NO FEAR: WHAT ABOUT TAYLOR HALL?

The fearlessness Taylor Hall shows on the ice is part of what makes him a very special player and favourite with fans of the Edmonton Oilers. It’s also a trait that could shorten his shelf-life on the NHL marquee.

While discretion isn’t as sexy a quality as the no-guts-no-glory style that has Hall out of the line-up with an injured left shoulder after taking a hellacious hit from Ryan Wilson of the Colorado Avalanche Saturday, it’s nonetheless an attribute he’d best add to his game. And the sooner the better.

Hall got starched by Wilson while hustling for a loose puck in the corner on a stiff, but clean hit. He was injured when he hit the boards awkwardly while trying to brace for the impact. Hall left for medical attention, returned and then was done for the balance of the night after a well-placed cross-check from Kyle Quincey of the Avs. From Denver to MRI City.

It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last.

HE GETS AFTER IT

We’ve seen this movie before with Hall, no? Before the Oilers even got a crack at Hall at the podium, there was the potentially neck-breaking hit he took from Travis Hamonic of the Brandon Wheat Kings in pursuit of a puck while he was still a member of the Windsor Spitfires.

Drew Doughty lowered the boom along the boards in Los Angeles last season when Hall tried to beat him wide, starting a hey-rube. Then, there was the scrap with hard-nosed Derek Dorsett of Columbus last season in his first NHL fight, a take-no-crap decision to stick up for himself that ended his season with a sprained ankle.

Saturday, it was Wilson, a player Hall ran up against more than once as a junior – somebody Hall, in hindsight, admitted he knew might try to lay him out. Having the book on Wilson didn’t stop Hall for going for it. On the same road trip, you might recall, Hall went headlong into the goalpost in Chicago while charging for the net. He escaped injury.

Like I said, it’s that kind of reckless abandon and fearlessness that makes Hall the player he is. It pulls fans out of their seats. It sells tickets and jerseys. It creates a buzz. In part, at least, it’s that jam and gusto that got Hall drafted No. 1 overall in 2010 by the Oilers after he won a second Memorial Cup with Windsor and his second MVP award. Game-breaker. Difference-maker. Big-time brass.

That damn-the-torpedoes bit is also what had some observers, myself included, wondering if Hall might have to reel the swashbuckling in just a bit in the name of self-preservation at the NHL level. I’d suggest that, 24 games into his sophomore season, it’s obvious he does.

A MIDDLE GROUND 

Over at the Cult of Hockey today, David Staples is suggesting Hall needs to incorporate a little nastiness into his game. You know, a well-placed elbow or length of shaft here and there to buy some room and make opponents think twice about taking runs at him. Mark Messier stuff. I’m all for that.

I’d also suggest Hall exhibit a little more discretion. As much as I hate to use the term because it generally has a negative connotation, Hall needs to pick his spots more often. It can’t be balls-out in every race for loose pucks and open ice, every showdown with a defenseman. That’s easier said than done of course, given playing that way seems part of Hall’s DNA.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about turning Hall into a perimeter player or a snow-throwing Patrick O’Sullivan clone. Nobody wants that. While I see nothing wrong with Hall dropping his gloves now and again or delivering, as Staples says, a well-placed elbow or two-hander, that’s not enough.

Simply put, the bottom line for me is that if Hall is going to put himself in harm’s way, he’s got to know who and what he’s up against, rather than fearlessly charging in every time. Size up the situation. Take a peek. Be aware. Play the odds. I know, that’s not as catchy as that No Fear thing, but it’s smart.

It goes without saying fans of the Oilers don’t want to see the edge taken off Hall, to see him throttle it back too much in the name of playing it safe. At the same time, I’m guessing they do want to see him wearing No. 4 for this franchise for as long as possible. That’s not a likely outcome the way he plays the game now. 

There is a middle ground between burning out and fading away. Hall needs to find it.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Clay

    I’m all for a guy making room for himself, and I love Messier as much as the next guy… but before we all go endorsing Hall throwing a few elbows, let’s be clear what we’re saying.

    The buzz-phrase these days is “head shots”.

    C’mon guys, if you’re in the group that thinks it’s acceptable for Hall to elbow or cross-check a guy in the teeth, then you’re a hypocrite if you get mad when an opposing player does it to an Oiler. Can’t have it both ways.

    One of my favourite memories of Doug Weight was when he was leg-whipped by Bryan Marchment, he came out the next shift cross-checked him right in the mouth. Beauty. Loved it. But that NHL is gone, boys.

    I would be all for Hall dropping the gloves if he needs to; I think he’s more than capable. But I hate to see cheap shots by anyone on anyone, and don’t want to see any Oiler adopt it as a strategy.

    Either head shots are wrong or they aren’t.

    • You’re reaching a little bit with the contrarian role, although I get what you’re saying.

      You can make a charging player come through some stick without hitting him in the face. You can make him come through a raised elbow without targeting the head.

      That aside, as I said in the item, I don’t think the old-school make-room approach is enough on its own. Hall needs to be more aware of the time and space he has — and who is occupying it — than he is now. He can’t just bull over people or blow by them as often as he did in junior.

      • Clay

        I understand what your argument is, Robin, and agree with you. What Smyth did to Weber in Nashville the other night is a perfect example. My comments were more in response to the “he should be like Messier” comments.

        A lot of what Messier (and what most guys) did “back in the day” would garner 10+ game suspensions now. Look up his hit on Modano on Youtube – an elbow to the head like that these days would be a 20 gamer.

  • I think the biggest thing he needs to learn is that this isn’t junior and his foot speed alone can’t always squeak him by the d-man’s board side.

    Eberle learned it pretty fast and, I now notice, plays the chip and chase when entering the zone much more often than he did last year after being wallpapered a few times.

  • I remember growing up watching Glen Anderson play. I never seen him get really hurt that I can remember? Taylor Hall reminds me most of Anderson.

    It seems both player almost instinctively know how to absorb hits and what the players limitations are on the ice.

    I know it’s a different time and players are bigger and faster however, I think you cant really change the way the player see’s and plays the game. Those type of players are balls out or nothing.

    I applaud Hall’s passion and recklessness he plays with. Maybe he just has to pick his spots better?

    • Glen Anderson – pretty well everytime he got knocked to the ice, his stick was, ‘perhaps accidentally’ swinging about head height.

      I’m sure that bought him some room.

      . . . Smytty twice this year:
      The elbow he got a penaly on.
      The stick wrapped around Weber’s nose.

      Yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

      • Nostalgia is fine and all, but Glenn Anderson would have had to find another way to get it done today. With the rules as they are now, Andy have his own personalized section of carpet in Shanahan’s office. I lost count of how many guys Anderson accidentally raked with his stick.

        • A-Mc

          That’s true but Ryan Smyth seems to be doing okay lately.

          it might be worth the risk of a suspension or two over the next couple of years while Mr. Hall is in his entry level contract.

          I’m not advocating the agressive type elbow/lumber(metal) but sometimes self defense is worth the risk if not necessary.

          When the game plan involves taking runs at you, it’s best to create some doubt about how soft the contact is going to be.

      • No doubt it was a different time, tougher game to play back then. Most of which would get you suspended for the better part of a season now.

        Taylor Hall just needs to pick his spots better. I’ll argue if it was even necessary to go balls out to the corner to get that puck?

        I would have been ok with the injury had he got it driving to the net.

  • Ya, if you watch Smytty, he has some vet tricks down. Like the “oops you were taking a run at me and i just put my hands up to protect myself and you got my stick in your teeth”, that kind of thing. Learn it Hallsy.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Also… we shouldn’t forget he wasn’t really injured in the fight per se… but in the awkward fall that incurred as the fight petered out. I don’t think that should discourage him from fighting… he’s as likely, if not more likely, to get that injury again just by playing with speed in dangerous areas.

  • Hall for President

    In a perfect world it would be nice to think that Hall could alter his game and be able to pick his spots.
    To me, however, it seems like the great players of the game are the ones who can use the elite skillsets that they have to make something out of nothing. RNH does it with vision, Hall does it with tenacity.
    Ovie has struggled since altering his game. If Hall loses that tenacity he may very well loose the skill that makes him elite.

  • This was pretty much the only fear I had about him leading up to the draft. No impressed that it’s coming to fruition.

    I’m sure he’ll learn from it, and I also feel that once he hits his peak size, adds 10-15 pounds of muscle, that players won’t be able to toss him around like that and we won’t have to worry about it as much. That’s the hope I’m holding out for anyway.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    How soon for the results of the MRI, should the Oilers know by game time?

    A suspension or two could go along way to buying Taylor some space out there.

  • RexLibris

    I remember last season Daniel Briere was suspended for a wicked cross-check to his opponent right off the faceoff. Rob Brown commented on Stauffer’s show that Briere likely did that as a strategic way of getting himself some more space and time. Even though he knew he was likely to have to sit for a few games, when he came back guys would be a little more careful around him. Brown even said that his junior coach used to “spot” him a couple of major stick infractions at the beginning of the season specifically for this same reason.

    While I’m not suggesting that Hall go berserk on someone off the faceoff, I agree with your points Robin, and those on Copper and Blue. Specifically about Hall needing to play a little dirtier in the trenches in order to make defenders look at him more like a potential danger than an inviting opportunity for a big hit.

    P.S. I’m okay will Hall fighting, as long he can figure out how to do it without injuring a shoulder or some such.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I tremble with fearful, joyful anticipation of the result of his play as I watch. Elbows needed! Take some nasty penalty’s. Elbow is a great choice! #11 indeed!!!

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Couldn’t agree more, every time Hall goes face-first into the ice/boards/defender, I Find It Strangely Terrifying.

    Edit: ._.

    I also disagree with Phaneufblows, Hall would be fine in a couple fights a year (hell, even Gags does that), but he just needs to learn the technique.

  • geoilersgist

    I will be first to say I don’t like how reckless he is and I hope he tones it down from now on. He is too important to get hurt all the time and his recklessness doesn’t do his body any good.

    EDIT: I also have no problem with Hall fighting if it gives him some space and he doesn’t hurt himself.