Trading Taylor Hall is on everyone’s mind right now. Even his.
I'm assuming that the Sabres would have to halve Hall's $8-million US AAV to generate a fit... https://t.co/89dB2OArYc— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) March 26, 2021
With this not-really-news, it’s clear that the intent of everyone involved is to trade Hall in the next few days. Even at a prorated half of $8 million, his salary is a tough fit for most teams. A quick look at Cap Friendly’s main page shows The Florida Panthers as the playoff team who could most easily accommodate that contract. They could, in fact, take it at full weight. If they want an upgrade from Mason Marchment or Frank Vatrano at left wing, there he is.
The Panthers are the extreme exception, however. Most teams would need to do a lot of shuffling to make Hall fit, and that is in addition to what it costs to get him as a rental. He needs to be worth it to teams less obvious than the Panthers for there to be a big market for him in trade. How many teams are playing a succession of depth players in their top six?
How good is Hall?
Hall is one of those players who is more meme than person. He is a game of hangman, a boating test, lottery balls and — to some — the reason several bad teams were bad.
That last bit of business is just the price of playing on a Canadian team when the management is terrible and the roster is allowed to stagnate. If anyone should grasp that it’s Leafs fans, but take the story a few kilometres west to Alberta, and suddenly the hoary old tales of locker room cancer and no compete become fun, so they get traction. Kyle Dubas makes decisions in reality not some narrative space of heroes and villains. He has to know who he’s trading for.
Hall, drafted by the Oilers when they were very bad — which is how you get a good player at 1st overall — walked into the NHL in his post draft season, and played through the depths of the Oilers dysfunction to 2016. The only time he wasn’t first or second in points on the team was the year he only played 53 games. He was third.
He was traded to New Jersey in 2016 and became an even bigger meme than he had been before. “The trade was one-for-one,” is a line that will follow you the rest of your career. When a player is pumped up in that narrative space as much as Hall was then, with the burning desire to roast maybe the most foolish GM in recent NHL history hot in everyone’s heart, someday the tide will turn. The GOAT to scapegoat cycle is a classic, but on teams of no import, Hall mostly disappeared for years.
A poorly timed acquisition on the rebuilding Devils, Hall was first or second in points except for the year he missed over half the season injured. As a pending UFA, he was traded to Arizona last season.
Arizona, a bad team trying to struggle through a rebuild with bad management actually made the playoffs and got nine games of excitement from Hall, giving him 14 games in total in the post season in his career. As a UFA, he left Arizona at a time they had discovered a deeper depth of management dysfunction, and he signed in Buffalo.
Maybe he’s the only player who would think Buffalo wasn’t a bad bet. And it wasn’t in some ways. With Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, some decent support forwards, Hall should have finished first or second in points again. He’s not. He’s fourth, though, which is pretty amazing considering he’s only scored two goals.
Present: Injured, Old or Uncaring
Is Hall bad now because of the injuries he suffered in New Jersey? Was he always just good on a bad team?
Whenever there are comments about a player’s compete or claims that he’s washed up at 29, the first thing you must look at is shooting percentage.
Hall’s career Sh % at five-on-five, as a simple average of all seasons played prior to this one. is 7.8%. That makes him an average finisher on his career. When you have that many seasons of information to use, you can rely on that average to be washed clean of variance that affects smaller sets of results. He has some years where his percentage dipped below five and some where it went above 10, but for comparison, Auston Matthews has never shot below 13% and Tyler Seguin, drafted one spot after Hall in 2010, has an average of 9.5%.
Hall and Seguin have gently declined post age 25 in almost identical ways. That’s not unusual, but it’s hardly fully predictable either. It might be prudent to expect both of them, in ideal conditions (Seguin is returning to play off an injury) to shoot at something less than their career average. How much less? Leaving aside the randomness factor, that would be impossible to answer. Somethings just are not quantifiable.
Hall is shooting 1.82% this year. That is so far below even his recent year’s results that it has to be considered a run of bad luck. He’d need a cast on each hand to have that explainable entirely by external factors. Hall comes in third on Moneypuck’s unlucky list:
Unluckiest players this season: Actual goals lower than shooting talent adjusted expected goalshttps://t.co/lnmeKNano1 pic.twitter.com/iQMwUvNeZz— MoneyPuck.com (@MoneyPuckdotcom) March 27, 2021
I’m passing on the opportunity to dig any deeper into the idea of career norms and variance with regards to shooting percentage. It’s not my turn to offer evidence on this front. Anyone who wants to advance the notion that his results in 30-some games is proof Hall just doesn’t try or is old now can produce the evidence.
Somewhere between seven and less than two per cent is the real finishing rate anyone could hope for from Hall on a full season. And when you’re looking at the value of a rental, this is where you have to accept that it’s always a dice roll on what sort of results they’ll achieve in a playoff run off their own shots.
Individual impact vs team effects
The more interesting thing about Hall’s Buffalo season is his shot rate. And now, with the shooting percentage dealt with, shots means all shots or Corsi, unless otherwise noted.
Hall’s rate is the lowest it’s ever been in his career, and it would still be second on the Leafs for regular roster players. Usually Hall shoots closer to the Auston Matthews range, which is a difficult thing to do. Since the last lockout and looking at all seasons combined, Matthews is the fifth highest in the NHL by Individual Corsi For per 60 Minutes. Hall is 33rd.
Given the “defence first, last and always” style of the former coach of the Sabres, and the fact that fellow hot-shooter Jeff Skinner is also shooting less than usual, I think that small downturn in pace is team effects, not Hall getting old and washed up.
If he’s shooting near his normal pace, then location is the next thing to look at. HockeyViz has his Expected Goals (on his own shots) at .85 per 60 minutes and the spray looks like a good net driver who is having trouble getting to the net sometimes. The result is a mix of net-front and beyond-the-circles, dump-in junk:
Last year on the Coyotes it was better, with less junk and a value of .97. The New Jersey portion of his 2019-2020 season was similar to the finish he had in Arizona. His entire New Jersey career saw him shooting at around .90 or more. There’s no evidence his injuries affected his shooting prior to now.
Using Jeff Skinner as a guidepost to the team effects under Ralph Krueger, I’m left with this: Skinner’s shooting never changes, and he is better at individual offence than Hall by a meaningful amount. Yes, that Jeff Skinner, who was scratched and ritually played on the fourth line. Skinner is one of the NHL’s best individual shooters, though, and Hall never has been.
The decline in Expected Goals off his own shots could be all down to the slight decline in shot rate. Even depth forwards shoot at a very high rate on the Leafs, so on a team where pace is the religion, Hall might revert to his normal quality. On the Leafs he’d be seventh using Evolving Hockey’s numbers and his Buffalo results. Not terrible, but a little bit of a question mark given that finishing on those shots is also not his best skill.
Hall is also a power play forward of note, but in my opinion, power plays, particularly on teams with poor rosters, are not reliable indicators of value on a team with a power play so good that it seems like anyone can be on it. I don’t think his value there is really the point for the Maple Leafs, and the Florida Panthers can make up their own mind.
Hall’s value, and the reason he’s a points leader on every team he’s ever been on, is found more in his effect on team offence than his own personal shooting. He’s not a sniper, you can see that clearly using simple old-fashioned measures. Overall impact, isolated to the player washed of team effects, is where modern analytical models are the ruler to use.
In his pre-Buffalo and post Oilers career, he shows up as a player with extremely high impact on team offence. Measure that by RAPM, GAR, the HockeyViz career isolate model, raw points as I’ve already done, and he’s the real deal. His defensive contributions used to be charmingly high for a winger and have waned a little, but if you think your top-six winger should be a great defender, you just got fired by Buffalo. Hall is not Phil Kessel, breaking charts with how terrible he is now, he’s just sort of meh around the edges outside of the offensive zone. But in the offensive zone, he is a meaningful force, earning his salary.
This season on the Sabres, Hall actually looks extraordinarily good by isolated measures of offensive value. HockeyViz is showing him having his highest ever impact on Expected Goals for. A little of that is due to how very, very bad everyone else is, but not all of it.
The only sign of Hall’s age is an extremely gentle decline in shot rate and quality. Nothing else argues against him as an elite or borderline elite top-six winger other than his shooting percentage trough. Taylor Hall is a top-six forward on any NHL team.
Leafs fans get a little spoiled and start thinking that Mitch Marner and William Nylander are just ordinary wingers, and every good team has four of them. This is very much not the case. Adding Zach Hyman back onto the top six, and the Leafs really are just missing that fourth man. Adding someone like Hall, who actually is in the Marner/Nylander league, instead of Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, Ilya Mikheyev or Alex Kerfoot is a significant upgrade. The value of an upgrade at the very top of the roster also means that quality players move down the lineup, hopefully making up for whoever has to be moved to make cap space.
Hall’s overall offensive game is so high-quality that it would be virtually impossible to not be making the team better by adding him, even at the cost of someone down the chain. But better in the right way?
If Dubas traded for Hall it would be a move that salts the sea. It’s a hard lean-in on offence first, last and always. It’s the anti-Granlund move. It’s bold and risky and speaks of total faith in the team to compete deep into the playoffs. Hall wouldn’t make the Leafs any worse defensively, but he’s unlikely to make them better.
The chance to add a legit first overall to a team that already has two of them does not roll around every year. If you believe that the Point of hockey is to score goals, and it’s the top tier of your team that wins you cups, you make this move. If you believe it’s Blake Coleman that put the Lightning over the top last year, you go back to looking at Granlund.
The real question is: What does Kyle Dubas believe?