NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Bruins-Capitals stream coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
In trading for Taylor Hall and Anthony Mantha respectively, the Bruins and Capitals made some of the biggest splashes of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. And, as hard as it often can be to make an immediate impact in a sport like hockey, both Hall and Mantha are off to hot starts for the Bruins and Capitals.
If we’re lucky, we’ll see plenty of what makes both star players worth trading for on Sunday, as the Capitals and Bruins square off on NBC.
Now, sure, there are some pretty big differences at play. By any reasonable measure, the Bruins traded for Taylor Hall in an absolute steal of a deal. Meanwhile, even those who are lukewarm on Jakub Vrana would have to admit that the Capitals didn’t exactly land Anthony Mantha cheaply.
There are more differences beyond the costs of trading for them. Let’s get into some of those, and take a peak at their hot starts. What can we expect going forward for Taylor Hall with the Bruins, and Anthony Mantha on the Capitals?
(Naturally, note that we’re dealing with small sample sizes here, so expect plenty of twists and turns in the future of both trade deadline additions.)
[BRUINS-CAPITALS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]
Hall making an immediate impression during a pivotal Bruins run
No doubt about, Taylor Hall needs to knock this Bruins opportunity out of the park. Fair or not, conventional wisdom implies that he’d be lucky to land the sort of long-term, big-money contract he deserves. (Or, at least to get paid what he was worth while nabbing a Hart Trophy on a previous $6M AAV.)
Well? So far, so good.
Hall, 29, scored a goal in each of his last two games against the normally stingy Islanders. Even when Taylor Hall couldn’t score in his Bruins’ debut, he generated chances. He’s fired a hearty nine shots on goal via three in all three games.
That’s the sort of assertive, “Wrecking Ball Hall” type presence people have been waiting for. And his new team noticed.
“I didn’t know much about Taylor besides playing against him,” Bruins forward David Pastrnak told reporters after a 3-1 Bruins win on Friday. “I think he’s an elite player. Really great to have him, and he’s proving it the last couple games. He’s been unbelievable.
Some might depict this as Hall “flipping a switch” once he switched from the Sabres to the Bruins. But the real switch that flipped, so far, has been his luck.
After suffering with an absurdly unlucky 2.3 shooting percentage for two goals (and 17 assists, 19 points) in 37 games with the Sabres, Hall already matched those two goals in three games with the Bruins. The frisbee of luck absolutely returned to him; his Bruins’ shooting percentage is an unsustainable 22.2 percent.
Boston shouldn’t fear some experimentation
So, Hall won’t be this hot during his entire Bruins run, and he’s unlikely to be as unlucky as he was with the Sabres. But Boston should ponder using the rest of the 2020-21 regular season to try some things.
At the moment, Hall is delivering what the Bruins likely dreamed of: secondary scoring. His most frequent linemates are Craig Smith and David Krejci, likely just what Don Sweeney pictured. Beyond that flashy scoring, Hall’s two-way numbers have been very, very promising for the Bruins.
It’ll just be interesting to see if the Bruins at least ponder occasionally mixing Hall with one or more of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and/or Brad Marchand. Personally, it seems like good “data to collect.” What if Pastrnak, Bergeron, and/or Marchand got hurt, much like they did last postseason? It might be good to have a Plan B.
[More: Winners and losers of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline]
Theoretically, the Bruins might also get more out of Hall that way. After averaging 18:41 TOI per game with the Sabres, Hall’s logged 15:06 on average with the Bruins.
To be clear: this is a very good problem to have. Yet, you can bet that Hall wants to make the most of this opportunity, as he has millions (and years) on the line. If he can prove that he can deliver in big games with the Bruins, Hall could reverse the (largely unfair) narrative building in the minds of some hockey people.
Considering the age of certain Bruins — particularly Bergeron — they owe it to themselves, and Hall, to find out what his ceiling really can be in Boston.
Anthony Mantha a man possessed for the Capitals
While millions (and pride) are on the line for Taylor Hall as a trade deadline rental for the Bruins, the Capitals likely have more of a long haul outlook for Anthony Mantha.
After all, Mantha’s still in the meat of his prime at 26 years old. The big winger is also cost-controlled, as his team-friendly $5.7M AAV runs through 2023-24.
But, being that Mantha has been slogging through the rebuild years of the Red Wings, could you blame him if he’s just bursting with energy and relief right now?
Judging by Mantha’s early production with the Capitals, it sure seems that way. Through his first three games with the Capitals, Mantha’s scored three goals (one in each game) and notched an assist in his debut. It sounds like he’s fitting in with his new team, while gaining praise from someone who also suited up with him in Detroit.
“I’ve played with him a long time,” Nick Jensen said of Mantha after that debut, via Japer’s Rink. “He’s got, like, the complete package going on. Big, strong, fast, you saw it tonight, he’s got a great shot… he’s got a lot of skill, too,” Jensen said. “Most people think big, strong, it’s more of a physical game but you can’t underestimate the amount of skill he has.”
Scratching the surface?
Much like with Hall and the Bruins, it will be interesting to see if Mantha forces the Capitals to put him in even more prominent positions.
Again, it’s early, but Mantha’s averaged 16:08 TOI per game with the Capitals, versus 18:15 per night with Detroit. Obviously, the Sabres and Red Wings needed to lean on Hall and Mantha more than their new teams will, but it will be interesting to see if the Bruins and Capitals find the “sweet spot” for those trade deadline acquisitions.
Because, sure, the Capitals have time to get to know Mantha — they don’t need to rush it. But like the Bruins, this is a Capitals team with some aging stars. They’d be wise to at least give Mantha a chance to prove that he’s worth knocking someone (or even a couple players?) down in the pecking order, and maybe should make that determination sooner, rather than later.
Ultimately, these are all high-level discussions, though. These are the sort of internal debates that would likely leave other teams very envious of the Bruins and Capitals.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.