The Buffalo Sabres appeared to be interested in only bargains as the NHL free agent frenzy commenced this weekend, but GM Kevyn Adams changed that narrative with the signing of former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million deal.
Hall, 28, scored 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 65 games with New Jersey and Arizona last season and was considered the top forward in the 2020 free-agent class. The 2010 top overall pick was reportedly open to signing a short-term contract with the realities of a flat NHL salary cap and a big-money long-term deal unlikely.
The Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and Montreal Canadiens were rumored to be pursuing Hall, but the ex-Oiler chose to sign with the Sabres after being courted by former Edmonton bench boss Ralph Krueger.
“The way that Ralph built a relationship in his time with Taylor previously absolutely played a big role in this.” Adams said. “We really spent a lot time over the last couple days between ownership, myself, Ralph and others having open and honest communications with Taylor and his representatives and got to this point.”
The deal includes a no-trade and no-movement clause and a $1 million signing bonus and gives Hall an opportunity to play with center Jack Eichel. Eichel expressed frustration at the end of last season with the lack of progress the club had shown in recent years, but the addition of Hall coming on the heels of acquiring center Eric Staal should give the Sabres captain some consolation.
“We are very fortunate in Buffalo to have one of the elite centers in the game and now we are adding one of the elite wingers in the game. We are excited about the potential of that.” Adams said. “Ralph will put together the lines on the ice to put us in the position to have the best success, but clearly we identified that as a possibility.”
The first weekend in free agency was busy but not overly impactful for Buffalo prior to signing Hall, as the club brought back forward Zemgus Girgensons on a three-year, $6.6 million deal, locked up RFA defenseman Brandon Montour for one year at $3.85 million, added free agent center Cody Eakin on a two-year, $4.5 million contract, and signed Tobias Rieder, Brandon Davidson, and Matt Irwin to league-minimum deals.
The Sabres still have some offseason business to complete, with restricted free agents Victor Olofsson, Sam Reinhart, and Linus Ullmark unsigned and $13.6 million in cap space.