PHOENIX — Two words make the Arizona Coyotes’ acquisition of 2018 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall all the more justifiable: First place.
Hall, not even two years removed from winning the NHL’s MVP award, sat in the press box at Gila River Arena on Saturday night as his New Jersey Devils played the Coyotes without him. New Jersey sat him out, wanting to protect its prized asset, knowing a trade was on the way for the soon-to-be-free agent on a struggling team.
Two days later, that arena where he watched and waited happens to be his new home. So too, is first place — a far leap from where the Devils were on Monday afternoon: in last place with an interim head coach.
There is a considerable risk that the Coyotes will have traded away prospects and draft picks for Hall, only to see him hit free agency and sign elsewhere. General manager John Chayka knows that. But the Coyotes also know that a first-place hockey team was worth investing in. Tomorrow can wait; the iron is hot today.
“He’s a game-changer, he’s an electric player,” Chayka said. “He’s one of my favorite players to watch in terms of entertainment value. But then when you really start to dig into some of the deeper analytics of how this guy impacts the game and impacts his teammates in so many different ways, I mean he can beat you with his feet, he can beat you with his stick skills, he can beat you with his shot. He’s got elite vision. He drives play at the 5-on-5 level so well but also dangerous on the power play.”
The Coyotes were in first place without Hall, but the team has its flaws. It ranks 24th in the NHL in goals per game. Despite being ranked first in the Pacific Division, they’re ranked only fourth in goals scored. The summer’s big add, Phil Kessel, has just seven goals through 35 games. Arizona’s wins have come through the prism of defense and goaltending, and Hall should help balance that nicely.
“The team’s playing hard,” Chayka said. “I think we’ve got a great group of veteran guys here that I would’ve regretted not giving them the opportunity to realize a chance to contend for a Stanley Cup.”
Already, Hall leads the Coyotes in points with 25, and that’s without scoring as many goals this year as he’s capable of at this point.
“Like a lot of guys on our team here in New Jersey, it [hasn’t been] a great year, for anyone really,” Hall said. “But I feel healthy, I feel confident I can help any team that I was going to join. I think the puck hasn’t gone in as much as I would like, but hopefully I can turn it around. I feel like I’ve had my chances.
“But joining a team that has a lot of speed and skill hopefully can bode well for me, and I can keep improving. And like I said: I’m here to help the team. They’ve had a great year here so far. I want to contribute to that as much as I can.”
Fresh off the heels of the news of his trade on Monday, Hall sounded genuinely relieved and excited to get started. He’s not going to watch any more games from the press box, and as an added bonus, he was just in Arizona two days ago; he has some familiarity with his new team.
“I watched the whole game. I knew it was a possible landing spot for me, so I tried to just pay attention and see how they played,” Hall said. “Not everyday as a player can you jump that many spots in the standings and come to a team that’s in first place in their division. That’s a huge boost. It’s been a hard last couple months here in Jersey.
“So now that I’m joining a team with some young studs, a lot of really good defensemen and obviously two goalies that have played amazing this year, you mention those things, that’s really what you need in a contender and that’s what it looks like the Coyotes are.”
The Coyotes should be as happy to see Hall as he is to get a chance in scenery. Based on resume, this is easily one of the biggest trades an Arizona-based sports franchise has made in recent memory. Time will tell whether the results make it a season for the ages.
Already, though, this trade does a few things: It adds a bona fide NHL offensive threat to the Coyotes; It signals to the players that the front office believes in the group as a serious contender; and it signals to the fanbase that the team is willing to double-down on what’s already been a successful year.
Stable ownership helps, too.
“I think we wouldn’t have had this opportunity without [owner] Alex Meruelo at the top,” Chayka said. “I think if there was any doubt about his desire and commitment to win a Stanley Cup, this should certainly answer that. He’s very involved and active and very supportive to be able to get an opportunity like this.”