At the same time, Hall won’t have to be the focal point on the ice for a team that is replete with offensive heavyweights, from Patrice Bergeron to Brad Marchand to David Pastrnak to David Krejci. He will get to be, as he put it, “just one of the guys,” as the Bruins try to make a push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And that’s exactly what he wants.
“That was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to play in Boston,” Hall said. “That’s why I’m so happy that I’m traded here. I’ve been the focal point on a lot of teams in my career and I never made myself the focal point. That’s just the situations I was in.”
It’s what he tried to do with the Sabres when he signed a one-year, $8 million contract Oct. 11, joining a team that already had an elite forward and captain, Jack Eichel.
But Hall struggled on a team that has also struggled.
The Sabres (10-25-6) are last in the eight-team MassMutual East Division. The Bruins (21-12-6, 48 points) are in fourth, with the top four teams making the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hall has scored two goals in 37 games this season. His shooting percentage of 2.3 percent is tied for last among NHL forwards who have scored at least one goal (his previous low was 5.5 percent, in 2019-20). He is minus-21.
Which is why he used his no-movement clause to push Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams to send him to the Bruins, a team he came close to signing with in the offseason. (When asked if he was limited to the Bruins when trying to trade Hall, Adams said, “Yeah, that’s fair to say.”)
It seems likely Hall will play left wing on the second line with Boston, slotted in with center David Krejci, on a team that should now see its scoring go three-lines deep. General manager Don Sweeney also mentioned Hall on the third line with center Charlie Coyle as a possibility.
And that is what’s crucial. Hall will not see the same sort of focus from opponents that he has had with previous teams, including the Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and New Jersey Devils — for whom he scored 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 2017-18 and was voted Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP.
“Let’s be honest, he’s going to play behind Brad Marchand,” Sweeney said. “He’s rarely had that in the opportunities he’s been in other places to play behind a guy like Brad, who sees all the tough matchups every given night.”
He was not the only one that saw possibilities for Hall.
“It comes down to matchups,” said former NHL goalie Marty Biron, a studio analyst for Sabres broadcasts. “That’s a big thing. You obviously are not going to play the top defense on every team, and they’re not going to focus on you as much. Taylor Hall, even though his performance and his production was down, he’s still a number and a name on the board that you circle and you say, ‘OK, we’ve got to keep an eye on Hall right now.'”
To get him there, though, Hall needs to rediscover his confidence, which has been shattered. He needs to regain his ability to finish. He needs to work harder to find his chances and to convert on those he gets.
In three seasons since he won the Hart Trophy, Hall has scored 108 points (29 goals, 79 assists) in 135 games, fewer goals than he scored in 2017-18 alone. His shooting percentage is 6.7 percent.
As he put it, “Unfortunately, right now I’m not the most confident hockey player. Throughout this year there’s been a lot of struggles and obviously goal-scoring has been probably the biggest one. I’ve got to find a little bit of that part of my game back. I don’t think it’s completely lost or anything like that.”
Hall said he has done some soul-searching in the past few days, knowing that he was going to be traded, knowing that he would have a new team and a new fanbase to please. Knowing that he had a chance at a new future.
“You can better yourself as a player and as a leader, and seeing these guys I’m really excited to be a part of that group and to just be one of the guys. I don’t expect to come in and light the League on fire or anything like that,” Hall said. “I just want to come in and win games. I want to be part of a winning team that has something that I haven’t had before and that’s what makes me most excited.”
The situation is lined up for him to succeed, for him to change the narrative and the underperformance. He has the skills — former Sabres teammate Eric Staal recently told the NHL @TheRink podcast that Hall “skates like the wind, really can drive the play” — and the ability to turn his season around, and the Bruins season with him.
He’s in the right position, a complementary player on a team that holds a playoff spot. Now the rest is up to Hall.