Taylor Hall

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Devils expecting more from Taylor Hall this season

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Taylor Hall‘s first season with the New Jersey Devils could probably be described as a solid season. In 72 games he scored 20 goals, added 33 assists and posted some pretty good possession numbers. On a per-game average, it was very similar to what he did in his previous two years with the Edmonton Oilers.

Heading into his second season with the team, the Devils are looking for more this time around.

“I expect more and he knows that,” said general manager Ray Shero when the team opened training camp this week, via NHL.com. “We met at the end of the year for a long time and wanted him to understand what it is to become the best player he can be. I think he’s been fantastic this summer and he’s capable of more, but it starts with a lot of different things than what’s happening on the ice in terms of training.”

The Devils acquired Hall last summer in a one-for-one swap involving defenseman Adam Larsson, giving the Devils what should be the type of top-line winger they have been missing since Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left the organization several years ago. Hall is still only 26 years old and under contract for three more seasons at a reasonable $6 million per year salary cap hit. Given his age and contract status, he can still be a part of the next competitive team in New Jersey as it continues on its rebuild under Shero and coach John Hynes.

They have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since reaching the Stanley Cup Final during the 2011-12 season and are coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw them finish with the fourth-worst record in the league and what was, by a pretty big margin, the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

The team made a lot of moves this summer to get Hall some additional help front. After getting some luck in the draft lottery the Devils selected Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick, then also added Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle and Drew Stafford. They are also looking for young players like Pavel Zacha and Blake Speers to take big steps forward.

Devils dealing: New Jersey’s cap situation after Severson signing

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The New Jersey Devils have a long way to go, but it looks like they’re in pretty good hands with GM Ray Shero.

For casual fans, handing defenseman Damon Severson a six-year, $25 million contract was an eyebrow-raiser on Monday. The 23-year-old isn’t a household name, so a $4,166,666 stands as a scary (though delightfully Devils-themed) cap hit.

That deal might indeed raise some eyebrows, but maybe down the line, as Severson’s shown some very nice promise, particularly in 2016-17. If anything, there’s serious evidence that the Devils haven’t been relying on him enough.

It remains to be seen if the Devils can combine nice strides and baby steps to a leap in competition with enough speed to take advantage of the stronger parts of their roster. With that in mind, let’s break down New Jersey’s salary structure after Severson’s deal.

Masters of their trades

Opposing GMs don’t need to hit the red “Ignore” button when Shero’s caller ID comes up, but they might want to approach dealings cautiously in the future. Simply put, the Devils have been dealing well over the years, especially since Shero took over.

Taylor Hall – $6M through 2019-20.

If you’re looking for anti-Hall rhetoric, you’ve come to the wrong place.

He’s a superb first-line winger, and despite somehow being a lottery ball magnet, is still just 25. Here’s hoping that Hall gets a chance to show how fantastic he really is in games that matter before too long.

The beauty of his deal is that it’s fairly easy to move if the Devils and/or Hall believe that his best chance to compete would be to go somewhere else … while netting New Jersey some assets.

Kyle Palmieri – The Ducks must kick themselves for choosing other interesting forwards over Palmieri, who’s scored 26 and 30 goals during his two seasons for the Devils. He comes at the low-low price of $4.65M through 2020-21.

Check out how convoluted the asset situation was involving Palmieri, via Hockey Reference:

June 27, 2015: Traded to New Jersey by Anaheim for Florida’s 2nd round pick (previously acquired, later traded to NY Rangers – NY Rangers selected Ryan Gropp) in 2015 NHL Draft and Minnesota’s 3rd round pick (previously acquired, later traded to Buffalo, later traded to Nashville – Nashville selected Rem Pitlick) in 2016 NHL Draft.

*scratches head*

Marcus Johansson – $4.5833M for two seasons.

The Devils took advantage of the Capitals’ cap woes to lift a quality forward who comes at a reasonable price. “MarJo” could really drive up his value if New Jersey gives him a more prominent role.

Some concerns

Cory Schneider ($6M for five more seasons) was another nice trade get, even as the Vancouver Canucks have been very happy with Bo Horvat. Shero wasn’t GM at the time of the deal, so that’s part of the reason Schneider is in a different section.

The other: there’s a bit of concern here. Schneider’s frequently been downright fantastic, but 2016-17 was rough, and one has to worry at least a little bit that he might struggle more as time goes on. At age 31, it’s possible his best days are behind him.

Age could also be a worry for banged-up center Travis Zajac ($5.75M through 2020-21) and Andy Green ($5M for three more years), a blueliner who is used in heavy defensive situations. Ben Lovejoy and Brian Boyle seem like short-term placeholders with two years remaining on their respective deals.

Of course, the biggest concern for the Devils is also an obvious one: their defense.

Even with Severson being sneaky-good, that unit has a lot of room for improvement. Considering how sought-after defense is in the current NHL, it might not be so easy to make drastic changes to this group.

(If anyone can pull off some clever trades, it might be Shero, though.)

Young guns

The plus side of the Devils’ suffering is that they’ve been able to add some intriguing young talent. That’s most obvious in the Devils nabbing Nico Hischier in a rare moment: the Devils getting the top pick of a draft.

The key, then, will be development. Hischier might not be as much of a challenge, but can the Devils get the most out of Pavel Zacha and prized college free agent Will Butcher?

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The Devils’ forwards group has taken some remarkable steps forward, to the point that the franchise may flip its identity in the near future as an offensively potent, defensively shaky group.

Of course, that’s under the assumption that management won’t have much luck bolstering the blueline.

This isn’t a perfect situation in New Jersey, but credit Shero for putting some impressive building blocks down for a team whose past perennial status made a rebuild challenging.

After signing with Devils, Will Butcher thinks he is ‘NHL ready’

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Will Butcher believes he is ready to play for the New Jersey Devils right now.

A day after signing a two-year, $1.85 million contract with the rebuilding Devils, the 22-year-old Butcher said he was ready to make the jump from being college hockey’s top player to the NHL without a stop in the minor leagues.

Speaking on a conference call, the defenseman said he chose to sign with New Jersey because he felt good after meeting coach John Hynes and he thought the Devils’ up-tempo system best fit his game.

Butcher was drafted in the fifth round by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013 at the Prudential Center – the Devils’ home rink. He became a free agent on Aug. 15 after failing to reach an agreement with Colorado, although the former University of Denver player said he knew by May he intended to test the free agent market.

After meeting with a number of teams, his decision came down to the Devils, Las Vegas, Buffalo and Los Angeles.

“It seemed like a great fit in how I wanted to play, and they saw me being in a better role with what they wanted to do there,” Butcher said of choosing New Jersey. “It kind of reminded me a little bit of how we were going to play with my college hockey.”

Butcher knows there will be competition to make the Devils’ roster with veteran defensemen Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore and Brian Strait and youngsters Damon Severson, Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller on the roster.

“I think my game is NHL ready,” Butcher said. “I think there is always stuff to learn and to pick up. That’s mostly the reason why I chose New Jersey, because I felt with coach Hynes (there) was the development and how they cater to guys and help you get ready for the NHL game.”

Butcher described himself as an offensive defenseman who can play defense.

“I am definitely more offensive than defensive,” he said. “I try to cater to my game in the sense of making smart decisions with the puck, joining the rush at the right opportunity and using my experience to help me play in the league that I want to play in.”

When asked what players would have a similar style to him he named Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks, Torey Krug of the Bruins and Greene.

“If I was fortunate to make the big team, he would be a great mentor to me, just because he does everything,” Butcher said of Greene. “He penalty kills, power play, all situations. He is a smart player, not necessarily the biggest guy, but he uses his abilities to defend well and play the game of hockey.”

Butcher could also help the Devils’ power play, especially feeding the likes of Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson and newcomer Nico Hischier, the Swiss-born center who was the No. 1 pick in the June draft.

“I might not be the fastest guy or biggest guy out there, but I like to pride myself that I think fast and use my brain to be fast, in a sense that I try to anticipate plays and just try to use my hockey smarts to help me be effective,” Butcher said.

Besides helping Denver win the national championship this past season, Butcher won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player.

A Wisconsin resident, Butcher had seven goals and a team-high 30 assists in 43 games last season. He had 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points in 158 games with the Pioneers.

Flames – Oilers rivalry is worth getting excited about again

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

For about a recent 10-year period, the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers — known as the Battle of Alberta — had really just become about the past.

It was about old memories, a trip back in time to when both clubs were battling it out, particularly during the 1980s and into the early 1990s, for hockey supremacy in that Canadian province. That’s because, over this more recent stretch, the Flames and Oilers had been mired in mediocrity in the Western Conference.

From 2006 to 2016, the Flames had made the playoffs five times, advancing to the second round only once and the team’s success that season under Bob Hartley was in no way going to be sustainable long-term. The Oilers, well, they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and then endured 10 straight seasons out of the playoffs. For both franchises, that is a far cry from their glory days and fiercest battles against each other.

Technically, the rivalry still existed during this 10-year downturn. But it was never really worth getting too excited about. At one point, there was hope from Oilers executive Kevin Lowe that perhaps the outspoken Brian Burke would help rekindle the rivalry when he joined the Flames a few years ago.

It appears, however, that has all changed.

Both teams not only made the playoffs last season, which is a positive sign, but have rosters that should allow them to build on those steps forward when the upcoming season gets underway.

After management changes, coaching changes and getting the No. 1 overall selection in four out of six years — Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov are no longer with Edmonton — the Oilers appear like they are turning a corner following the second year of the Connor McDavid Era and with the play of Cam Talbot in goal last season.

The Flames? Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau anchor their offensive attack, with Matthew Tkachuk set for his sophomore season after an impressive rookie campaign as a teenager. The Flames have also done a nice job of building a strong group of defensemen, particularly their top four, with the summer addition of Travis Hamonic to join Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

Does Calgary now have the best defense in the NHL? That’s up for debate, but it’s still a solid blue line, with their top four under contract for at least another three years. (Giordano has five years remaining on his deal and Hamilton has another four years.)

Acquiring Mike Smith to take over the starting duties in net (he’s under some pressure) and adding Eddie Lack as a capable No. 2 are also moves that indicate the Flames feel they are, within this cycle of the organization, ready to compete for the West.

Not only should both clubs remain competitive over the next few years, but the star power they both contain helps grow the rivalry, as well.

McDavid is, well, McDavid.

For the Flames, Johnny Hockey isn’t the biggest player on the ice but with his slick hands and ability to evade larger defenders, he’s shown capable of producing at a point-per-game pace over a long season and doing so with some flair for the fans. Monahan, only 22 years old, was recently listed as one of the top 20 centers in the NHL, and has scored at least 20 goals or more in each of his four seasons.

The Flames and Oilers won’t have to wait long to renew the rivalry. With star players involved, steps taken in the right direction by both franchises last season and higher expectations in 2017-18, they will face each other on Oct. 4 in Edmonton to kick off the new season.

This next chapter in the Battle of Alberta shouldn’t have to rely on nostalgia.

Taylor Hall’s remarkable run of bad luck

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Taylor Hall deserves credit for that great “lottery ball specialist” tweet when the New Jersey Devils landed the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, but you could picture the star winger making such a joke while gritting his teeth.

You see, as much as Hall seems to be a lucky rabbit’s foot for a team when it comes to landing the top pick of a draft – just consider his Edmonton Oilers days on top of this last bit – but that good fortune hasn’t always come from an individual standpoint.

In hopes that we may some day see Hall in, say, a playoff game, let’s recount some of his unluckiest moments. Keep in mind that he’s still just 25.

Injuries

He became the first pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, which means he’ll be compared to Tyler Seguin (though that discussion mercifully doesn’t come up that often).

Hall’s rookie season was limited to 65 regular-season games thanks to the ill-advised decision to fight Derek Dorsett. His first NHL bout ended his 2010-11 campaign; Hall received criticism for the choice, which sometimes overshadowed debuting with 22 goals.

It was reckless to fight, especially with someone like Dorsett, but we’ve seen plenty of players get through skirmishes without anything major happening. Jarome Iginla endeared himself to hockey fans, in some ways, by doing just that … but Hall wasn’t so lucky.

Even if you chalk that first bit up to poor decisions, Hall’s injury luck has often been poor. He was limited to 61 games in his sophomore season, 53 in 2014-15 and missed significant pieces of 2013-14 and last season, too.

Some of the injuries were just downright-freakish.

Click here if you want to remember the time he caught a skate in the head during warm-ups, which left him with a disgusting “Frankenstein” wound and … it’s just gross. If you haven’t seen it, you’re lucky.

While his speedy, courageous style might leave him susceptible to issues, it seems like Hall catches an unusually high number of bad breaks.

Terrible team to bad team

Taylor Hall has been a productive player, keeping his head up even as he’s played for some miserably bad teams.

The Oilers have been pretty clueless for virtually the entirety of Hall’s career; this National Post article provides a handy rundown of their mishaps in rarely finding decent defensemen.

Those struggles likely inspired the team to trade Hall for Adam Larsson, a steady Swedish blueliner.

It says a lot that Oilers fans voted massively in favor of the Oilers winning that trade in at least one poll, as most hockey people agree that the Devils ended up with the upper hand.

Team success can skew the views of certain players, something Hall knows too well as a frequent scapegoat in Edmonton. If you want to roll your eyes, peruse some of the “not captain material”-type takes that Hall likely became all-too-familiar with.

He didn’t even get to truly benefit from Connor McDavid‘s presence, as Hall’s bad injury luck seemed to transition to McDavid for a brief spell; as you recall, McDavid’s season was greatly limited by an lucky fall that came from the same sort of driving style you’d expect to see from Hall.

Who could blame Hall for being jealous of the Oilers’ success now that he’s gone?

New Jersey is making some nice strides toward being a more competitive team, and Hall’s a big part of that sunnier outlook. It has to sting to take all those steps back to the painfully familiar rebuilding stages after suffering through all of those with the Oilers.

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Look, Hall is nicely compensated for his play. He also was the top pick of a draft, so it’s not like he’s totally anonymous.

Still, it’s difficult not to root for the guy to soak in the accolades that come with greater team success, as Hall has been a fantastic power forward in some not-so-fantastic situations.

In other words, here’s hoping a little more luck goes his way … on the ice rather than in the carousel.