Taylor Hall- Back for the Attack

We’re quoting a 1987-released album by the metal band Dokken here, but the words work for Taylor Hall, whose trade to the Boston Bruins has revitalized his foundering hockey career, trending in the wrong direction since he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP three years ago.

The first overall selection in 2010 was long believed to be Boston’s preferred player in that draft, having to go with OHL Tyler Seguin at No. 2 when Edmonton went with Hall. The former 2-time Memorial Cup champion with the Windsor Spitfires fit the B’s model with his speed and skill game, and having interviewed him before the draft 11 years ago, he didn’t even really try to hide the fact that he was hoping that the Oilers would go with Seguin and he would be a Bruin with the second pick.

Fast forward to 20201, and GM Don Sweeney pulled off a tremendous coup at the deadline- not only landing Hall for the star-crossed Anders Bjork and a second-round pick, but also getting two-way center Curtis Lazar from the cellar-dwelling Buffalo Sabres as well. Lazar reminds a lot of Daniel Paille, who was a key role player on Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup roster (also traded to Boston by Buffalo)- he’s fast, intelligent, plays with energy and has enough ability to chip in offensively, even if he’s not a front-line scoring forward. Scouting Post Amigo Dom Tiano posted a terrific piece on Sweeney’s other acquisition, defenseman Mike Reilly on this blog space well worth reading, so for Boston, it was arguably one of the most impactful trio of deadline pickups of all time. All three, spearheaded by Hall, have revitalized the Bruins at a critical time, and they have gone 8-2 since.

Hall, who had just 2 goals in 37 games with the Sabres, has found the back of the net 5 times in those 10 games and has 8 points, which translates to his best offensive season since he scored 39 goals and 93 points in 2018 with the New Jersey Devils, earning MVP honors. It isn’t all that surprising that Hall is scoring again- he’s on a better team and surrounded with veteran playmakers like David Krejci, who not only is taking full advantage of having an All-Star left wing on his line, but looks like he’s having fun again (and so is the beneficiary of his puck prowess and wizardry- the newest Bruins LW himself)

In Boston’s most recent win over No. 71’s former club from Western New York, and the score 3-2 B’s later in the third period with the upstart Sabres (they’ve been better in the weeks since the deadline ended) just one goal away from tying the score again, Krejci and Hall combined for a highlight reel goal off the rush, with Krejci toe-dragging the D (Henri Jokiharju) to create space for himself, then putting a puck over to his winger flying to the net and who had all of the yawning cage to fire it into, putting the game out of reach. Here’s the video thanks to Dafoomie on YouTube…

David Krejci sets up a Taylor Hall goal 4/29/21 – YouTube

With Boston struggling in March and April due to injuries, Hall by himself would have been a significant upgrade, but Lazar and Reilly together have made important contributions, with the team getting key injured players back gradually. This is an entirely different-looking team, and while they have not yet clinched a playoff berth, they are well on their way to closing it out.

Where once the second line was a major sore spot, Hall’s arrival has given the Bruins two dangerous lines at 5v5 and the power play, while allowing the club’s impressive depth to generate mix-and-match 3rd and 4th lines who can skate with any team in the league. With Brandon Carlo close to returning to action, the B’s will have a balanced, rounded defensive corps that can play any style you want. And the goaltending cup overfloweth with abundance thanks to the presence of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. And then there is rookie revelation Jeremy Swayman, who has come into the NHL after being the top NCAA goalie a year ago and Hockey East MVP, and ripped off a bunch of wins in his young AHL career. Things are coming together nicely for the Bruins at all positions.

In getting back to Hall, however- it wasn’t an accident that he was the first overall pick 11 years ago. Although his pro career has left a lot to be desired in terms of winning accomplishments on his resume, when the Oilers made him their guy in Los Angeles over a decade ago, Hall at 18 had already won a pair of major junior championships, a gold medal at the U18 World Championship and a silver medal at the 2010 WJC, prevented from being gold thanks to the heroics of John Carlson and Jack Campbell (an star on the All-Good Guy Team who is a feel-good story in Toronto this year after finally finding his game). Hall was a winner, and that’s something many have forgotten about given the collective mediocrity of the NHL teams he’s been on since. Yes, Hall has been a part of several winning World Championship teams since he turned pro, but with just 14 total playoff games in his NHL career, he’s primed to add to that number and turn his spring legacy around.

Whatever rumors have dogged him over the years about being an unpopular teammate and player on his various teams, Hall at least looks like he’s having a ball in Boston. At the time of the trade 10 games ago, he was interviewed and spoke openly of how far his confidence had fallen. Now, that version of himself seems to be a distant memory, as he is using his speed and hands to attack the net and consistently beat defenders wide with speed. In short, he’s feeling it, and opponents of the Bruins can no longer be confident that they merely have to smother the team’s top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak and rely on the Frankenstein’s monster of other combos to beat them. Now, with Hall-Krejci and right wing Craig Smith (one of Boston’s hottest point producers over the past month-plus), other clubs have to respect Boston’s top-2 lines and that will allow the Black and Gold 3rd line to exploit some favorable matchups without the pressure to be the difference if the No. 1 unit isn’t going.

Will this all result in a long-term relationship between Hall and the Bruins? It’s too early to speculate, but things appear to be trending that way. Hall has money- he’s probably tired of being a hockey nomad who will soon be 30 and has yet to make a meaningful contribution to his postseason legacy in the NHL. Just looking at his body language with the Bruins since the trade was made, and it is at least clear that Hall is having fun playing and scoring with his new team, and it has had a cascading effect on the entire roster, who are playing like a group who saw their GM show faith in them by adding key pieces to put them in real contention. Will some of the alleged personality quirks and potential friction down the road deter a lengthy extension between Boston and Hall? Time will tell, but for now- Hall is back for the attack, and he’s again looking like the dominant offensive force who was expected to help take the lowly Oilers into prominence, only he’s doing it for the team who wanted him all along.

The Bruins and their fans will take it.

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