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Haggerty: Taylor Hall’s Rare Chance With Bruins To Change Perception

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BRIGHTON, Mass – Maybe, just maybe, the Boston Bruins will be the perfect fit that Taylor Hall has never had in an NHL career where he’s consistently failed to live up to the hype.

Clearly the 29-year-old former No. 1 overall pick has enjoyed his moments over the last 11 seasons with the Oilers, Devils, Coyotes, Sabres and now Bruins. He won the Hart Trophy with the Devils with a career-best 39 goals and 93 points three year ago and he’s averaged roughly 20 goals and 60 points per season during his NHL career.

And, oh is Hall loved by the fancy stats crew with their bar graphs and pie charts.

But essentially, we’re talking about an ultra-talented guy that’s been a one-season wonder. In New Jersey Hall lived up his talent level during the 2017-18 NHL season while staying healthy, crushing it on the power play and basically carrying an average Devils hockey club into the Stanley Cup playoffs. We’re also talking about a guy that’s been the focal point of every hockey team he’s been on since he was a teen-ager and has always been looked upon as a savior in some epic NHL wastelands.

That may not have been completely the case in Buffalo where the Sabres already had Jack Eichel, but Hall was still viewed by the Sabres as the kind of impact player that was going to vault them into legitimacy. The reverse happened, of course, as the COVID year seemed to really drag Hall down with two goals and a minus-21 rating in 37 games for the Sabres.

This sad sack play pretty much encapsulated Hall’s season of wither with the Sabres.

In Hall’s defense, it feels like he wanted to make this happen with the Bruins this past offseason in free agency. Both sides were interested, but the B’s couldn’t get their salary cap stuff in order to facilitate it on the winger’s timeline.

But now he joins up with a Boston Bruins team that’s more established, more stable and more talented than any of the organizations that he’s played for previously in his 11-year career. The 29-year-old will need to fall in with the Boston Bruins way of doing things, or he won’t stick around much past the next couple of months. Hall doesn’t need to be the focal point of the Bruins or the face of the franchise, and that’s something he’s been looking for at a point in his career where it’s about winning.

“That was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to play in Boston,” said Hall. “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.

“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 [Bruins] 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. 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.”

All Hall really needs to be for the Bruins is the consistent 20 goal/60-point guy that he’s been throughout his career.

Hall doesn’t need to be a leader or a captain with the Black and Gold, either.

Yet again that feels like something that wasn’t a particularly good fit for him after it’s been foisted on him in Edmonton, New Jersey and Arizona throughout his career. Instead, he’ll join a hockey club with championship pedigree that already has Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy and Tuukka Rask, and already has the best line in the entire NHL.

The former No. 1 overall pick will instead be a second line left winger and be a big presence on the second power play unit and will be flying way under the radar for the first time in his NHL career. That’s something the Bruins have readily acknowledged with Hall going into this trade deadline experiment. Hall’s presence is simply designed to give the B’s a scoring boost and lift them from the bottom-third of the league in terms of offensive production and 5-on-5 scoring.

“Let’s be honest — [Hall] is going to be playing behind Brad Marchand. He’s rarely had that in opportunities at other places to play behind a guy like Brad, who sees all the tough matchups every given night. Hopefully, Taylor can use his speed and gain some separation and push defensemen back, he can certainly prove he’s gotten around defensemen to get pucks to the net,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “And obviously having the chance to play with either Charlie [Coyle] to play off of that or possibly [David Krejci], who can get him the puck in those areas while he’s in motion.

“He’s gotten scoring chances [in Buffalo], he just hasn’t finished at the same level as he’s had in previous years. You never know. That’s obviously what we’re hoping for. He’s motivated to do that. We’re going to give him an opportunity and see if [Hall] can ride with it.”

The big question will be the chemistry between Krejci and Hall on the second line, a legitimate concern given that both players tend to like the puck on their stick in the offensive zone. And it will be telling if Hall can regain his offensive confidence after managing just two goals in 37 games for the Sabres while sounding like he was getting out of jail following his trade from Buffalo.

“There’s been a lot of distractions this year, a lot of things that really haven’t gone well and confidence-wise the team here in Buffalo just never got off on the right foot,” said Hall. “So, I think the best way to get confidence is to be a part of a winning team and to make yourself part of the bigger solution. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

There are no excuses anymore for Taylor Hall in an NHL career that’s been chock full of them (coaching changes, bad teams, injuries and whatever else is under the hockey sun) as he readies for a short-term stint with a Boston Bruins group harboring Stanley Cup hopes. If Hall can tap into his considerable talent, then both the player and the team might have found a marriage that could work for a while with some deep questions answered for both parties.

If not then Hall is exactly who we thought he was prior to joining the Bruins, and the gamble will have been well worth it for a second-round pick and Anders Bjork.

But the talented left winger has a Black and Golden chance to write a new, better chapter in his NHL career while in Boston, and those kinds of opportunities haven’t come around very often in his star-crossed pro career.

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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