So far this season the Dallas Stars have terrified (two wins in their first 10 games) and tantalized (a 13-game point streak). At their worst, the moribund Stars were likely a period and change away from a “shock-the-system” roster move, coaching switch, or anything else to stem the panic. At their best, they’ve played at a level good enough to take four of seven against any team in the NHL. In many ways the yo-yo start explains the Stars’ broader identity. Are they good enough to go on a playoff run? Absolutely. Are they a slam dunk to make the big dance? Absolutely not.
Which is why GM Jim Nill should trade for Taylor Hall.
Let’s start with the why. As well as Dallas has played over the past 15 games, they’ve done so using last season’s formula: stingy goaltending and sturdy defense. The third-best team in the league by goals-against (62 heading into the game versus St Louis), Dallas’ offense remains a 20th-ranked conundrum (72 goals pre-Blues). Tyler Seguin’s team-leading 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) are 46th in the league. They’re limited, in other words, and exactly the sort of team that might run out of momentum late in a series when the injuries begin to pile up.
New Jersey, meanwhile, has enjoyed a season similar to the Stars, minus the whole “crazy resurgence” bit. The Devils are 9-11-4 and eighth in the Metropolitan Division. They’re bad defensively (27th of 31 teams by goals against), and bad offensively (29th of 31 teams by goals for). Despite bolstering their lineup with the likes of P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds, the results just have not been there. The future is bright, however, mostly in the form of Nico Hischier (21 years old) and Jack Hughes (18 years old).
Taylor Hall, meanwhile, needs a new contract for next season, and seems likely to test free agency. It’s time for the Devils to cut bait, in other words, and see how much they can get for their one-time MVP.
Landing Hall would represent a major get for the Stars. It also seems plausible for a front office with several other win-now moves already under their belt. With veterans the likes of Ben Bishop (33), Alexander Radulov (33), Jamie Benn (30), and Joe Pavelski (35) on the roster, the idea of letting a promising season slip by is a risky proposition. If Nill and Co think this team could make some noise, why not reinforce an obvious area of need? Strictly in terms of performance impact, the move is a no-brainer.
The thing is, you have to give to get in the NHL. Last season, Mark Stone cost two good prospects (Erik Brannstrom will likely turn out to be more than merely “good”) and a second-round pick (though he immediately signed an extension). Matt Duchene cost the Blue Jackets two prospects, two legit first-round picks, and a third conditional first-round pick. Duchene helped the Jackets to a historic upset of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but now plays for the Nashville Predators. Closer to home, Dallas was willing to potentially pony up a pair of first-round picks for Mats “Minnesota Lizard” Zuccarello.
Generally speaking, a team like New Jersey is likely going to want someone that can help immediately (possibly several someones), a prospect, and a pick for a player of Hall’s quality. However, the lottery-bound Devils aren’t going to want to get too good too fast lest they risk this season’s lottery status. It’s all about 2020-21, in other words.
In absolute terms, the assets are likely there for Dallas. Denis Gurianov is intriguing, as would be one of Radek Faksa and Jason Dickinson. None of that group would immediately catapult the Devils into contention, but all three could absolutely contribute on the next great New Jersey squad. Given the recent demotion of Corey Schneider, Jake Oettinger could be part of an appealing package. There are also more nuclear options like Ty Dellandrea. The names heading east would be uncomfortable, for Stars fans, but there’s enough in the cupboard to buy six-ish months of an MVP winger.
Were it that simple, Hall might already be packing. Yay, salary cap. Taylor Hall carries a cap hit of $6 million. Factoring in LTIR, the Dallas Stars’ deadline-day cap space is $4.05 million. What that means is that, while possible, any trade for Hall is going to require equal measures of patience and creativity.
The latter is easiest to understand; as the cap calculates based on an average daily salary, Hall’s hit reduces with each passing game. The Stars do not need to fit the entire $6 million onto their books, just whatever is left by the time they snag him. So long as the Stars do not fall out of contention, or fall behind another, more eager suitor, things could fit nicely come deadline day.
If they want to move more quickly, creativity is going to be an issue. Although $2.3 million of expiring contract for Mattias Janmark could help balance ledgers. Perhaps a better pick entices the Devils to pick up an additional season of the $2.1 million contract of Jamie Oleksiak, now reborn as a useful, if down-lineup, defensive option. Maybe the Devils retain salary for a better deal. If both sides are motivated, it could happen.
This is pure speculation, but would Faksa, Janmark, Gurianov, Oettinger, and a pick pry away Hall and a make-weight asset? Hall probably makes the Stars better on aggregate, but that’s a lot to lose chemistry-wise.
There are two key questions at play. First, would Taylor Hall be enough to nudge the Dallas Stars into true contender status, alongside the likes of Washington, Tampa Bay, and Boston? Next, if yes, is it worth contending this year knowing that Hall is likely going to test the market, and that the Dallas Stars are unlikely to have enough under the long-term cap to secure a new contract? Yes, the Blue Jackets beat the Bolts, but they lost to the Bruins one round later. What’s that worth?