We are living in unusual times. The sports industry has largely been shut down in the midst of a global pandemic, and only now are we seeing leagues such as MLB, the NBA, and the NHL attempt to come back. The NHL in particular is attempting to complete their season by staging a playoff that will crown a new Stanley Cup champion. What has largely been forgotten among all the craziness is that at some point over the next two or three months NHL free agency will get underway. Players, who otherwise would have become free agents on July 1st, will ultimately come upon the time where they will be able to choose their next destination.
Perhaps the biggest conundrum of the 2020 free agent class is the case of Taylor Hall. Other than Alex Pietrangelo, the only New Jersey Devils‘ Hart Trophy winner is the biggest fish on the free agent market. Still only 28 years old, Hall is completing a contract under which he earned only $6 million a year. He was on a team friendly deal and is now going to look to break the bank in what may end up being his last opportunity to sign a long term, lucrative contract. There will be plenty of suitors for his services, but the question is, will his market develop the way he is hoping?
After the 2017-18 season, Hall was in a perfect position to land the massive contract he was looking for. He was coming off a season in which he posted 93 points and dragged a mediocre Devils team to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. It was also the first time in his career that he got a taste of the post season. Hall capped that season by becoming the first ever Devil to win the league’s MVP. He was set up to break the bank. However, he spent the majority of the following season injured and underperformed this past season. Hall also has an extensive injury history that cannot be ignored.
So where does Taylor Hall fit? After the 2017-18 season, most would have assumed that he was in line to receive a contract ranging anywhere from $10.5 million to $12 million per season. After the last couple of seasons however, that number has likely come down. Whether or not Hall will accept that likelihood is another conversation.
We are also in precarious times where teams will be playing in empty arenas, which means that teams are likely losing money. Hall stated on multiple occasions that winning is his first priority. Now, we all understand that when it comes to athletes, money talks. Athletes all say they want to win, but most times, they end up going to the team that offers them the most money. However, given that Hall will be 29 in November, and has played a total of five post season games, going to a team that is a playoff contender is likely to be a consideration in his decision.
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If you were to look at the financial landscape around the league, there are not many contenders who will be in a solid enough position with the salary cap to add a player making $9 million to $11 million per season. In fact, due to the pandemic, the NHL and the players association agreed to a flat salary cap of $81.5 million for the next three seasons.
This means that there will be several teams who either have little spending flexibility because they are up against the cap, or there will be teams who have to trade players away simply to become cap compliant. So where is the market for Hall going to develop? According to Cap Friendly, his current team, the Arizona Coyotes, has under $2 million in cap space heading into next season.
Another team that has been tied to Hall, the Calgary Flames, has almost $17M in cap space for next year, but also has to spend a chunk of that to re-sign important core players such as T. J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic. The point is, Taylor Hall is less likely today then he was just two years ago to get the contract he had hoped for. Either he is going to have to sacrifice on the dollars to make it work with a team he wants to go to, or he will have to sacrifice on his desire to win in order to go to a team that can pay him what he wants.
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This is where the Devils come in to play. This is not to say that the Devils are going to be on his preferred list. This is not even to say that the Devils will want to go after him. However, there has been talk that the Devils owners want them to be more competitive sooner rather than later, and going after a player such as Hall would definitely help in that regard. The Devils will have over $26 million in cap space with few important players needing to be re-signed. They are familiar with Hall and the owners have a great relationship with Hall. The Devils may view Hall as the ideal free agent to go after, even though they aren’t necessarily on the cusp of becoming Stanley Cup contenders. Hall would also help players like Hughes develop. Hall would be a great addition to the Devils and the current situation might make it a little more feasible for the Devils to make it happen.