Over the next few months Taylor Hall and the Arizona Coyotes will have an opportunity to help each other reach a destination that has been painfully out of reach for both.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Coyotes haven’t been there since the 2011-12 season when they went on a stunning run to the Western Conference Final.
Meanwhile, Hall’s career has been mostly wasted by two organizations (Edmonton and New Jersey) in a way that few other No. 1 overall picks have experienced. Now in the 10th year of his career, he has had the opportunity to play in just five postseason games, winning only one. It is an almost unprecedented career for a top pick. He is just the second No. 1 overall pick to make it this far into their career (nine-plus seasons) and play in five or fewer playoff games. Goaltender Michel Plesse, the No. 1 overall pick in 1968, is the only other to experience that lack of team success.
It is impossible to blame that lack of success on Hall himself, because he has always carried his end of the bargain for every team he has played for.
He is one of only nine active players in the NHL to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Since the 2010-11 season (his first year in the league) he is among the top-20 forwards (out of 260 with at least 400 games played) in the league in goals per game, points per game, and shots per game.
When he has been on the ice during 5-on-5 play his teams have outscored their opponents by four goals and controlled more than 51 percent of the total shot attempts during his career. Those numbers may not seem all that impressive, but consider the quality of the teams he has played for. His teams have been outscored by 347 goals and control just 46 percent of the shot attempts when he is not on the ice over the past decade. That is not the sign of a bad player, it is the sign of bad teams. By almost every objective measure (wins, playoff appearances, playoff wins, playoff series wins) he has spent his entire career playing for two of the least successful organizations in the league.
Now it is up to the Coyotes to take advantage of his skill and potentially give him a reason to want to stick around beyond this season. And Hall’s presence might be enough to help the Coyotes make a statement with their fans that a new, more successful era is upon them.
This is no longer a young, rebuilding team. It is a veteran roster with elite goaltending and a strong defense that is good enough to win right now. They are in first place in the Pacific Division, have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference by points percentage, and the third-best goal differential. They are legitimately good, and are probably the first legitimately good team that Hall has ever played for in his career (even the New Jersey team that he made the playoffs with was bad outside of his line).
The biggest thing they lack is a game-changing forward up front. They have some really good players, they have some depth, but they do not have someone that can take over a game. Phil Kessel was supposed to provide some of that offensively but it hasn’t yet worked out as planned.
Hall could provide that presence, especially if his shooting percentage (a career worst 5.5 percent so far this season) bounces back the way it could — or even should — in the second half of the season.
You know he is going to be able to drive possession. He is going to be the best playmaker on the roster and make players on his line more dangerous. Once the goal-scoring comes back he is the total package as a top-line player, and allows everyone else in the lineup to settle into roles that better fit their skillset.
If it feels like this trade raises the expectations in Arizona, it’s probably because they did. And that’s good. There is no reason why this team as constructed — with this goaltending, defense, and now an elite first-line forward — can’t not only make the playoffs, but also make some noise once they get there. The two best teams in the Western Conference (Colorado and St. Louis) wouldn’t be a potential opponent until the Western Conference Final if the Coyotes can maintain a top-three spot in the Pacific. And given the overall state of the other teams in the division, that should be a reachable goal.
It is not known what the future holds for the Hall-Coyotes relationship beyond this season. But in the short-term it is a great opportunity for the Coyotes to establish themselves as a factor in the West, and it’s a great opportunity for Hall to finally play on a team that might be able to take advantage of what he does on the ice.
It is the right trade at the right time for everyone.