It certainly wasn’t the ending that anybody envisioned for the Boston Bruins with their second round exit at the hands of the New York Islanders. And it couldn’t have been the final chapter to this season that Taylor Hall had imagined after joining the Black and Gold either. The 29-year-old left wing had a great start to his Bruins career with eight goals and 14 points in 16 games after being dealt from the Buffalo Sabres to the Bruins and he chipped in a pair of goals during the five game playoff series against the Washington Capitals.
Hall scored a goal in Boston’s series opening win against the Islanders in Game 1, but the winger and the rest of the B’s second line essentially disappeared after that with just one point and a minus-4 for the rest of the series. For a player that was brought to Boston to bring scoring balance and secondary offense to the Bruins, Hall didn’t live up to that bargain when the Bruins needed it as things got tough against the Isles.
“Our line, we had four really solid games. We didn’t have a lot to show for it. Then, the other two games, I thought we got outplayed and weren’t able to produce for our team. And that’s on us. That’s hockey, I think every team that loses in the playoffs is going to say something along the same lines. You’ve got to learn from it,” said Hall, who had just one shot on net in three of the six games vs. the Islanders as he was effectively bottled up offensively. “Even though I’m 29, I still think there’s a lot of learning experiences to be had and a lot of things I can get better at.
“As a line, I think we were great off the rush. I think in-zone, we struggled to come up with chances the same way that Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron’s] line did. When the play is in-zone and we’re cycling around, I think that’s something we could have been better at. Producing offense that way instead of off the rush. But it didn’t work out, and we gave our best effort.”
Bruce Cassidy certainly hopes that Hall, a potential unrestricted free agent, returns to Boston and thinks a full season with the Bruins would be beneficial to getting him back toward the game that won him a Hart Trophy just a few years ago.
“[Hall] played very well for us. Obviously, finishing up against the Islanders, [he] didn’t have the numbers. Their whole line didn’t have the numbers they had against Washington in the regular season. Some of that is a learning curve for the player, the deepest he’s ever been in the playoffs,” said Cassidy. “Usually, the harder it gets as it goes along. And those are some things you just have to learn on your own, as a player, to a certain extent. Hopefully he’s better off for it the next time he’s in that position. He really balanced out our attack in terms of lines of 1A and 1B, and I think that made it difficult on opponents. I think he really re-energized Krejci and his play.
“I think the next playoffs he’s in, he’ll be better prepared for it. I hope it’s with the Boston Bruins, he did a good job for us. He’s a good player, he’s a good person. He works hard. I think he knows what he wants out of his career now, he’s been in a few different places. He’s made some money. Hopefully both sides can make it work.”
Despite not quite living up to expectations or hopes in the second round, both sides sound committed to keeping Hall in Boston beyond this season. It means Hall is going to need to take less than top dollar while slotting in with the salaries of other top B’s players like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, but that sounds like something he’s willing to do for a good situation.
“I don’t even know what my value is, at this point. I feel like I had two different seasons. I’m not looking to absolutely maximize my value at this point in my career,” said Hall. “I’ve been fortunate enough to make some good money in this league, and at this point, it’s about more of a fit for me than maybe money, or a long-term thing. You want to find a home for the next few years here and we’ll see what happens.
“I see a fit and hopefully they feel the same. We’ll let the dust settle on everything this year, I’m sure they have a lot of stuff going on and some other guys that have been here longer than me that they have to worry about. Then we’ll figure that out, but hopefully we can make something work. That’s my goal.”
So, what’s the magic number for Hall? If he’s going to remain in Boston it’s going to be in the $5.5-6.5 million per year range for the Bruins on a 3-4-year deal that would take him into his mid-30’s, and potentially leave some money on the table so the B’s could retain his playmaking center David Krejci on a short-term deal as well. It makes all the sense in the world to keep that second line together after Hall, Krejci and Smith clicked playing together, and give them another chance to fully support the Perfection Line after a full season together.
The one big caveat at this point is whether or not the 35-year-old Krejci wants to remain with the Boston Bruins, or potentially go home and bring his family to the Czech Republic at the end of his career.
“[Krejci] has asked for a few days to have conversations with his family and then we’re going to sit back down and have a real honest conversation,” said Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We would like to make it clear [to him] that is the place he should continue to play if it’s going to be at the NHL level.”
It also sounds like the plan with the Bruins and Hall at this point.
“We’ve expressed mutual interest in having [Hall] back and we’ve had early conversations with his representative. We’ll have to see where all the pieces fit together. David’s case is unique where he’d like to keep playing with the Bruins, but he’s recently expressed interest in returning home at some point in time whether that’s next year or down the road,” said Don Sweeney. “The family dynamic is important to him. He’s asked for a few days to have conversations with his family, and we’re going to sit back down and have a real honest conversation. We would like to make it clear that is the place he should continue to play if it’s going to be at the NHL level.
“We realize that you have to have depth and competition within our [forward] group. I think Taylor and David would add to that and need to be added to that [group]. If it’s not those two then it would need to be another two players that we will target and go after to add to the competitiveness of our group.”
None of it is going to come to fruition until after the NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken, of course, with NHL free agency opening up afterward toward the end of July. But all signs point toward the Bruins and Hall agreeing on a long-term contract after a good run over the last few months, and a lot of room for the talented left winger to grow in a spot he’s waited his entire career for after tough times in outposts like Edmonton, New Jersey, Arizona and Buffalo.