On June 29th, 2016 the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils made a 1-for-1 blockbuster - and very controversial - trade that involved former #1 overall pick Taylor Hall, a highly talented left winger that had been one of the cornerstones of the Oiler's rebuilding plan since being drafted in 2010. General Manager Peter Chiarelli came to Edmonton in 2015 and had overlooked the team for a year, then decided they badly needed to fix the back-end and get a top-notch defensive defenceman. So he decided to ship Hall and his $6 Million dollar per year contract that had 4 years left in it to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson, who was taken in the 1st Round and #4 overall the very next year in 2011. With him came a contract that had 5 years left at a cap hit of just over $4 Million annually, which balanced the books under the salary cap for both teams at the time. Larsson is a rare commodity in the fact that he is a right-hand shot, tough to trade for in today's d-man market. The trade looked lopsided for New Jersey at first, then went the other way around last season and now back to looking like a steal for the Devils.
Last season the Oilers really shored up their defence with this trade, plus a couple of other additions on the back end as well. Their goalie Cam Talbot, had a breakout year giving the team a chance to win every night, and when it was all said and done they made the playoffs for the 1st time in over a decade. While the now rebuilding Devils were close to the bottom of the standings. It is said that every rebuild an NHL team goes through always involves a couple of tough decisions, especially the ones where one of the core young players are moved. The simple fact is that the Oilers had to overpay with a highly talented player, like Hall, if they ever wanted to get their hands on a top defender. Larsson does not score points, as that is not his forte. What he is to a team is a big, 6-foot-3 stay-at-home defenceman that specializes in shutting the other teams best players down, and plays important situations like penalty killing and always being out there to defend a 1-goal lead. While not a puck moving defenceman of likes of a Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson or Duncan Keith, he does a lot on the defensive side for his team to be at the top of the goals against department.
On the other end, Taylor Hall before this season had never scored 30 goals, but is a bona-fide top line left winger that if healthy will get you at least 60 points, as this was a trade the Devils simply could not refuse. With that however came a player that was considered to be a turnover machine, constantly coughing up the puck to the other team and a liability defensively that may or may not have ever figured it out had he stayed in Edmonton. Shortly after this trade the Oilers signed left winger Milan Lucic, a player Chiarelli had when he was the GM in Boston when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. It was considered win-win as Hall's spot was replaced by a tougher, more defensively responsible player. Following the trade, Hall was very disappointed and upset that the Oilers gave up on him as he really wanted to stay and be part of the team's future going forward, and then found himself on a team that missed the playoffs for the 5th straight year, all the while the Oilers made it to the 2nd round.
One season later, the Devils put together a young team that is now much more skilled led by 2017 1st overall pick Nico Hischier, who New Jersey was lucky enough to get by winning the NHL Draft Lottery after finishing 4th-last in the standings last season. This is something the Oilers have done a handful of times within the last decade, only to have very little success. All other things aside, the main reason for the Devils turnaround is attributable to one man: Taylor Hall. He is on his way to a career season in all scoring categories, had a 26 game point streak (which is unheard of these days) and was finally convinced after playing for a year on his new team, under head coach John Hynes, how to be a more responsible player at both ends of the rink. It also took him a year to get over the trade mentally, which it sure is a lot easier now considering his Devils are on their way to the playoffs, while his the Oilers are at the bottom of the standings. Not to mentions having goals-against problems once again - mostly due to a bad year by their goaltending.
It is very easy to point the finger at this trade now that the tides have turned, but it is just the 2nd season after this trade was made and remember where we were a year ago. Things can change from good to bad, and vice versa, in a hurry from year to year (just look at the Ottawa Senators). Everything the experts ever said about the gap in skill level between these 2 players is now being highly exposed. What is not fair to each of these players in the assessment of both these years is it always looks better on the team that is winning because after all, that is the name of the game. I still say that both teams got what they needed and that it is indeed a closer trade than it seems. The problem in Edmonton is not that they made this trade necessarily, but that they did this and prior to this season traded away high scoring right winger Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome, who in fairness, has been a useful addition with the injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl being much more valuable on the wing with McDavid, which oddly enough was Eberle's spot to begin with. But now we are talking about how Edmonton needs more scoring on the wing, which was unheard of before these 2 trades were made. Had they made only 1 of these 2 trades and not both, it probably would have been OK even if Hall was the only one shipped out of Edmonton.
Make no mistake about it; Taylor Hall looks like perhaps the best left winger in the league, and there is even talk of *gulps* him being an MVP . But in reality it is culmination of bad moves, along with 1-year wonder goaltending, that now appears to have done the Oilers in,. We should remind ourselves about one thing for sure: Taylor Hall may never have changed his habits and become the 2-way player you see now if he was still in Edmonton, even with a head coach like Todd McLellan who has a good track record at making these things happen, and given the culture that surrounded Hall for the first 6 years of his career.