I think we’ve established that Taylor Hall is unlikely to make the Olympic team—he’s on my team without a throw—but as the calendar turns it’s important to keep in mind what Hall’s been through this season, and what he’s been doing recently.
TAYLOR HALL BY MONTH, 2013-14
Early in the season he was a center, and then he suffered an injury. Although he didn’t miss a lot of time (7 games), it certainly had an impact when he returned to play. Still, Hall has been improving and recently has been very good, especially at evens (he has 11 of the team’s 81 even-stength goals). In Hall’s last 6 games, he’s 3-7-10 +4. Things aren’t back to normal (his Corsi For % at 5×5/close is lagging from previous seasons) but he’s trending in a good direction.
I’d love to see him at the Olympics, but Hall’s performances for the Oilers are the real thrill for this fan. Taylor Hall is a difference maker, and the team’s recent record (2-0-2 in the last four game) has a lot to do with #4.
Even having a season that looks wonky based on his own established levels, Hall is one of the top players in the game (76th in GVT right now and trending) and if Team Canada passes on him they’re addled.
HE CAN’T PLAY DEFENSE!
The ‘he can’t play defense’ argument went full sail during the WHC’s last year, when Lindy Ruff chose to hamstring his own team and move Hall down the depth chart. Hall’s ability to push the river and help possession makes him BETTER than a defensive forward—the best defense is a good offense—and hockey fans can go overboard making this argument.
Example: Gretzky. People would bitch and moan about his ability to play defense, completely disregarding the fact that the puck was rarely in Edmonton’s zone with 99 on the ice. I know, I was there and I did it! Today’s modern metrics allow me to understand that Gretzky’s offense was so good that the defensive side of the game was reduced markedly with him as part of the solution (that became less of a factor as time wore on, but as an Oiler the ice was tilted in a major way—more than at any other time in history is my guess).
Now, I’m not comparing Hall to Gretzky, but the dynamics are the same. What Hall does well (drives defensemen back, opening up space for zone entries on sorties) has extreme value in possession metrics, and pushes the river in Edmonton’s favor. Now, they don’t do enough with it, but that’s another discussion.
If the group choosing Team Canada focuses on that, Hall makes this team in a breeze.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
My guess is Team Canada passes on Hall, and that he uses it as fuel to punish the hockey world. As an Oiler fan, that’s the best thing about looking forward to 2014.