Ray Shero made moves this summer that made it clear that the New Jersey Devils want to make the playoffs this season.
The Devils got the 1st overall pick this summer, and they selected Jack Hughes. They made a trade with the cap-strapped Vegas Golden Knights for Russian KHL star and NHL rookie Nikita Gusev. They signed Wayne Simmonds to a one-year deal. In his biggest deal, Shero traded for PK Subban.
The timing of all of these moves may have a lot to do with the fact that this is a contract year for their best player, Taylor Hall.
Hall has made it clear that he wants to be in the playoffs. The Devils are doing their best to get there to increase their odds of being able to re-sign their franchise winger.
This season hasn’t started the way that they wanted it to. The Devils are sitting in last spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 1-4-2 record after winning their first game Thursday night.
Heightened expectations, a star player in a contract year, and a poor start is the perfect recipe for rumours!
Elliotte Friedman said that he thinks Edmonton could be a suitor for Hall. He believes that the Oilers have been open to the idea of a reconciliation for a couple of years now. This is purely speculation on his part, but this isn’t first time that someone has suggested the possibility of Hall coming back.
If we’re going to talk about it, then let’s talk about it. The Oilers could either trade for Hall, or wait until he hits unrestricted free agency in the summer. Let’s look at both options.
First, a look at the salary cap situation. Here’s where the team sits today. I’ve excluded this morning’s re-call of William Lagesson because he will be sent back down to Bakersfield once Joel Persson returns from concussion protocol. The purpose of this is to examine the regular team that the Oilers are fielding this season to see how Hall could fit:
Draisaitl ($8.5M) McDavid ($12.5M) Kassian ($1.95M)
Chiasson ($2.15M) Nuge ($6M) Neal ($5.75M)
Khaira ($1.2M) Sheahan ($900k) Archibald ($1M)
Jurco ($750K) Granlund ($1.3M) P. Russell ($700k)
Klefbom ($4,167,000) Bear ($720k)
Nurse ($3.2M) Russell ($4M)
Manning ($2.25M) Benning ($1.9M)
IR: Brodziak ($1.15M), Nygard ($925k)
LTIR: Larsson ($4,166,666)
Buy Out: Puliot – $1,333,333; Gryba – $300,000; Sekera – $2.5M
Retained: Lucic – $750,000
Buried: Gagner – $2,075,000
Total Cap Hit: $79,391,999
Cap Space: $2,108,001
If the Oilers were to add Hall and his $6M cap hit during this season, then they would have to come up with a package enticing enough to make the Devils want to part with Hall. It would have to involve at least one roster player because they would need to move at least $3,891,999 out to make room for Hall’s cap hit.
The first obvious player that comes to mind is Larsson. The team is winning without him right now and there’s a history with Hall and Larsson being traded for one another; but I can’t imagine a scenario where the Devils would reverse the trade that brought them Hall in the first place. Many of you know I was a supporter of the Hall trade in 2016. I stand by that; but I don’t think the Devils would reverse the trade now… not after Hall won the Hart Trophy. It would have to be Larsson + something else, which really doesn’t make sense from the Oilers’ standpoint.
Larsson, McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Neal, Klefbom, and Russell are the Oilers that earn more than $3,891,999 currently. I don’t see any of the defencemen going the other way in a trade because Shero likely doesn’t want to reverse the Larsson trade, Klefbom is too important to the Oilers’ success, and Russell just isn’t good enough of a return for Hall.
Obviously, McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t going anywhere. I can’t see the Devils taking on 4 more years of James Neal, even with his hot start.
That leaves Nugent-Hopkins.
Nuge has 2 years left at $6 million (including this year). Hall has 1 year left at $6 million. The money would work there. The Devils have two young stars in Hughes and Nico Hischier centering their top two lines. They would benefit from two years of playing underneath Nuge in the lineup. They wouldn’t be forced to shoulder as much of the burden offensively at such young ages.
It would likely take Nuge and a high pick or a top prospect or two to get a trade for Hall done at this point in my opinion. Any of Benson, Yamamoto, Broberg, Samorukov, or Jones would likely be in play as a part of any deal.
If you swap Nuge for Hall in your current top 6 for the Oilers, then McDavid and Draisaitl would need to be split up. Draisaitl and Hall have had chemistry in the past, so I could see those two getting paired up. McDavid would get Neal on his wing I would imagine. Hall and McDavid didn’t gel together while Hall was still here, so I’m not sure why it would work now. The lines would likely look something like this:
Put them in whatever order you want, those would be the combos.
Hall is better than Nuge. This would be an improvement over what currently exists; but whether it’s enough of an improvement to warrant losing the pick(s) and/or prospect(s) is another question entirely. I am of the belief that based on the quality of Nuge’s game on the defensive side of the puck, his reliability on the PK, and his extra year of team control and cap certainty, I’d refrain from spending the additional assets on Hall.
Regardless of your opinion on that, we also have to think about next season and beyond. Hall is likely to command anywhere from $10-11 million next year. I’m going to use the conservative estimate of $10 million as an AAV for Hall for his next contract. Having Hall at $10 million with McDavid and Draisaitl, the three would combine for a $31 million cap hit… that looks a lot like the cap structure that the Leafs have with Tavares, Matthews, and Marner combining for a $33.527 million cap hit. They have been bleeding depth for the last couple of seasons (JVR, Bozak, Kadri, and Gardiner) and that is only likely to continue next summer (I can’t see them being able to afford Barrie).
The Oilers currently have only 6 forwards, 3 defencemen, and Koskinen committed for next season. Their total cap hit will be $52,933,666. Eric Gryba’s buyout will come off of the books next year, but that’s only $300k. We have to add Pouliot and Sekera’s buyouts (total of $3,833,333) along with the $750k retained in the Lucic trade. That brings the Oilers to $57,516,999 in commitments for next season.
In the scenario where the Oilers trade Nuge in a package for Hall, that cap number would fall to $51,516,999. Hall’s $10 million would bring it up to $61,516,999.
With 10 players committed, that means they would have to add 13 more players to their active roster. We don’t know what the salary cap will be next season, but it is not expected to rise by much. Hypothetically, let’s say it stays the same ($81.5 million) for simplicity’s sake. In that scenario, the Oilers would have $19,983,001 to add 13 players. That’s an average of $1,537,154 per player. That’s not much to work with!
I honestly can’t see the Devils moving Hall this season because they are going to do everything in their power to get him re-signed. That will involve their waiting until the last minute if they have to. I think they will risk losing him to unrestricted free agency.
If the Oilers were to just wait for July 1, 2020 to roll around to sign Hall for $10 million, then the Oilers would have $67,516,999 committed for next season, leaving them with $13,983,001 to sign 12 players. That leaves an average of 1,165,250 per player.
Keep in mind that the Oilers have to re-sign Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear next summer as well. If Nurse signs for $7 million, then the average available per player would drop to $634,818. That’s below the league minimum!
Holland could move out Kris Russell and replace his roster spot with Caleb Jones, which would save $3.28 million (if Russell is traded for non-roster assets). He could bring up young players like Benson, Yamamoto, Marody, Bouchard, and Jones. There are options available to Holland should he pursue Hall in free agency, but it will be tough to make the money work.
Here’s a hypothetical roster for 2020-21 if the Oilers were to sign Hall as an UFA for $10 million per season next July:
Hall ($10M) McDavid ($12.5M) Draisaitl ($8.5M)
Benson ($808,333) Nuge ($6M) Neal ($5.75M)
Khaira ($1.2M) Marody ($925k) Yamamoto ($894,166)
Gambardella ($700k) Sheahan ($900k) Chiasson ($2.15M)
McLeod ($834,167) Maksimov ($775k)
Klefbom ($4,167,000) Bear ($2M)
Nurse ($7M) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Jones ($720k) Bouchard ($894,167)
Buyouts: Pouliot – $1,333,333; Sekera – $2.5M
Retained: Lucic – $750,000
Total Cap Hit: $81,576,998
Cap Space ($81.5M cap): -$76,998
Of course, not all of these numbers are concrete. The values used for Hall, Nurse, Bear, and Sheahan are not set in stone for next season. They could vary by enough to get the Oilers under the cap. The salary cap could also rise by enough to get the Oilers where they would need to be in this scenario.
Remember, I’ve traded Kris Russell for non-roster assets in this scenario as well. The likelihood of that happening is low. Hall could get more than $10 million. The totals could also be higher than what I’ve forecasted.
The point of this exercise was to show just how hard it would be to get under the cap if the Oilers were to pursue Hall next July. A lot of the names I used on this hypothetical roster are currently playing in Bakersfield. They were used because their contracts are all set for next year, they could legitimately fight for spots next year, and their contract values are where the Oilers would need to have players in order to make Hall fit under the cap. Not all of those players will be in Edmonton next year. Surely, McLeod and Maksimov won’t be extra forwards with the Oilers, that would be the wrong decision for their development. The names on this roster are interchangeable, but the numbers need to be about the same.
I personally think that $10 million would be better spent by adding more quality depth. The Oilers could use that money to get a cheaper top 6 winger and a quality 3rd line centre. They need to find a way to have 3 lines that can contribute on the scoresheet… right now, there’s still only really one. Most of Neal’s production has come on the powerplay so far, not at even strength. This hypothetical is incredibly top-heavy, which is a familiar refrain in Edmonton.
Taylor Hall is a great player. He is a fantastic skater and he has proven that he can compete with the league’s best players. I will give him credit for maturing in New Jersey. However, I don’t think that I would be pursuing him if I were Ken Holland because I don’t think spending $10 million plus on him for the next 5-8 years is the best decision given the fact that the Oilers have so many other great young players coming up the pipeline that will need to get paid during the course of Hall’s next contract.
Nurse and Bear are both up next summer. So are Jones and Lagesson. Nuge and Larsson are up in 2021. Benson and Yamamoto are up in 2021 as well. A decision will have to be made on Oscar Klefbom in 2023. Bouchard and Broberg will be due for new contracts in the next 3—4 years. Not all of those guys are likely to re-sign with the Oilers, but many of them will require major paydays because they will be big parts of the Oilers team in the next few seasons and beyond. Having Hall around will force the Oilers to make a lot of hard sacrifices in other positions over the term of his next contract.
I haven’t even brought up Hall’s injury history and how that might get worse as he ages. He doesn’t impact the game if he isn’t in the lineup!
The Oilers reuniting with Hall and satisfying the hopes and dreams of many angry and jaded Oilers fans is certainly a romantic idea; but I just don’t think it’s a feasible or wise idea. I don’t think the Oilers can afford to offer a package that would entice the Devils to move Hall during the season, and I don’t think the roster they could muster up by signing Hall as an UFA next summer would be deep enough to compete for a championship.
Keep dreaming Oilers fans! I don’t see a reunion with Hall happening.