“I don’t want to set expectations too high.” — Taylor Hall on Monday
We’ve got some good news and some bad news for Taylor Hall, who was traded to the Bruins from the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night.
The good news is he’s coming to a Bruins team that, when healthy, is as talented as they come in the NHL — definitely the best team he’s ever played on since entering the league in 2010.
He’s probably going to line up next to David Krejci, one of the most underrated centers over the past decade. On his opposite wing will be Jake DeBrusk or Craig Smith or David Pastrnak. That might cause Hall to drool a little, but then there’s still the bad news.
Hall doesn’t get to set the expectations; they’ve already been set. The Bruins’ lone goal now that he’s joining their aging core is to win the Stanley Cup. And as a former No. 1 overall pick, former Hart Trophy winner, and the biggest trade-deadline acquisition Don Sweeney has added to Boston’s lineup in a couple of years — not to mention the biggest name to be swapped on deadline day — he’s going to be the face of whatever fate this Bruins club experiences.
Rick Nash and Jaromir Jagr previously were great players that briefly pulled on a Bruins sweater and became footnotes, punchlines after postseason runs that failed to end with Boston accomplishing the ultimate goal. Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle weren’t sexy deadline pickups, but they wound up earning Sweeney the GM of the Year Award and the Bruins a spot in the Cup final.
Hall has a leg up on Nash and Jagr because he’s in his prime. He’s a notch or two above Coyle and Johansson — not to mention last year’s deadline additions Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie — on the NHL star meter. Regardless of his two-goal performance this season for the Sabres or his status as a second-liner when he gets to Causeway, Hall is going to be looked at as a major driver of the Bruins’ fortunes and he’s going to have to live up to it. Perhaps they won’t have the necessary health or performance from their back end, but he’s going to be expected to help them score their way out of any defensive problems.
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Hopefully, by the time he’s completed the trek down I-90 from Western New York to the Bay State, he’ll have shaken out of the mental doldrums he talked about Monday.
“Unfortunately right now, I’m not the most confident hockey player. Throughout this year there’s been a lot of struggles, and obviously goal scoring has been probably the biggest one. So I’ve got to find a little bit of that part of my game back,” Hall said.
Hall also said: “I don’t expect to come in and light the league on fire or anything like that.”
But it doesn’t work like that. Hall has to once and for all shake his reputation as a guy that doesn’t make teams better and can’t be a driver of a winning team. The one-year bet he placed on himself by signing with the Sabres didn’t pay off, until he was able to basically force Buffalo to trade him to Boston through his no-movement clause. The Bruins aren’t bringing him here to be a complementary foot soldier like Johansson or Ritchie. Boston doesn’t hope Hall will jolt its offense, it expects him to fill the net like a first-line player, and he better expect that out of himself as well.
If Hall wants to defer the Bergeron, Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand in terms of speaking for the team off the ice or rallying the troops on the bench, that’s fine. On the ice, though, he has to take advantage of his great linemates and the opportunity to face less defensive attention because of his role on the second line and make Sweeney into a GM of the Year Award finalist again. Anything less will be more negativity for his permanent record.