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Why the Toronto Maple Leafs should make a push for Taylor Hall before the trade deadline – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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After shocking the hockey world by signing in Buffalo on a one-year, $8 million contract last October, Taylor Hall is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Based on how things are playing out in Buffalo, it seems likely that Hall will be traded. A big extension does not appear to be overly likely at this point. Currently at the bottom of the strongest division in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres are nowhere near a playoff spot and they probably don’t want to let him walk for nothing.

Mired in a playoff drought since 2011, the Sabres have already gone through a brutal rebuild and they likely want players who can help them sooner rather than later as a result. They’re probably not solely focused on acquiring draft picks to add players who can help them three or four years from now. They want to improve their roster for next season in order to give Jack Eichel the best chance possible at making the playoffs.

That could mean the Leafs are perfect trading partners for the Sabres. They aren’t going to play the Leafs this year, but they could end up back in their division (or conference) next year. In short, they would be happy to make the Leafs better this season, if it means taking something away from them in future seasons.

The Sabres are also desperate for help at center behind Eichel, as Eric Staal is both 36 years old and a pending free agent. Let’s just say that the upcoming free-agent class is not loaded with high-end centers that are racing to sign in Buffalo.

Frank Seravalli of TSN spoke about Hall’s availability here:

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The key quotes in this video include:

  • “At this point, I don’t see a way that they don’t trade him at the deadline.”
  • “They may have to eat half of his $8 million salary in order to make it work.”
  • “I don’t think that a lot of teams around the league are thinking that Taylor Hall suddenly woke up, because of the situation in Buffalo, and forgot how to play hockey.”

Exploring a Hall for Kerfoot Trade


Alex Kerfoot of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Canadian Press

Alex Kerfoot would be a great fit in Buffalo for three reasons:

  1. The Leafs will need to send a contract back the other way if they acquired Hall. Kerfoot is pretty much the only player on the roster who would make any sense whatsoever.
  2. Kerfoot’s deal was front-loaded, so he only makes $2.7 million per year in actual salary after this season.
  3. He’s able to move to the wing if needed, so they have some flexibility if they want to play Dylan Cozens and someone else up the middle instead.
  4. Kerfoot is under contract through the 2022-23 season and could help the Sabres immediately. They don’t have to wait for him to develop.

My guess is that Kerfoot carries a similar trade value as Andreas Johnsson, for whom the Leafs were offered a second-round pick before they ended up acquiring Joey Anderson instead. Knowing the Leafs would need the Sabres to retain close to 50% of Hall’s contract to make this deal work, Kerfoot’s trade value alone is probably not quite enough to get that done. However, the Leafs could certainly add a little bit extra to this trade to get it over the finish line.

Taylor Hall is a damn good player — there’s no doubt about that. He won the Hart Trophy, for crying out loud, and was the league’s MVP more recently than Connor McDavid. Draisaitl won last season, Kucherov won the season before, and Hall won in 2018 — this is not exactly ancient history. Hall is 29 and boasts 575 points in 647 career games.

I don’t want to hear the “he’s not a winner” garbage. He’s put up points during his limited NHL playoff sample. He won the Memorial Cup twice in junior. He’s won five gold medals for Canada. Zach Bogosian entered the league two years before him and had ZERO career playoff games before his Cup run with the Lightning last season. It’s not Hall’s fault that the Oilers completely wasted the first six years of his career before trading him to another below-average team. He also single-handedly got the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils into the playoffs.

Not to belabour the point, but have you seen the rosters of those Oilers teams? Check these out (I’ll wait):

Hockey is a team sport. If you want to yell that individual players are “not winners,” go watch tennis or golf. Everyone said Phil Kessel wasn’t a winner, and then guess what? He won. Everyone said Alexander Ovechkin wasn’t a winner, and then guess what? He won.

As Leafs fans know better than anyone, it’s hard to win a playoff round. It’s close to impossible to win a playoff round when you play on the teams that Hall has played on.

In his final season in Edmonton, the Oilers outscored their opponents 57 to 53 when Hall was on the ice at 5-on-5. When Hall wasn’t on the ice, they were outscored 76 to 115. The previous season, the Oilers outscored their opponents 36 to 34 when Hall was on the ice at 5-on-5. When Hall wasn’t on the ice, they were outscored 95 to 163 (!).

Hall then got traded to New Jersey, where the team outscored their opponents 38 to 35 when Hall was on the ice at 5-on-5 in his first season with the Devils. When Hall wasn’t on the ice, they were outscored 76 to 113.

I’m going to go ahead and guess that maybe Taylor Hall was not the problem.

How Good Is Taylor Hall?


Taylor Hall free agent
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Pretty damn good.

Since entering the league in 2010, his 5-on-5 point-per-minute production is pretty much identical to John Tavares’. He ranks 21st in this category out of 266 forwards with 5000+ minutes at 5-on-5 over that time, ahead of players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Filip Forsberg, Tyler Seguin, Mark Scheifele, Alex Ovechkin, Claude Giroux, and Jack Eichel. Since leaving the Oilers, his 5-on-5 expected goals for percentage is 53.5%, which is extremely impressive, and just ahead of Matthews and Marner.

Since entering the league, he sits just behind Tavares in Evolving Hockey‘s goals above replacement and is actually ahead of him on a per-game basis. He’s a fair bit behind Tavares in terms of expected goals above replacement, but he is still comparable to great players like Gabriel Landeskog and Jakub Voracek. Yes, he only has two goals through 21 games this year, but his 1.9% shooting percentage clearly isn’t sustainable.

He’s an elite transition player and an elite takeaway specialist. He’s consistently graded out well by play-driving stats such as Evolving Hockey‘s RAPM. He’s played at a 7-point pace per 82 games over his career. He’s a first-line calibre, star forward who would have a chance to make Team Canada’s Olympic Team. Again, he won the Hart Trophy!

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Hall could make the Tavares and Nylander line a force to be reckoned with. Tavares is a complete beast down low in the offensive zone, and pairing him with two of the best transition players in the game would put him in a position to succeed. Opposing top defense pairings would likely matchup against Matthews and Marner, leaving the Hall-Tavares-Nylander line to beat up on weaker competition. There’s a real chance that Hall would be the best player on that line — he’s that good.

Personally, I wouldn’t play Hall on the third line, but even that could be quite fun. As mentioned above, when Hall comes off the ice, his team usually sends AHL calibre forwards out there who proceed to get completely dominated. With the Leafs, Sheldon Keefe could instead throw the Matthews-Marner and Tavares-Nylander duos out there when Hall is on the bench.

All Leafs fans are happy with the team’s current third line. I think Hall would make far more sense in the top-six, but having him drive his own line is always an option. He obviously carries quite a bit of experience with that.

Hall’s Weaknesses


Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Taylor Hall carries some pretty significant weaknesses, ones the Leafs will certainly need to be aware of:

1. Boating safety

I take boating safety very seriously. Hall struggles in this area. It’s also worth noting that the city of Toronto is situated on Lake Ontario. Boating can be a terrific team-building activity, but this is a major weakness for Hall.

2. Hangman

Travel is a big part of an NHL player’s life. Because of this, fun games are often played to help pass the time. Hall clearly struggles with this game. Again, the Leafs will have to be aware of this.

What’s A Hall Trade Look Like?


Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas
Photo: Canadian Press

The top rentals at the deadline tend to go for a first-round pick, plus another interesting prospect or two. Hall was actually traded as a rental last season, along with prospect Blake Speers, for a first-round pick, a third-round pick, Kevin Bahl, Nick Merkley, and Nate Schnarr. As part of the trade, the Devils retained 50% of his $6 million cap hit.

The price for Hall will be lower this time around for four reasons:

  1. He’s one more year removed from his MVP season.
  2. He’s off to a bit of a rough start in Buffalo, as he’s only scored two goals in 21 games thus far (though he has put 54 shots on goal).
  3. The Coyotes paid a little bit extra to acquire him in mid-December last year, so he ended up playing 35 regular-season games in Arizona, even though the pandemic ended up cutting the season short. Hall would be more of a “true rental” this season, especially if he has to quarantine for 14 days.
  4. It’s more of a buyer’s market this year, as some teams are not able to add salary due to their financial situations.

The Sabres would have to retain 50% of Hall’s cap hit in a trade with Toronto, just like the Devils did last season. As mentioned above, they would have to take Kerfoot back as well, but he probably has more value to them than a late first-round pick in a weak draft. In addition to Kerfoot, the Leafs have two young prospects in Filip Hallander and Joey Anderson who could possibly help the Sabres next season.

Kerfoot and Toronto’s 2021 first-round pick is probably enough to get a deal done. In fact, I actually think that’s a better package than what the Devils got for Hall last season. Perhaps the Leafs downgrade the first-round pick to a second-round pick and add in Hallander or Anderson instead. Given where the Sabres are at, I think they will be more interested in players and prospects rather than picks.

It’s also worth noting that Hall can control his own destiny as he possesses a full no-move clause. If he says that he’ll only accept a trade to a few teams, the Sabres don’t have much leverage here. If he says that he’s set on playing for Toronto, the Sabres might even settle for Kerfoot straight up. If he’s completely against going to a Canadian team due to the quarantine process, this deal is off the table completely. Hall has a lot of control here, but I’m willing to bet that he would jump at the opportunity to play in Toronto.

If other star forwards like Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau, or Tomas Hertl are available, the Leafs should certainly inquire about them. These players come with an extra year of control, and it’s worth paying a little bit extra for them as a result, even after considering the expansion draft implications. However, Hall is the most likely of this group to be moved and will cost the least. It’s easier to get a team to retain 50% of a player’s contract for half a season rather than next year as well.

Trading Kerfoot would hurt Toronto’s depth up the middle. They would be counting on Pierre Engvall to be their third-line center, and if he starts to struggle, the Leafs would have to find another alternative.

One option would be to move Travis Boyd up in the lineup and make Jason Spezza or Adam Brooks the fourth-line center. Another option could be to play Hall with Tavares, and make Nylander your third-line center. Joe Thornton carries plenty of experience at center as well and could always play there if needed. Alex Galchenyuk also has some experience at center, although that might be a bit of a long-shot at this point. Ultimately, I like the Hyman-Engvall-Mikheyev line so far and I’d be okay with taking the risk if it meant acquiring a player of Hall’s calibre.

Riley Sheahan could also be added to this deal to provide the Leafs with some extra depth. The 29-year-old isn’t much of a scorer, but he’s consistently posted strong defensive results by Evolving Hockey‘s RAPM over the years. He’ll be a free agent after this season, and given that he carries a $700k cap hit, the Leafs could simply put him on the taxi squad if he clears waivers.

Alternatively, the Leafs could always look to make another trade for a bottom-six center.

Final Thoughts


Taylor Hall, Toronto Maple Leafs trade target
PHOTO BY IAN KUCERAK /Postmedia

We all know by now that the Leafs are looking to add a forward at the deadline, and they are probably willing to give up significant futures to do it. This is the best Leafs team that we’ve seen in years. They’re looking for a player who can make them an even bigger favourite to win the Canadian division come playoff time.

I like Mikael Granlund and I’m certainly interested in acquiring him, but Hall is simply a different calibre of player. The Leafs look great defensively, while their first line has been amazing up front. Pairing Hall on a line with Tavares and Nylander would make them a force to be reckoned with.

I don’t want to trade Nick Robertson, Rasmus Sandin, Rodion Amirov, or Timothy Liljegren for a rental. However, I don’t think you’ll have to give them up — it’s not like the Coyotes handed over Victor Soderstrom or Barrett Hayton for Hall last year. If they need to be included, I’d focus my attention elsewhere and talk to the Predators about Forsberg or Granlund. A package of Kerfoot and a first-round pick seems more than fair.

I’m not a big fan of trading for rentals at the deadline unless the team is really damn good. I would have strongly considered trading James van Riemsdyk in his final season in Toronto, rather than letting him walk for nothing, as I didn’t see that Leafs team as a true Cup contender. However, this isn’t the 2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs. This is a team that just shutout Connor McDavid for three straight games with three different goalies and didn’t miss a beat when Auston Matthews was out of the lineup.

I also don’t want to hear that the Leafs are “good enough.” There’s no such thing. I don’t care if Hall has to miss a handful of games due to the quarantine process. With Taylor Hall inserted into this lineup, this team will have an even better chance to make a deep playoff run.

The Leafs already have three former first overall picks in Auston Matthews, Joe Thornton, and John Tavares. Why not add one more?

It’s time to push the chips in for a serious shot at the Stanley Cup.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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