Wise teams don’t do desperate things. They take advantage of teams looking to do desperate things. In the case of the Taylor Hall-Adam Larsson trade, the Edmonton Oilers were the perfect mark and the New Jersey Devils took full advantage.
The Oilers are young, talented and continually underachieve for the name value associated with their plethora of No. 1 Draft choices. After missing the playoffs for the 10th straight season, desperation and poor asset management led them to dangle Hall to improve their defensive holes.
The problem for the Oilers is they traded an impact All-Star caliber forward for the possibility of a first-pairing defenseman. Larsson is a solid defenseman who at his peak, may rival the ability of the 24-year-old Hall, but the Oilers turned a player who is already great into a gamble for a player who may one day be great.
Using the HERO charts provided by Own The Puck, we can get a quick glimpse at player value and what they do well. On the surface, we have Hall producing at the rate of a superstar left winger. When we compare his teammates we see that they don’t produce at the same rate without him. He is an elite point producer offensively and only trails left wing Jamie Benn in points per 60 min during 5-on-5 play in the last four seasons. Possession wise, he is also capable of driving the play at a first-line rate.
While Larsson suffered from some of the toughest zone starts and usage for a defenseman, he rates out in the category of a top-four defenseman in both point production and his ability to drive the play. While Larsson has value, the trade target for a player like Hall needed to be someone like P.K. Subban.
Devils fans should rejoice because not only is Hall a dominant offensive player, he is extremely fun to watch. He has the skating ability of Phil Kessel in a power forward’s body.
Hall is a volume shooter. It has a drastic effect on his shooting percentages, but because he produces such a high volume, he continually produces quality scoring chances. The most effective way to score is to deny the goaltender clear sight and the opportunity to gather information. An average distribution of pre-shot movement for a shooter is 16 percent. Hall produces these opportunities at a rate of 25 percent.
Hall has yet to produce a 30-goal season, but during the 2015-16 campaign he produced the required output based on shot location and movement to produce an expected goal total of 31.218 goals.
Hall uses his speed to gain control of the zone with ease. The issue with his game is his decision to settle for pure shot volume. He gains the zone and fires from places with little chance for success, which is why his clear sight shooting percentage is only 4.3 percent. What Hall is elite at is producing extremely high quality shots for himself. Shots that cross the slot line have an average conversion rate of 35 percent. A player like Steven Stamkos receives 21 percent of his shots in this environment. That number was only 6 percent for Hall.
Hall produces the majority of his offense on his own. He is one of the best in the league at utilizing his speed for loose-puck recoveries and this is evident in his rebound-shot numbers. Ten percent of Hall’s shots are rebound recoveries, double that of a player like Stamkos. Another 10 percent are tipped shots because of Hall’s relentless attack at the net.
Contrast the styles of Stamkos and Hall. Stamkos is an elite shooter, but one who moves in and out of space waiting to receive passes in dangerous positions. Hall individually drives the play in a different manner with his relentless puck pursuit and ability to create space for himself while he has the puck. Almost all of Hall’s elite scoring chances fall within the home-plate area because of the way he crashes the net. Meanwhile, Stamkos shades to the faceoff dot for his patented one-timer.
When you factor in Taylor Hall’s age, the Devils took advantage of the Oilers’ desperation and acquired a devastating play-driving offensive weapon in the middle of his prime for the cost of a player who “may” become a first-pairing impact defenseman.
It’s a stroke of genius by Devils GM Ray Shero and a short-sighted decision by Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli.