TAYLOR HALL: THE SILVER LINING

With two black eyes and an adhesive pad the size of a dinner place mat covering the 30 sutures in his swollen jug, Taylor Hall was on his knees in the goal crease Tuesday throwing himself in front of a Sami Salo slapshot and trying to win a game the Edmonton Oilers would eventually lose 3-2 in a shootout to the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

"My God," I said, not even meaning to verbalize what I was thinking when Hall yanked the words out of my head as he scrambled around beside Devan Dubnyk with Salo, who just had his slapshot clocked at 105 mph in a skills contest, hammering a puck at Edmonton’s net from 30 feet or so away.

It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and there have been a few in the almost 30 years I’ve spent watching and writing about hockey for a living. A defining split second that tells me all I need to know about Hall and the kind of stuff he’s made of. Is it just me? I doubt it.

All I know is this: whether I’m a fan of the Oilers or Daryl Katz, the guy who signs the cheques as the owner of the team, Hall, a bizarre combination of Rocky Raccoon and Frankenstein’s monster with those twin shiners and all that needlework in his forehead, is the face of my franchise.

That’s the player, with no disrespect to the gloriously gifted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the sublime Jordan Eberle or the next young talent that will arrive with another lottery pick, I’m hitching my wagon to. That’s what I’m selling to the people who buy tickets.

That’s what a winner looks like.

WHATEVER IT TAKES

What we saw in the loss to the Canucks, one that sends the Oilers to the all-star break with an 18-26-5 record and 41 points after 49 games, is what Hall is and what will make him the cornerstone player this franchise has lacked in six mostly miserable seasons since Chris Pronger blew town after the 2006 Stanley Cup final.

With his stitches still fresh after Corey Potter stepped on his face Jan. 17 during the warm-up in Columbus, Hall had a goal and an assist against the Canucks in his third game back from that hideous incident. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what sticks with me.

Hall, 20, was up and down the ice all night, taking on defenders and charging after pucks. It was as if he was trying to carry the team on his back, hell-bent on willing a win as an encore to an unexpected victory over the San Jose Sharks to send the Oilers to the break on a much-needed high.

Granted, all that roaring around like a house on fire isn’t in the game plan, it’s not the way coach Tom Renney and his staff draw it up, but so be it. I’m guessing fans don’t mind his deviation from the X’s and O’s a bit. Then, that sequence in the goal crease. "My God," indeed.

PASSION

"Our compete level, you know, our passion, our determination is going to have to be on every night," Hall said matter-of-factly after the game.

"That’s not that hard, you know? If you’re hurt or if you’re not feeling good, you can always bring passion to the game. That’s just something that has to be mandatory with our team and the last two games are a sign of that."

If the Oilers are going to pull themselves up off the floor after six straight years of defeat, ineptitude and frustration and give their long-suffering fans reason to believe, it’ll take more than just the blood and guts approach of a Jason Smith type.

It’ll take more than just the stunning skills of a Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle or Ales Hemsky. It’ll take all the above, all the right pieces, and a whole bunch more to get it right. It will take time and patience. The foundation to this rebuild, to any rebuild, though, was laid out for all to see by Hall Tuesday.

That’s what a winner looks like.

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

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Hey guys, when cableguy shows up, everyone wish him a Happy Birthday. Even if he plays all bashful and denies it, let him have it with both barrels. He’ll be touched and need a tissue i’m sure.

    Despite what a few of us think of him, he’s actually a pretty good guy.

  • I think Hall will be an excellent captain in Edm., but waiting until the 2012-2013 season makes more sense. There’s no doubt he is a leader with a desire to win like few have. I suspect that whether he has a C on his jersey or not he will be the same leader and have the same level of respect from his teammates. He’s just 20 and in his second year, give him one more season to play without the added/unnecessary focus and pressure. How does rushing to put a C on his jersey help anything?

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Why wait? (see above re: J. Toews/Chicago) Set the tone now as next season starts today not tomorrow. It should be Hall’s team.

      that’s why . . .

      • Rob...

        Does waiting another year make it less of his team to the guys who play and practice with him every day? Do you think he’ll feel jilted if it isn’t on his sweater next fall? Will it make him play better? I doubt it.

        Will he have to deal with more media b.s. which can’t help but be a pain in the a**? If he goes through some struggles during the season will the “added pressure of being the captain” become a topic. Yes.

        Unless he’s dying to put it on – which seems unlikely given his level of determination now – I see little upside. Give him an ‘A’ for 1 season first, let him mature some more and have fun with his buddies. He’ll be a force by the start of 2013: then he can wear the C at the same time he is staring guys down and making them poop in their pants a little.

        • vetinari

          Fair enough but my point was more about Hall and less about Horcoff. I like Horcs and his role in the future for this teamwith a more reasonable contract will become clear soon. Otherwise he won’t be here.

          How will Horcs feel next year though? any better?

          Off topic but Brownlee is Horcs a 100%?

    • I agree with your take.

      There’s no reason to strip Horcoff of the captaincy to put a C on Hall’s jersey. Hall will be Hall with or without a letter and he’s going to be a leader no matter what. He’ll be the next to wear the C.

      I take stripping a captain of the C a sign of disrespect. Fans can say what they want about Horcoff or complain about how much money he makes, but he does not deserve that. He’s respected by everyone in the room and he’s been more welcoming of the kids, dating back to the arrival of Gagner, than anybody I can think of. He’s a good team man.

        • It’s a possibility, but it’s not as likely as seeing Horcoff play out his time here as captain.

          Even when Kelly Buchberger, Jason Smith and Ethan Moreau were in decline and not nearly the most impactful players on the team, nobody took the C from them — or suggested quietly behind closed doors that they hand it over while spinning it as a passing of the torch.

          • B-man

            And I guess one could argue that those teams were lacking in true leadership and ultimately success.

            While I agree with your statement regarding Horcoff remaining as captain, I don’t think it is the best thing for this hockey club going forward.

      • I wouldn’t want Horcoff to be stripped of the ‘C’ either. I would, however, like to see him offer it to Hall this offseason. Keep Horcoff around as an ‘A’ and let Hall lead this team, while Horcoff can still be his mentor and a big part of this leadership group.

    • B-man

      i think Horcoff could make a very classy jesture by handing the Hall the C this summer. It would be symbolic passing of the torch. Hall has IT, man.. the Kid has the X factor. I wouldnt be the least bit surprised if he was a letter for Team Canada one day.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Random thoughts . . .

    – Tambo how about Hall signing for Dipietro like contract term now? or even bolder make it the longest term in NHL history.

    – Renney/Lowe how about Captain for Hall (precedent see J. Toews 1 year after rookie season – I would say he has more heart and wants to win more than anything/anyone)

    – @Dan the Man Hall is not foolish everything about the way he plays is FEARLESS

    – New team identity = BE FEARLESS

  • Just let him play.Don’t force the captaincy on him until he is ready.He is our generations Messier but you would never give the moose the captaincy at this young age.
    I don’t know if it’s by design but when Hall is on the ice they seem to play the Detroit 3:2 left wing lock.Going forward this is the system that I think favors our personel.

  • Give him the “A”. next year is also my vote.
    Let him get settled into the NHL game. Its not easy wearing a “C” with the way the team is playing, plus question marks about coaching etc. As someone said ” let him have some fun” , plus I see at times he needs some maturity.. as a captain you can’t wear all on your sleeve,..
    For sure should be the next “C”.

  • Thanks RB – people can argue about Horc’s on-ice shortcomings if they wish. But as an outsider he seems like an incredibly stand up guy who works his guts out and has the respect of all the young guys. Can’t think there’s too many guys who pull the real jersey on and think his captaincy is part of the problem or needs to go to Taylor asap.

  • paul wodehouse

    ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Q …………f*ck

  • B-man

    I agree with giving Hall the C,you have someone who actually shows emotion and wants to win and is sick of losing.Right now they have a captain is highly over played,shows no emotion,does not lead this team and can’t play the game of hockey.This is a team that has been rebuilding since 93 and they’ve been rebuilding the same since way then let’s change the direction this rebuild is going let the kids run this team and get rid of the vets (Horc)who should be a third liner on another farm team and get rid of the coach who constantly has Horc on the ice.Every 4on4 Horc is on the ice you should have players with speed and talent out there.Quinn would have been a great coach for this group because he would have sat these players that think that don’t have to show up and I guarantee he would not have put Horc in the shootout against Vancouver because he would have liked to win

  • RexLibris

    After Hall’s injury I was chatting online with some guys at FN during a Flames broadcast and I mentioned that, with Hall’s passion for the game and determination to win, that scar was going to make him a fairly intimidating guy to go up against as he gets older. There were remarks to the contrary from the peanut gallery, but as I have seen more of Hall’s personality come out I am beginning to put more stock into what many in the media said about Hall being similar, in some ways, to both Messier and Anderson. I get it.

    Hall may become somewhere near as good a captain as Toews and if he can be mentioned in the same breath in a year or two, I will be very happy with that. If he becomes better? Well, I won’t get ahead of myself here.

    The Taylor/Tyler debate has been largely settled, in my mind also. I was in the Seguin camp before the draft, until I saw Seguin’s tattoo. It was his own name inked on the back of his bicep. That told me something about him as a person and his team suspensions for “sleeping in” prior to a practice have only served to reinforce that impression. He is a superbly gifted player, but I don’t believe that his early success is doing his ego any favours and it will remain to be seen how he turns out as a veteran.

    Great read, RB. Thank you. Like you said, with a character like Hall it practically writes itself.

    If Hall is a Frankenstein’s monster, my guess is that he has Messier’s fire, Anderson’s legs, Buchberger’s willingness to sacrifice, and countless other pieces of beloved Oilers from the past. Now, all he needs is Stan Weir’s beard and we’ve got ourselves a winner.

  • Devolution

    First of all, full disclosure, I live 12 time zones away and only get Oiler games by internet radio so I may not be as plugged in as many but…

    On Hemsky, the grass is always greener. If we didn’t have him and another team made him available everyone here would be drooling to get someone with his obvious talent. It is the old familiarity breeds contempt scenario.

    On Horcoff. He is a decent checking line guy. His contract isn’t his fault and we are stuck with it. If you ignore his contract and just look at the guy and his stats he is OK, not top 6 but not everyone can be.

    On defense, Christ, who knows…

  • Devolution

    Thanks Brownlee for shining a light on that play.

    Sounds like leadership to me. He will lead them to play with passion and determination like he does. He is setting the standard.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Hall is a gem… Luckily he’s shown himself to have the strength of endurance of an industrial diamond.

    On the C debate. I’m not sure what the rush is to make a move. It’s not like we are talking about leading a political party where there is a huge up-side in power and authority and there are always factions stirring up trouble in the wings trying to grab the fasces. I can’t imagine Hall (or Eberle, who would also be a good candidate IMO down the road) is chomping at the bit.

    When Horc’s contract expires the team will take on a new identity anyway and the moment will make for a nice passing of the torch. Hopefully by that time we will be a contender or at least well on our way.

    @Brownlee and the rest… who else stands out as a leader in the younger classes (on the team or in the farm)? I’d be curious to hear who are the more vocal team-players of the up-and-coming crop.

  • Last week Eberle was the future captain. This week it’s Hall. RNH will have his turn soon too I suppose. Maybe when we draft Yakupov we can just give him a 12 jersey with the ‘C’ already on it.

    Hall is a driven player who wants to win. That’s great, and maybe it means he’ll be captain some day, and maybe it doesn’t.

    For now Horcoff is the leader of this team, and by all accounts he’s doing a good job of it. I have no idea why so many people just assume he isn’t deserving of being captain with nothing to support their theory. It’s not something you base on who’s playing best this week.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      I gather you are referring to this LT article:

      http://oilersnation.com/2012/1/7/the-importance-of-jordan-eberle

      Future captain? Long term contract? I think it’s reasonable to suggest these things are possible if Eberle continues to be so productive on the ice and such a strong presence off the ice. He’s an emerging leader, even has his own TV commercial.

      At any rate, I think ON can take three things to heart

      1) We got a lot of talent in the organization and a lot of potential leadership in that group

      2) The inability to peg Hall above Eberle at this point lends credence to the fact that there is no rush and it is best to let the boys develop individually and as a team then rush them into leadership roles

      3) crowning a captain takes a lot of consideration (contracts? make-up of team currently and going forward? composure? maturity? etc)

      I expect this question will get more traction after Hall and Eberle re-sign sometime next year (hopefully to long-term deals)

      • I gather you are referring to this LT article:

        I wasn’t referring Lowetide’s article or even to anything specific. It’s just that it was all about Eberle and everyone wanted Eberle to be the next captain, and now Hall has a run of great games and suddenly it’s Hall.

        I didn’t mean Brownlee’s article either; right or wrong Brownlee is pretty consistent in his opinions…I’m talking more about the peanut gallery.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          Oh yea… internet… hard to convey intentions… ha!

          I didn’t mean to imply you were calling out either Brownlee or LT or trying to start a flame war between the two or the commenters…

          I was just putting up the LT article as a reference point as something that initiated a lot of the chatter surrounding Eberle. It gives the current conversation a frame of reference and ties it to a history (one which you seemed to be trying to remind us of). That’s all.

          That’s why I didn’t dwell on it and moved on to the rest of my comment.

  • Settle down people.

    Hall has a ways to go before he has a C on his chest.

    Captains don’t slam their sticks on the boards after bad plays, or question their coaches decisions (ie; why the f*@k did we pull the goalie?!?) on national tv.

    He has all the tools, but like an elite defenceman, a captain is usually a couple years in the making.

    Horcoff will have the C next year and possibly the one after that.

    By then, we will know for sure….

    ……but if Eberle has anything to say about it…….

      • Better get to your nearest Rexall and grab some lube ASAP….it should help ease the pain….

        Can’t see him getting bought out, and I’m not sure even a team in need of reaching the cap floor would trade for him (unless of course we get an ugly contract back, so really, why would you?)

        Face it guys, Horcoff is going to ride out that contract in blue and orange

  • So winning teams don’t slam rookies into the show? really. Toews, Kane

    Crosby, Malkin, fluery, Stall, Couture,Couturier,Seguin

    Toews and Couture did not make the NHL right out of the draft. Malkin was 20 his rookie season.

    Couturier, Seguin, and Staal played bottom 6 minutes, this is nothing like being counted on to help lead the team as a rookie.

    I’m not counting Crosby because it’s stupid that you even mentioned him.

    Fleury played in 21 games as a rookie, not exactly and essential component.

    This leaves Kane. Chicago was not exactly a winning team at the time, and he was a #1 overall pick.

    Nobody is saying that rookies shouldn’t make the NHL, but you can’t field a team whose entire core are teenagers and expect results.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    An assistant captain for Hall next season if Hemsky no longer here , but captaincy is a stretch . No need to rush him at this stage . In other words break him in slowly if Horcoff still here . He’ll have enough pressure next season without the pressures of being captain . Let him lead with his on ice presence first and formost . When team is ready to compete at playoff level , then might be the time to promote him to captain .

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The shelves are so bare here in Edmonton i don’t see why you wouldn’t want to put the C on Halls shoulder. He’s already the undisputed leader here amongst Eberle, Hopkins and the rest of these alsorans.

    Start speaking up Taylor, this is your team. After a year and a half of this ship, when those doors on the dressing room close, give them both barrels. Raise the bar.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Hall is more about action than talk at this point in his career, although that might change somewhat in the years to come.

      Hall can be who he is and what he is — a leader — without a letter on his jersey if need be until Horcoff is done here.

      No need to force it.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I have to agree with the article………but I know that there will be many more defining moments and one that includes some post season play.

    I think that when that day comes the terrific trio of H-R-E will be playing in their first post season game………lighting it up of course!

    Hall, Eberle, and RNH play like the only thing that matters is winning, how refreshing.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    “That’s not that hard, you know? If you’re hurt or if you’re not feeling good, you can always bring passion to the game. That’s just something that has to be mandatory with our team and the last two games are a sign of that.”

    Shades of Mark Messier. I like that. I like it a lot.