an L.A. team nowhere close to playoff-caliber. His three-year, $18.75 million deal was viewed at the time as a questionable contract signed to an aging, once-great player coming out of the KHL, but it was the cost to win Kovalchuk over other teams such as the Bruins that had also shown interest.

Certainly, Kovalchuk is no longer the guy that carried the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, or a player that’s capable of putting up 37 goals and 83 points as he did that season. Kovalchuk is still a 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger that can shoot, score goals and finish off plays as evidenced by his 19 goals in 81 games the past two seasons while doing it for a Kings team that’s severely lacking offensive pieces around him.  

But if Kovalchuk is either bought out of his contract or granted some kind of release from the Kings, it’s still perfectly reasonable to theorize that the Russian sniper would reach higher offensive levels skating in a second-line role with a natural playmaker such as David Krejci. It’s unclear at this point whether any interested team would have to put up his contract or be free to sign him to a new deal, but there’s no question his value is down after two rough years in L.A.

Sure, it looks like Kovalchuk is a severe defensive liability at this point in his career given that he was minus-36 over the past two seasons, but there are enough responsible defensive players for the B’s to make up for it.

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What they don’t have right now is a finisher who can spark the second line, or somebody with a natural scoring touch for the second power-play unit as well. It was a problem Bruce Cassidy highlighted after the 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night where they didn’t get much of anything from their middle two forward lines. It’s the same kind of issue that dogged the B’s in previous losses to quality opponents Colorado and Washington earlier in the stretch of five losses in a row and earlier in the season when their Perfection Line carried them.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday [at Florida], but you need some offense to sort of balance things out.

“We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

It will depend on the details, of course, but if the Bruins can land Kovalchuk without surrendering much in the way of actual assets or big-time salary for a player that flamed out in Los Angeles, they need to seriously think about doing it. 

If nothing else, he gives them a much better top-six wing option than they now have with Brett Ritchie, Danton Heinen, David Backes or Karson Kuhlman, and fits along the lines of whatever the Bruins are hoping to upgrade their forward group with at the trade deadline.

It may be that Kovalchuk simply decides to head back to Mother Russia for a big-money deal and eschews the NHL moving forward after he was a spectacular flop in LA over the last couple of seasons.

Given how interested the B’s were in Kovalchuk a couple of summers ago as a free agent and how little they might have to spend to get him for the rest of the season, the Bruins need to do some serious tire-kicking on the former No. 1 overall pick who could be a revitalized force playing in a top-six role for a deep, skilled Bruins team looking to fortify a Cup run.

 


 

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

TAMPA  – The problems are many when a team has lost five in a row as the Bruins have.

It wasn’t a desperate Bruins dressing room in the aftermath of their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night at Amalie Arena, nor should it be. The B’s still hold an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division despite being in the throes of their first losing streak of the season.

As Tuukka Rask said succinctly afterward, “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said.”

A strong, winning effort against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night would salvage a rough trip and get the Bruins spinning in the right direction in short order.

That’s not really the problem.

The issue with the Bruins is the same old problems that cropped up against the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final and two years ago in the second-round series against Tampa Bay. The flaws are springing up again with a series of heavy, intense playoff-style games against quality opponents.

When the Bruins go up against opponents such as Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay, the offense gets one-dimensional and the effort to score becomes challenging if the special teams are playing at a dominant clip. 

Bruce Cassidy sounded the alarm about it after watching another loss to Tampa Bay where the Bruins scored just enough to lose. There wasn’t enough going on offensively aside from the "Perfection Line" accounting for a first-period lead and a late, desperate goal from John Moore.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday, but you need some offense to sort of balance things out. We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

Can Cassidy put his finger on what the issue is with the middle lines?

“Some of it is inside. You start playing some good teams that are fast, Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay. It’s almost like playoff hockey in December. A lot of those guys in that room have lived it and they know what it’s about,” said Cassidy. “Make a decision, do you want to play that way or not? Then some of it is self-inflicted where we won neutral zone face-offs, and harmless kind of plays where it doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then take penalties against a potent power play. Is it the PK? Well, it’s a great power play and we really didn’t help ourselves in those situations.”

Cassidy is spot-on about not enough from the supporting players in the kind of games the B’s will be in the postseason. Jake DeBrusk finished with zero points and had zero shots on net in two of the three games against Colorado, Washington and Tampa. Danton Heinen had zero points and a minus-4 in those three games with five shots on net. Anders Bjork picked up an assist in the loss to Tampa Bay, but managed just two shots on net in the three games against the Avs, Capitals and Lightning. Brett Ritchie has zero points and a minus-2 in the three games since coming back from injury. Even David Krejci has no points, a minus-1 rating and just two shots on net in those three games.

The dilemma facing the Bruins is this: Is this just a preview of what’s going to eventually doom them in the postseason if nothing is done about it?

Certainly, the Bruins weren’t playing their best in the loss to Colorado, but the efforts against Washington and Tampa Bay were more focused and had the kind of urgency that Boston has played with most of the season. And it still wasn’t enough when push came to shove and underlying flaws came forward for a team that’s a little small, a little short on real scoring depth against quality teams and beatable going up against big, deep teams with a physical defensemen corps. 

One would hope that Don Sweeney and Cam Neely were watching closely the past week and took these losses for what they are. The Bruins are showing that they are going to need some help when things get tough in the postseason and that they could use at least one more viable source of offense among their top-six forwards.

They have a bunch of talented kids up front who have shown a propensity to disappear when things get tough against the hard teams and that isn’t going to help the Bruins much this spring. There’s enough of a sample size now to predict that isn’t going to change when it comes to DeBrusk, Bjork, Heinen and Ritchie. The Bruins need to do something about it ahead of the NHL trade deadline.

Whether it’s kicking the tires on Taylor Hall, or a more realistic target such as Los Angeles Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli, the Bruins have shown the past few games that they need some outsource things for help up front if they want to finish what they started last spring.

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