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Devils should never stop thanking Oilers for Taylor Hall

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The New Jersey Devils have put themselves in a pretty good position when it comes to ending their playoff drought that goes all the way back to the 2011-12 season. After defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, 3-2, they sit nine points clear of the first non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference and are just two points out of one of the top-three spots in the Metropolitan Division.

Given how hard it is for teams to make up ground this late in the season, they should be feeling pretty good.

They still have the Edmonton Oilers to thank for being in this position.

It was less than two years ago that the Oilers sent Taylor Hall, one of the best left wingers in the sport, to New Jersey in a one-for-one swap for defenseman Adam Larsson.

At the time it was a stunning trade was widely panned outside of Edmonton.

Today, it is a pretty much an embarrassment.

On Tuesday, in a game that featured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, none of them were the best player on the ice. It was Hall, as he caused havoc every time he entered the game, forcing turnovers, disrupting the Penguins’ defense, adding to his points streak (now at 22 games) with a goal and an assist to help the Devils pretty much beat the Penguins at their own game.

It was a sight to behold, and every single time the puck touched his stick, or every single time he created a chance, the only thought that could go through your mind was “how did somebody in charge of an NHL hockey team think trading this guy was going to make their team better?”

With 68 points in 58 games this season his place in the MVP discussion has gone from, well maybe he has a pretty good argument, to he should probably be one of the three finalists.

He is sixth in the NHL in points per game and second to only Brad Marchand among left-wingers.

During his point streak, which started on the first day of the new year, he has recorded 32 points and had a hand (either scoring the goal or assisting the goal) in 49 percent of the Devils’ total goals during that stretch. That number on its own without any sort of context would be amazing.

When you consider that Hall did not play in three of the Devils’ games during that stretch due to injury it is absolutely incredible.

He has done for the Devils what the Oilers hoped he would do for them, and something they never really gave him an opportunity to do — give the team an identity and help change the fortunes of the franchise.

With Hall in place, and a few lucky bounces of the ping pong balls in the draft lottery, and a few shrewd additions by general manager Ray Shero, the Devils look like an entirely different team than the one that was taking the ice just two short years ago. With Hall, Michael Grabner, Miles Wood and five other players under the age of 24 the Devils are a young, fast team that looks like it is built to play in the NHL in 2018.

They can fly all over the ice. They can put pressure on opponents. They are actually — and I can’t believe this is something we can say about the New Jersey Devils — kind of fun to watch.

It’s definitely a career year for Hall, which is not surprising given that he is in his age 26 season, usually around the point where players are in their peak.

But it’s not like Hall hasn’t always been one of the most productive players in the NHL throughout his career.

From the time he entered the NHL as the top pick in 2010 through his trade out of Edmonton, he was 22nd in the NHL among all players in points per game (minimum 200 games played) and fourth among all left wingers. If you remove his rookie season when he was only 19 years old, he goes up to 13th and third respectively. The only two players on that list ahead of him to be traded at any point in their careers are Martin St. Louis and Tyler Seguin. St. Louis requested a trade. Seguin was traded by the guy that also traded Taylor Hall.

Hall was the only player in the top-15 that never played in the playoffs during that stretch. The 12 players ahead of him combined for only 10 missed playoff appearances during that stretch. It’s more of a damning statement about the Oilers’ inability to build a team around an elite player than it is about Hall. Edmonton’s inability to build a team around Connor McDavid on an entry-level contract only seems to confirm that.

Since being hired by the Devils Ray Shero has made some pretty bold trades to get the team headed back in the right direction.

Getting Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks for a couple of draft picks was steller. Injuries have derailed his season, but the same could one day be said for getting Marcus Johansson in a trade with the Washington Capitals. He made some quality moves at the deadline to improve their depth for the stretch run by adding Grabner and Patrick Maroon without really giving up anything of significance. He got a little bit of good fortune in the draft lottery by having everything go his way to land Nico Hischier.

All of those moves working in unison have helped put the Devils in a position to where they could finally return to the playoffs.

But nothing compares to the good fortune, or has had the same impact, as happening to catch Edmonton feeling that it absolutely had to trade away one of the best players in the league in a one-for-one swap.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Should Miles Wood be suspended after boarding Vladislav Namestnikov? (Video)

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He won’t have much of a defense, it would seem.

New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood took off his responsible thinking cap on Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In the second period, Woods came barrelling in on the Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov. The latter had already ushered the puck up the ice, and with his back turned to Woods, the Devils sophomore appeared to leave his feet, driving his shoulder into the nameplate of Namestnikov’s jersey.

If that wasn’t enough, Andrej Sustr came in to defend his teammate and paid the price at the hands of Wood, who broke his visor with a punch, leaving Sustr bloodied.

Wood was given a boarding minor on the play and an additional two minutes for roughing after he left Sustr in a mess. It wouldn’t be at all shocking if Wood is summoned by the NHL’s player safety department.

[UPDATE: Devils’ Miles Wood suspended two games for boarding]

Both Namestnikov and Sustr had to leave the game, but both returned in the third period.

The Devils won the game 4-3. Guess who scored the game-winner…


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Taylor Hall sets Devils franchise record with 16-game point streak

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Taylor Hall did something on Thursday night that no other New Jersey Devils player has in the team’s history.

With an assist on Nico Hischier‘s third-period goal, Hall extended his point streak to 16 games.

Hall has 11 goals and 24 points during the streak. And perhaps what is most impressive about his hot run is how much punishment he’s taken while on it.

Many will remember the attack Hall endured from Alex Burrows on Feb. 6.

Burrows, who was later suspended 10-games for his antics, appeared to drive his knee into the back of Hall’s head twice, this after jumping him from behind.

And then a few nights ago, Hall was on the receiving end of a devastating (but clean) hit from Philadelphia Flyers forward Radko Gudas.

Hall actually scored on the play, and despite appearing very shaken up, returned to the game later on.

Hall also nearly ended his streak on his own accord after a dangerous hit from behind on Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo.

Hall escaped suspension on the hit, getting hit in the wallet to the tune of $5,000 in lieu.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Brian Boyle ‘thankful’ to be a part of NHL All-Star Weekend

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TAMPA — Taylor Hall’s injured hand opened the door for another Metropolitan Division player to head to Tampa for NHL All-Star Weekend. And in a perfect choice, Brian Boyle, Hall’s New Jersey Devils teammate and a former member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was selected to go in his place.

“I’m very thankful to be here. This is a tremendous honor for me,” Boyle said Saturday before the Skills Competition. “I don’t really care how I got here. This is a phenomenal event just to be here for a few hours. I got here today. The amount of support the players have gotten, the support from my family… My wife has been a rock star. I’m not playing regular games, never mind coming here, without her support. It really is just kind of a pinch-me moment. I can’t believe this is my life. I’m very thankful. I always have been. I’ve never taken it for granted to play in this league. To be here and to see all these stars, the guys, how humble they are and then how supportive they’ve been for me, throughout the year and even today, it’s been wild. It really is. I’m just going to try to enjoy it the best I can.”

Boyle was a beloved player during his two-and-a-half seasons in Tampa and the love continued inside Amalie Arena. The crowd gave him rousing ovations during warm-ups and an even bigger roar erupted during player introductions. Four months after he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia , the 33-year-old feels great and it’s shown in his play where he currently has 11 goals and 17 points in 38 games played.

Boyle’s treatment consists of four pills a day and throughout the process he said he’s lost 12 lbs. He noted that his side effects are “nonexistent,” which is something that he’s been amazed by in regards to how money raised to fight the disease is helping those affected by it.

“It’s tremendous what they’ve been able to do,” he said. “It’s pretty eye-opening in terms of what they’ve done with research and money and funding to be able to treat what I have, instead of having to go through bone-marrow transplants and chemo and radiation. So it’s an opportunity for me now to try to get people to join me in raising some money, because if we can do that across the board with cancers, I think that’s a great thing for humanity.”

The decision to accept the All-Star invite wasn’t a easy one for Boyle. He told the media that his two-year-old son, Declan, was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a vein disorder that was putting pressure and stunting bone growth in his jaw. After New Jersey’s final game before the break Thursday night, he drove to join his wife, Lauren, at Boston Children’s Hospital where Declan had been intubated for 36 hours after being operated on.

“We’ve had [to go] through [that] four times now. I’m not playing if it’s not for my wife,” Boyle said. “She’s taken the brunt of this. She’s had so many sleepless nights in hospital beds with my son. He’s going to be fine. The doctors have assured me everything’s fine. It’s just kind of scary to see. When I got the news, he was already in the hospital for some pre-op stuff. I had come down for our last game before the break, and I was going to go back up. So there was a decision to be made.”

Once they knew their son was going to be fine, Boyle’s wife urged him to go and take part in All-Star Weekend, and he’s been enjoying it so far with his dad and brother.

“Hopefully we have some clips to show [Declan] and we’ll get some swag,” Boyle said. “But yeah, it’s pretty special to be here. It’s tough because I want to be there, too, but we made the decision to come. The decision was a little harder than we thought it might be, but we think it’s the right thing.”

Now that his cancer is being taken care of, Boyle is focusing his efforts on raising awareness and money for research.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m living a fairy-tale life,” he said. “It’s a tremendous blessing for me, and I won’t take it for granted, and every year I seem to love it a little bit more.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Merry Christmas Edition

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Players of the Night:

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders: Barzal recorded his first career NHL hat trick against the Winnipeg Jets and took over the rookie scoring lead with 35 points. Not a bad day.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning, John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks, James Reimer, Florida Panthers, Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights, and Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Each of these goaltenders recorded shutouts on Saturday night. Vasilevskiy got his fourth of the season, stopping 22 shots to tie Sergei Bobrovsky for the NHL lead in shutouts; Gibson made 29 saves, including one you will see below on Sidney Crosby; Reimer stopped all 38 shots sent his way by the Ottawa Senators; Fleury kept the Capitals in check, stopping 26 shots for his first shutout of the season; and Jones dethroned the Kings, stopping all 28 shots he faced.

Dallas Stars penalty killers: The Stars appeared dead in the water after Jamie Benn and Dan Hamhuis took penalties in overtime against the Nashville Predators, but Ben Bishop and Co. weathered the storm, which included 31 seconds of 5-on-3 time, and ended up taking the game in a shootout on Tyler Seguin‘s winner.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: Kane became the fifth player in Blackhawks history to record his 300th NHL goal on Saturday.

Highlights of the Night:

John Gibson did this to Sidney Crosby tonight:

Barzal’s hatty deserves its spot here:

Taylor Hall scored on this ridiculous deke. Poor Anton Forsberg:

Alexander Radulov‘s shootout goal was pretty filthy:

Factoids of the Night: 

More Barzal:

Vegas keeps, well, Vegasing.

Brock Boeser smashes Pavel Bure’s record by 15 games:

“Merry Christmas to me,” Brock Boeser said, probably.

MISC: 

Scores: 

Bruins 3, Red Wings 1

Islanders 5, Jets 2

Oilers 4, Canadiens 1

Lightning 3, Wild 0

Panthers 1, Senators 0

Devils 4, Blackhawks 1

Ducks 4, Penguins 0

Hurricanes 4, Sabres 2

Blue Jackets 2, Flyers 1 (SO)

Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0

Avalanche 6, Coyotes 2

Stars 4, Predators 3 (SO)

Sharks 2, Kings 0

Blues 3, Canucks 1

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck