Taylor Hall has been in Boston less than a month, finally living in a city he once figured might be his home, the place where he’d grow from starry-eyed kid taken No. 1 in the draft into NHL stardom.
Nearly 11 years later, he’s settled into a downtown apartment, merely a hop across the street from TD Garden. Some afternoons, he enjoys a stroll with good pal Leo, his year-old Hungarian Vizsla, in a North End dog park.
No. 71 is becoming one of us. And he thinks he’d like to stay.
“Just got back with the dog, actually,” the newest Bruins winger said the other day. “Haven’t seen a whole lot yet, walked around a little — the city’s got a great vibe.”
What Hall, now 29, has yet to experience here is the beat of playoff hockey that finally is about to start pulsating again on Causeway Street. That’s why he’s here, more than a decade after his career path was steered far west of the old West End.
He had a choice this time, thanks to a no-trade contract with clout. So when the league’s March trade deadline arrived, Hall pointed to Boston, like a Vizsla strong on the scent. He wanted playoff hockey, of which he has had precious little. He wanted Boston, where he could plug in as a valued cast member, an aid to the Stanley Cup cause rather than that franchise centerpiece expected to be the difference every shift.
“Just to be part of a bigger solution,” he said, noting the times he has been the focal point of his teams, and what makes Boston different and appealing. “There are so many great players [here], Hall of Famers, guys that have had just amazing careers. If I had anything like that at the end of my career, I’d be super happy.”
In a career dotted with ample ups (No. 1 pick, a Hart/MVP trophy) and downs (twice traded, a poor free agent journey to Buffalo, nine seasons of no playoffs), he is off to a bold start with the Bruins. He carried a 6-6—12 line into weekend play, working the left side on a highly effective combination with David Krejci and Craig Smith that delivered 37 points in their first 14 games as a trio.
“I still feel I have a lot to learn, I have a lot to offer,” Hall said. “I still feel I have a lot of time to make an impact in this league more than I have . . . the great [2018 MVP] year in New Jersey is something that I’ll always remember, but playoff success is basically what I’m after now.”
No longer, added Hall, does he “feel the need to try to score 100 points every year and cement my impact that way.” Instead, it’s mostly about the playoffs, where he has played but 14 games in his career, never with a team that advanced beyond the Round of 16.
Constantly on the move
The Oilers picked first overall in that 2010 draft, opting for a power forward instead of center Tyler Seguin. Hall figured he was in Edmonton for the long haul. Sure, he’d had his fingers crossed for Boston, but he embraced the opportunity in Alberta.
“The Bruins won the Cup [in 2011], the year after I got drafted,” Hall said. “They were looking for a left winger [in the 2010 draft]. It would have been a real good situation to be in Boston.”
He feels free to say that now, said Hall, because the Oilers eventually traded him.
“Who knows what would have happened if I got drafted here, and how your career shakes out?” he mused. “But . . . that’s kind of the way it goes.”
It turned out to be a short run for everyone in Edmonton. Of the 35 players who dressed for the Oilers in Hall’s 2010-11 rookie season, only five other alums (Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Jeff Petry, and Devan Dubnyk) remain in the NHL.
By contrast, the Bruins dressed 31 players in 2010-11. Five of them — Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Steven Kampfer, and Tuukka Rask — remain with the club. Four more — Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Blake Wheeler, and Seguin — remain active with other NHL clubs.
Perhaps more stunting for Hall was the constant churn in Edmonton, not just among playing personnel but coaching staff. In his six seasons there, Tom Renney was the lone coach he had for more than a year. Otherwise, he suited up for Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Craig MacTavish, Todd Nelson, and Todd McLellan. A total six coaches across his 381 games . . . and no playoffs.
“He’s always been in these projects, whether teams are rebuilding or whatever,” said his agent, Darren Ferris. “I think he’s been unlucky in some circumstances, but he’s still that elite world-class talent he’s always been.”
According to Ferris, he was in serious discussions with Boston general manager Don Sweeney in late September for Hall to come to Boston as a free agent. Vegas, he said, also had high interest. By Ferris’s telling, the Bruins and Golden Knights worked earnestly to clear enough cap space to sign Hall long term, but, when talks stalled, Hall opted to take the one-year deal in Buffalo for $8 million. The attached no-trade clause eventually provided Hall with the leverage to get to Boston.
“Toronto had interest, too, but Boston was closest,” said Ferris, noting talks in the last offseason. “Eventually we said, ‘Hey, we can’t wait too long.’ ”
Ferris said he expects to restart talks “in no time at all” with Sweeney, aimed at keeping Hall in Boston long term. Hall has been open about his eagerness to stay.
“I’d love to be a Bruin for years to come,” he said.
It was ex-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli who altered the track of Hall’s career in June 2016. By then a year on the job as GM in Edmonton, Chiarelli wheeled Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson, filling a need for a righthanded defenseman. It was a deal Chiarelli essentially made in tandem with signing Lucic to fill the power forward void left by Hall.
A couple of weeks after a so-so first year in New Jersey (20 goals, 53 points), Hall met for dinner in Hoboken with then-Devils GM Ray Shero.
“Wouldn’t you know, the bar in the restaurant has Round 2, Oilers vs. Ducks, on the TV!” recalled Shero. “I mean, what are the odds that game’s playing in Hoboken, right? Good thing Taylor wasn’t facing the bar.”
By that spring, Hall had completed the fourth season of the seven-year, $42 million deal he had signed in Edmonton. Headed into dinner, a realistic Shero, a former agent, fully expected Hall would request a trade.
“So I just asked him, ‘Do you want out?’ ” said Shero. “And he looked at me, a bit stunned, and said, ‘What? No way . . . look, you traded for me, you want me, I want this to work.’ That’s Taylor. He’s a very smart, loyal kid.’’
Fine, said Shero, but he was equally direct with Hall that night. After being GM in Pittsburgh, he had seen the preparation, effort, and attention to detail exhibited by stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Hall then was 25, still yet to experience the postseason. Shero told him he would have to up his commitment level if he were ever to be considered an elite player. Devils coach John Hynes told him the same.
Hynes, a former Boston University forward, said he quickly built a trust level with Hall. Hall responded with his MVP season in 2017-18, in which he rolled up a 39-54—93 line, career bests in all categories.
“We were honest with each other,” said Hynes, today the Predators’ coach. “I said, ‘Hey, this is what I need from you, what the team needs from you . . . What do you need from me to be successful?’ I think we both held up our ends of the bargain. I think it was the difference in him turning the corner and being a really good player, and being a more mature person.”
Overall, Hynes made clear that the speedy Hall had to be committed in all three zones, a power forward who could help deny as many points as he could score.
“How can you become a player that can drive a team?” said Hynes, recalling what he told Hall. “Not just through scoring points . . . from the red line back, this is what we need from you. As a team leader, one of our best players, you’re going to come into the D zone, be committed in this area of the ice. But from the red line in, I’ll give you some leeway, as long as you recover from mistakes. And that he did. I could play him against top lines. I could play him big minutes. His overall game became better.”
All of which Hall has exhibited in his new Black-and-Gold sweater. He has continually raced back into the defensive zone to strip pucks, bust up plays.
“His commitment without the puck was as high as you could ask,” said Hynes.
Hynes added that upon Hall’s trade to Boston, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy called him for a read on his former player.
“I told Butchie this is going to be awesome,” said Hynes. “Butchie’s great, and they have a great staff there . . . and now Taylor’s going to be around guys like Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci . . . he’s never had that, been on a team that’s had those types of players that have had that type of success. I told Butch, ‘He’s gonna come into your team and he’s gonna work, he’s gonna help your team.’ I thought it was a great move for Boston.”
Up in the broadcast booth, ex-Bruins blue liner Bob Beers has been duly impressed.
“He talked that first day about not feeling confident,” said Beers, recalling Hall’s Zoom news conference April 12, the day of the trade. “Well, I guess that’s over. I’ve loved what I’ve seen. He’s certainly lifted David Krejci’s spirits. What’s really commendable is his commitment to both ends of the ice — that’s wanting to make sure you fit in with a new environment.”
Team president Cam Neely, the game’s original power forward, has liked the new winger’s speed — both in terms of skating and shot release. Hall came in shooting, landing slightly more than three shots a game. Neely likes that, too, and thinks he would have scored even more if he shot more.
“I kind of preach to some of our guys, you know, ‘Just get the puck on the net,’ ” Neely said. “Doesn’t matter if it goes in, but maybe it creates a rebound chance for someone else.”
The playoffs are about to begin, and Hall is finally about to live the life. It has been, to use his word, a “circuitous” path that led him to Boston.
“Great for him . . . and great for the Bruins,” said Shero. “He’s got the pen, and now he can write the narrative.”