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Elliotte Friedman thinks the Oilers might be interested in bringing back Taylor Hall

We’re only a couple of weeks into the 2019-20 season and we’re already talking about teams who could be looking to buy and sell prior to the trade deadline. There’s plenty of time left for things to change, but it doesn’t take very long for teams to get an idea of what way their season is likely to go.

A big story this year has been the early flop of the New Jersey Devils. With franchise centrepeice Taylor Hall set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career this summer, the Devils went all-in to make their club comeptitive. They acquired P.K. Subban in a trade with Nashville, they grabbed KHL-standout Nikita Gusev from the Golden Knights, and they added Wayne Simmonds in free agency. All of these additions coupled with drafting Jack Hughes first-overall were supposed to help vault the Devils back into the playoffs.

Things aren’t working out so far. The Devils are the only winless team left in hockey, sitting with a 0-4-2 record through six games. Of course, we won’t write anybody off after two weeks, but it’s incredibly difficult to pull yourself out of a deep early-season hole, especially given how much partiy exists in the league today. Last year’s St. Louis Blues are the exception, not the rule.

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In this week’s 31 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman discussed Hall as the headline story. 

The biggest question the Devils need to ask themselves is: What do they believe Hall wants to do? They’ve already been talking to him. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner has said many times that he loved being in the playoffs two years ago, and New Jersey knows the best chance of making him happy is making him believe they can consistently get there.

If the Devils can’t pull themselves together and prove to Hall that they’re a contender, it’s hard to imagine him inking an extension prior to July 1. He’s been in the league for nearly a decade now and he’s only made the playoffs one, which came back in his Hart Trophy-winning 2017-18 season. If the Devils are out of the mix come the New Year and an extension isn’t in the works, general manager Ray Shero will almost certainly be looking to make a trade.

Friedman went on to join Tim and Sid on Sportsnet on Wedensday to discuss his topics from 31 Thoughts. The first thing they talked about was the Devils and their conundrum with Hall. A question was half-jokingly asked as to whether the Edmonton Oilers would be a possible suitor for Hall if he hit the trade market and Friedman suggested he would expect for them to be in involved.

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There’s no question that as New Jersey has struggled to win this has become more and more of a question around the league — how long will they wait.

The Devils know if they aren’t looking like a consistent playoff team, the chances of him [Taylor Hall] staying are extremely unlikely. They know they have to get going. They made a pretty interesting move today behind the bench and they realize if it doesn’t change they’re going to have to start having conversations with other clubs.

It would not surprise me at all if Edmonton is a big suitor there. I don’t know if they can make a trade, if they have enough to make a deal, but it just wouldn’t surprise me. Put it this way, it has long been believed that if Edmonton had a chance to correct and bring him back, they would be interested. There’s a new GM there now, so we’ll see. 

You can listen to the whole clip here. It starts at 36:00. 

The Oilers now sit at 6-1 after last night’s win over Philadelphia, good for top spot in the Western Conference. As I pointed out the other day, depth scoring has remained somewhat of an issue for this team. I expect it to be better than last season, but the Oilers are going to need to rely heavily on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to do a lot of heavy lifting.

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If the Oilers are going to keep this up and make the playoffs in a very competitive Western Conference, making an addition up front would go a long way. McDavid and Draisaitl are already likely the best duo in hockey right now and inserting Hall into the lineup with James Neal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would give the Oilers two elite lines.

Now, this is a nice thing to think about in theory, but does it make any sense in real life? If Hall does hit the rental market, he would become the most coveted rental player out there. Plenty of teams would be in on him and the Devils would be able to command a big return. I would expect something similar to what the Golden Knights paid for Mark Stone last year, which was top prospect Erik Brannstrom, depth player Oscar Lindberg, and a seconrd-round pick. A quick comparable would be the Oilers giving up Philip Broberg, Joakim Nygard, and a pick.

If the Oilers were making this kind of trade to boost their team right now, they would also have to be doing so with the long-term in mind. The Golden Knights signed Stone to a long-term deal immidiately after acquiring him, so it was never actually a rental for them. If the Oilers are going to give up a heavy package for Hall, they would have to do so with the intention of signing him.

Edmonton’s salary cap situation starts to become a lot more flexibile this summer, which is why it’s great that Ken Holland didn’t make any major investments this off-season. The Oilers have about $57 million committed to the salary cap next season and only $37 million committed for 2021-22. If they wanted to sign Hall to a deal worth $9.5 million annually, as Stone did last year, they could make it work.

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There’s no doubt that Hall is a great player who would immidiately make Edmonton’s offence much more potent, but there are plenty of questions to ask. Are the Oilers interested in a Hall return? Would it work in the dressing room? Is Hall interested in coming back to the organization that let him go? Is this the best way for the Oilers to use their impending salary cap flexibility? Can they risk making a major financial commitment to a player with injury concerns?

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A lot can change in the next few months, but this is something to keep an eye on.