I’m probably in the minority, but I never thought that Taylor Hall was guilty of anything other than being the best player on a team so bad and so off the rails that he couldn’t do enough to get it back on track during the 381 games he spent with the Edmonton Oilers before getting his ticket out of town in June 2016.
Just 19 years old when he arrived in the middle of a mess halfway through the Decade of Darkness, Hall was far from a perfect player during his time as an Oiler. That said, I always thought Hall ended up wearing more of the blame than he should have for the failures of a team that had a questionable front office and ran a carousel of coaches behind the bench. Hall wasn’t a team-guy, he was a me-guy. He wasn’t a leader. On and on . . .
It turns out Hall wasn’t the problem, of course, as we’re seeing now. The Oilers are floundering again, out of playoff contention after last season’s 103-point tease. At the same time, Hall, traded to the New Jersey Devils straight up for defenceman Adam Larsson, is dragging the Devils toward the post-season during a campaign that has him in contention for the Hart Trophy.
That juxtaposition, in concert with the trade by GM Peter Chiarelli — one just about everybody agreed he got waxed on from the minute it was made — is just another addition to the pile that has Oiler fans sour these days. For his part, Hall, who certainly took the trade personally when it was made, has moved on. He’s got a 25-game point-streak on the go. He’s on a contending team. Life is pretty good. Hall talked about that on a conference call today.
IN THE SWAMP
“I’ve always wanted to play on a playoff team,” said Hall, asked if felt vindicated by the season he’s having with New Jersey. “I’ve always wanted to be on a winning team, a successful team, and for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen in Edmonton. More than anything, I’m just happy to be in that situation, happy to be in a playoff race spotlight.
“It’s a fun place to be after not really experiencing that throughout my career, so I don’t think ‘vindicated’ is the word I’d choose. I’m happy with the season I’ve had personally. I’m happy with our team’s season and that’s a good feeling to have after the years I’ve been through.”
With 30-42-72 in 61 games going into action tonight, Hall is going to take a run at his best season, 27-53-80 with the Oilers in 2013-14. More important, the Devils are in a playoff spot as of today with Hall leading the way. That’s something the Oilers never managed during his six seasons in Edmonton – a lot of the blame for that was heaped on his shoulders as his time here wound down. Then, the trade. “I think it’s safe to say I’m a very motivated player now,” Hall said when he was traded to New Jersey. Remember that?
“Whenever you go through change, whether it’s a trade or anything in life, really, it forces you step back and reassess things,” Hall said. “If anything, it was an opportunity for a fresh start, with a fresh coaching staff and fresh management. I was able to come in with a clean slate. In my second season here, we have the exact same coaching staff, a lot of the same players back. Over the course of my career in Edmonton I had a lot of different coaches, a lot of changes. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
For all the terrific moments on the ice Hall had here amid the losing and ineptitude, the bull rushes up the wing, reckless charges toward the net, the vivid memory I have of him is the ridiculous scene on the Oiler bench, when coach Dallas Eakins turned in a dramatic performance after being sprayed by a water bottle Hall tossed. It was a sad and sorry microcosm of his tenure in Edmonton. Hall wanted better than that here. Fans deserved better than that – they still do. That’s not Hall’s problem anymore.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- When it comes to carve jobs on the state of the Oilers, they don’t get much more stinging than this bit of business posted today on Twitter by somebody calling himself James Tinney. It’s over-the-top for sure and NSFW in terms of language, but I’m guessing it echoes the thoughts and frustrations of a big segment of the fan base here.