To be honest, new Bruins winger Taylor Hall probably could’ve gone without the 37-game adventure in Buffalo.
And if Hall, who (along with Curtis Lazar) was traded to the Bruins late Sunday night in exchange for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick, had his way, it would’ve been avoided by way of a contract with the Bruins.
“I was ready to come to Boston [in free agency],” the 29-year-old Hall, who scored two goals and 19 points with the Sabres, admitted Monday. “It didn’t work out, and then I had to choose between some some other options.”
There’s no foolin’ there. Hall had an interest in the Bruins, but the Bruins entered the offseason assessing all their options, and had a relatively set left side between Brad Marchand, restricted free agent Jake DeBrusk, and 2020 deadline pickup Nick Ritchie. The team also re-signed Anders Bjork to a three-year deal, and wanted to give gritty 2016 first-round pick Trent Frederic a real chance to make the team after a strong finish to his 2019-20 season with the P-Bruins.
The Bruins were also weighing the pros and cons of adding to their defense corps, as the team was in on Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his monstrous contract and remained in contact with Zdeno Chara throughout the free agent process.
They simply didn’t have the funds or the need to make Hall a priority, and Hall didn’t want to wait forever.
So, that ‘better’ option for Hall turned out to be a one-year, bet-on-himself deal with the Sabres for $8 million. With a flat cap depressing the free agent market, the idea was that a year of riding to Jack Eichel left on Buffalo’s top line would either create a fit that lifted the Sabres out of the mud and paved the way for a long-term marriage between the Sabres and Hall, allow Hall to cash-in on the open market in 2021, or simply put himself in the best situation possible at the deadline.
Only the last one was made possible for Hall, and that was actually by way of that one-year contract’s no-movement clause, which gave Hall complete control over where he went if things did not pan out for himself and the Sabres. And it sure sounds like he used that to his advantage to facilitate a move to Boston.
“The no-move really helped me become a Bruin,” Hall, who is driving from Buffalo to Boston and will be available to the Bruins as early as Tuesday night should he clear COVID protocols, acknowledged. “Since I knew that I would be traded for the last few weeks, it was a team that I really wanted to join and really wanted to be a part of.
“Boston was basically No. 1 on the list of teams that I wanted to go to.”
It’s a desire that goes way beyond Hall’s first jump into unrestricted free agency last offseason, too.
“I’ve always had a ton of respect for the Bruins organization and the city of Boston,” Hall, who was at one point repped by Bobby Orr, said. “I came to Boston with [Tyler] Seguin in 2010 just before our draft and I loved the city. I loved the fanbase and the way they care about hockey. And every time I’ve come to Boston since then, I’ve always really enjoyed my time there.
“It’s a city that I have a lot of respect for as a sports city.”
Bouncing between the Oilers, Devils, and Coyotes before his miserable Buffalo run, Hall’s career has been a polarizing one. He was scapegoated for the Oilers’ lack of success at the start of the 2010s, and the fact that he’s had almost 10 coaches in his NHL career has been held against him. Trades out of Edmonton, and then New Jersey, and a short run in Arizona as a Coyotes rental have created still-unfounded rumblings that Hall is a bad teammate or not someone you want on your team.
But Hall has never stepped into a situation like this. The Bruins have the leadership and high-end talent to not put the weight of the world on Hall’s shoulders, and allow him to just be one of 20 asked to pull their weight every night.
“That was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to play in Boston and why I’m so happy that I’ve been traded here,” Hall said. “I’ve been the focal point on a lot of teams in my career. I never made myself the focal point, that’s just the situation that I was in. And, the first chance that I got in free agency, I went to Buffalo to a team that had Jack Eichel — a player that I think is better than myself — [because] I just wanted to be one of the guys. I wanted to be on a successful team.
“Going to Boston, there’s so many great players on that team, Hall of Famers, guys that have had just amazing careers, careers that if I had anything like that at the end of my career, I’d be super, super happy with. And I’m 29 years old, but I still feel that you can learn stuff about the game at this age. 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 and light the league on fire or anything like that. I just want to come and win games. I want to be a part of a winning team that has something that that I haven’t had before. And that’s what makes me most excited.”
As of now, the Bruins currently expect Hall to skate on the left side of their second line with David Krejci or on the third line with Charlie Coyle. (Jake DeBrusk is likely to move on over to his off-wing to accommodate Hall on the left side.)
Hall on Krejci’s left? Talk about a connection 11 years in the making, and one Hall finally pushed to make happen.
“It’s a bit of a circuitous route to get here, but looking at it in the summer, this is a team in Boston that I would have loved to play for,” Hall reinforced. “And I’m here now, so I’m very excited about that.”