The Bruins have not consistently been massive players at the NHL trade deadline over their recent history, but they haven’t exactly been gun-shy either under general manager Don Sweeney.
A couple of years ago, the Bruins tracked down one of the biggest deadline targets when they used a first-round pick and prospects to land Rick Nash in a move that ultimately didn’t work out. Last season, they bagged Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson in a pair of moves that helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final, and led to them signing Coyle to a six-year extension just a couple of weeks ago.
Clearly Sweeney isn’t shy when his team has needs, even if he is absolutely reticent to trade first-round picks or top prospects unless it’s the kind of asset that fits into Boston’s long-term planning.
So how does that play into this season’s top trade deadline target in New Jersey Devils winger and former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall?
Undoubtedly the Bruins could use a player of Hall’s caliber as the big, skilled winger that David Krejci has been looking for on his line for the last couple of seasons. It would force the Bruins to rearrange things a little bit, of course, whether it's shifting Jake DeBrusk down to the third line, or requiring one of Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen or DeBrusk to play on the right side rather than the left.
But those are minor adjustments when it comes to a 28-year-old who's just a couple of years removed from 39 goals and 93 points on his way to the NHL’s MVP Award, and a player who could immediately give the Bruins two extremely dangerous offensive lines while handing Krejci the kind of experienced top goal-scorer he has been without since the days of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla, and even Loui Eriksson.
The issues are two-fold with Hall, as they are with any number of big ticket items available at the deadline. The first issue would be the prohibitive cost for a player who's a former No. 1 overall pick and a Hart Trophy winner as well. The Devils would be seeking something along the lines of the Ottawa haul for Mark Stone (forward and D-man prospects along with a high draft pick).
New Jersey is looking for first-round picks and top prospects with an eye toward defensemen after drafting Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier with high first-round picks in the last couple of years. The cost for the Bruins would be interesting given their organizational assets, and one has to wonder if young NHL roster players like Brandon Carlo, Bjork or DeBrusk would be in the crosshairs for the Devils organization.
Would the Bruins be willing to give up a first-round pick, 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen and Anders Bjork in exchange for Hall? How about if it was Carlo and a second-round pick along with Jack Studnicka for a player in Hall who isn’t guaranteed to be sticking around in Boston after this season? Or DeBrusk, Vaakanainen and a second-round pick with it conditionally turning into a first-rounder if the Bruins can re-sign Hall following the conclusion of this current season?
If the Bruins weren’t given assurances that Hall was willing to stay with Boston ahead of acquiring him, it would be a steep price to pay for a player who would be tasting unrestricted free agency for the first time in his NHL career while still in his prime.
That brings up one of the other issues: the cost in salary cap damage.
Hall is in the last year of a contract that pays him $6 million per season, but is due for a substantial raise based on his Hart Trophy season. How much of a raise will depend on how the rest of the current season goes for a player who has four goals and 22 points in 27 games thus far. Hall is on pace for just 12 goals and 67 points, and numbers like those coming off 11 goals and 37 points last season aren’t screaming out max contract to many NHL teams.
Still, they would likely have to pay him at least as much as their highest paid player (David Krejci at $7.25 million if not more) given his body of work, his age and the amount of demand there will be for him around the NHL if he hits free agency. Given that the Bruins have Torey Krug, DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, Zdeno Chara and Jaroslav Halak among others up for contracts following this season, it sure doesn’t feel like the right time for the Bruins to add another massive piece to their group, despite the desperate need for a top-6 sniper.
These past two seasons should also be a warning sign to potentially interested teams like the Bruins that Hall is on the downslide of his career as he approaches 30 years old, and that his 2017-18 Hart Trophy season might be as good as it gets for a player who never consistently lived up to the hype.
For all those reasons, it’s the right call for the Bruins to take a pass on Hall with teams like the Canadiens, Canucks, Avalanche and others in even better position to surrender the moon in order to bring on New Jersey’s slumping star.
Sometimes it’s about being the right fit, at the right time for the right price for an NHL team in big-time trades — and none of those things seem to be aligned for the Bruins and Hall.
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