Taylor Hall is not playing anywhere near his MVP level of 2017-18, when he scored 93 points, dragged the Devils to the playoffs, and won the Hart Trophy. A few difficult seasons, bouncing from Edmonton to New Jersey to Arizona to Buffalo, have humbled the former No. 1 overall pick. He admits his confidence is shaken.
The Bruins believe he can rebuild his career, reclaim his game, and be part of a championship team here.
“That was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to play in Boston,” said Hall, speaking on a Monday morning Zoom call with reporters. “That’s why I’m so happy.”
Hall didn’t want to be anywhere else. He said he was “really close” to signing with the Bruins last summer, before landing with the Sabres on a one-year, $8 million deal. That deal included a no-movement clause, which he waived to come to Boston.
This helped the Bruins get a discount at Monday’s trade deadline. With Hall’s contract expiring, Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams had a limited number of trading partners. He packaged Hall with energetic fourth-line forward Curtis Lazar, and received Anders Bjork and a 2021 second-round draft pick. The Bruins used Bjork, a healthy scratch the last five games, as a trade chip rather than leave him exposed to the expansion Seattle Kraken.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, who said he reiterated his interest to Hall’s camp several times since last summer, sees an enticing reclamation prospect. Hall’s speed and puck-carrying ability stretches defenses, a trait the Bruins do not have beyond the top line. The Bruins believe his career-low 2.27 shooting percentage will revert to the mean (his career average is 10 percent).
“Let’s be honest — he’s going to be playing behind Brad Marchand,” Sweeney said, referring to the team’s No. 1 left wing. “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.
“I think if you look a little bit below the surface, he’s had a lot of scoring opportunities that haven’t gone in. Whether that’s just bad puck luck or whether that’s things he needs to do differently, make some little adjustments. We’re going to point some things out to him.”
Hall, who has two goals and 17 assists in 37 games, will not have to be the driving force on a team with Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. He will play a middle-six role, with either David Krejci or Charlie Coyle. Secondary scoring will help the Bruins extend Hall’s playoff résumé, which currently reads 14 games in an 11-year career.
A lower profile suits Hall at this point. He admitted that he is “not the most confident hockey player” right now, after his time with the last-place Sabres.
“I’ve been the focal point on a lot of teams,” Hall said. “I never made myself the focal point, that’s just the situations I was in. The first chance I got in free agency, I went to Buffalo, a team that had Jack Eichel, a player that I think is better than myself. I just wanted to be one of the guys. I wanted to be on a successful team. Ultimately it didn’t work out in Buffalo, but 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 happy with.”
If the marriage is pleasant, Hall and the Bruins would wait until expansion Seattle makes its picks this summer, then negotiate an extension. Hall said Monday he would “love to be a Bruin for a few years.” He felt the same before the 2010 draft, when the Bruins were preparing to select him with the No. 2 pick. The Oilers took Hall, and the Bruins landed Tyler Seguin.
“I’m 29 years old, but I still feel you can learn stuff about the game at this age,” Hall said. “You can better yourself as a player and a leader. And seeing these guys, I’m really excited to be part of that 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 and win games. I want to be part of a winning team that has something that I haven’t had before.”
Hall and defenseman Mike Reilly (acquired from Ottawa for a third-round pick in 2022) should be available for the Bruins on Tuesday against the Sabres. Lazar, who last played March 31, said he is close to returning from an upper-body injury. Sweeney said he would need “a few days” before he’s ready … The former Canadian World Junior captain (2015) had five goals and four assists in 33 games with the Sabres. A righthanded shot, he can play center and wing and is signed for one more year with an $800,000 cap hit … Lazar said “swag” and grittiness are Bruins hallmarks. With six more games against the Sabres this season, he noted with a smile that he looked forward to “sticking it to them.” … Reilly, who set a career high in assists (19) in his first 40 games with Ottawa, said former Minnesota Wild teammate Charlie Coyle had already reached out to him … For now, the left-shooting Reilly will patch holes. In Sunday’s blowout loss to the Capitals, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk were missing with upper-body injuries, and Kevan Miller was resting his knee. Only Miller is a sure bet to play Tuesday … With two of his previous numbers — 4 and 9 — unavailable in Boston, Hall will wear No. 71, last in use by Marc Savard for the first month of 2006-07, before the playmaker switched to his familiar No. 91. Savard gave his social media blessing to Hall, who wore No. 91 in Arizona, to take his number. Lazar will wear No. 20, Reilly No. 6 … Sweeney didn’t divulge anything on the rest of the injured Bruins, but did express confidence in getting Tuukka Rask (upper body) and Jaroslav Halak back “at some point in time.” Halak was on the COVID-19 list Monday for the eighth day in a row … Lazar and his wife welcomed their first child a week ago. He didn’t expect to be dealt. “When you see the GM’s name pop up before the deadline, you know what’s going to happen,” he said.