Taylor Hall’s vision for why the Buffalo Sabres can turn quickly into a winner starts with center Jack Eichel.
“He’s the best player on the team, there’s no doubt about it,” Hall said. “And if he’s your best player you have a good chance at making a playoff run. Surround him with the right pieces and right attitude and then you see what can happen.”
Eichel’s presence went a long way toward helping general manager Kevyn Adams, coach Ralph Krueger and owners Terry and Kim Pegula pitch Hall on signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sabres on Sunday.
The 23-year-old center led the Buffalo last season with 78 points (36 goals, 42 assists), 28 more points than anybody else. Eichel expressed frustration after last season, his fifth straight losing season since the Sabres selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Sabres haven’t made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011, the longest drought in the NHL.
“You have to be excited when you think of two elite forwards of that caliber attacking the opposition with the system we have,” Krueger said. “It will be lethal.”
Hall admittedly placed a big bet on himself and the Sabres by signing for only one year, but he believes he can win both bets and that a long-term contract extension with the Sabres could be in his future.
“When you’re able to maybe look past the smoke that has surrounded the Sabres the past couple of years I think you see a team that has elite players, ownership that is committed to building a winner — I’ve seen what they’ve done with the [Buffalo] Bills — and a coach that I feel can get a lot out of his players,” Hall said. “I think both sides are eager to see how this works out and there’s a lot of possibilities for the future.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Just because it’s one year shouldn’t give any indication that we only wanted one year,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said. “We believe in Taylor as a player and as a person and we hope this turns into a long-term relationship for both sides that works.”
Hall said he went into free agency thinking he’d either sign with a team for six or seven years, or he’d go for a one-year deal to maximize his earning power in the 2020-21 season while waiting to see what the NHL marketplace might look like after that.
The Sabres called him shortly after the free-agent market opened at 12 p.m. ET Friday to express their interest. From there, Hall started to do his homework on them and his agent, Darren Ferris, kept fielding calls, some with offers for multi-year contracts.
But Hall spoke to Krueger on Friday and they rekindled a relationship that was born 10 years ago, when Krueger was an associate coach with the Edmonton Oilers and Hall was their top prospect as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
As Hall went through the weekend, he said he kept coming back to Buffalo, kept thinking about the potential of having Krueger coach him again, of playing on a line with Eichel, of playing close to his offseason home in Toronto, close to his parents.
He said he thought about the Sabres’ up-tempo style and the success he had playing under Krueger in Edmonton in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when Hall led the Oilers with 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) in 45 games. He said it was his best season other than 2017-18, when he won the Hart Trophy by scoring 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) with the New Jersey Devils.
“When we started thinking one year might be the best play a situation just like Buffalo was appealing to me,” Hall said. “When I sat down with my agent, talked to my dad and people close to me, it started making more and more sense.”
A FaceTime conversation with Krueger on Sunday morning clinched it, Hall said.
“I could see it in his face that he really wanted me there,” Hall said. “It’s a good feeling to be wanted like that.”
Krueger said it was an easy conversation because all he did was tell Hall about what he loves about Buffalo, the history of the team in the market, the fanbase’s passion, the opportunity for the team to grow into a winner, the core players and the style of play.
“I think Buffalo is a team, whether guys realize it or not, everyone around the League kind of pulls for them,” Hall said. “It’s a good city. They have passionate fans. They have a fanbase that is starving for a winning team and hasn’t had that lately. You go in and you know improvement is going to be seen as a positive thing and that’s a good situation to go into.”