The Sabres made a splash this offseason netting the big fish of free agency in Taylor Hall. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner rejoins his former head coach, Ralph Kreuger, in hopes of maximizing the one-year contract for both he and the Sabres.
Hall’s dynamic offensive ability as both a scorer and transition player will provide an instant influx to the Sabres offense.
How Kreuger goes about utilizing Hall’s ability will be crucial in whether the move cashes all returns or if the Sabres could potentially be looking to garner assets for the winger at the trade deadline.
Kreuger and Hall
Krueger coached Taylor Hall during the 2012-13 season when both were members of the Edmonton Oilers. However, their relationship began in 2010, the season after Hall was drafted 1st overall and Krueger was appointed an Assistant Coach.
In listening to Hall’s introductory Zoom call with the Sabres, it’s clear to see that Krueger played an incredibly large role in his decision.
“I saw the team hire Ralph and I saw the team start off really well and have some really good momentum behind him last year.
Hall will be looking to replicate his success under Krueger, likely as Jack Eichel’s linemate to start the coming season. Having a familiar face in the dressing room may prove to pay dividends for a player trying to settle in on a new team. Hall is among the list of player to revere Kreuger for his ability to connect with his players.
“Ralph is a very interesting human being. He’s so diversified in his interests in how he talks to people. I think in 2020, a coach like him has the greatest chance of connecting with athletes and really making people better.”
“He sees the game in a way that an offensive guy would want to play for. I saw first hand and I still believe that. You see how Eichel was able to up his production last year and take a step that I think a lot of people around the league thought he could do. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ralph was able to get a lot out of him.
– Taylor Hall on Ralph Krueger.
Hall and Eichel provide elite, dual-threat transition game. Do you play them together?
There is one stat that stood out to me more than anything when Hall signed in Buffalo. The graphic below has a clear and interesting outlier worth exploring. I want to touch on the dip in point production and then get into the lack of rush goals for a player you’d expect to have many more.
At first glance, I thought Hall was incredibly unlucky — a factor to some extent. His shooting % was down to 6.9% from a career average of 10.4% and 9.7% from his shortened 2018-2019. One reason for this reduction in S% is because he was relied on to shot much more often in Arizona and was on pace for his highest SOG number of his career. On the powerplay he had just 18 points (Only 4 goals) with NJ/ARI while he had 37pts in his MVP season. Combined with the slow/defensive style of play in Arizona leads me to believe his dip in points could be a one off, but what explains the massive variance in rush chances to rush goals?
How does a player who creates the most breakaways and was 4th in rush scoring chances possibly only score 3 rush goals? Quite simply, Hall was relied on to carry the puck into the zone all season.
Taylor Hall is one of the faster players in the league with the puck on his stick. His primary linemates included Dvorak/Kessel/Garland who are fine players, but clearly were guys for Hall to set up rather than drive play themselves. As shown by this beautiful graph from @shutdownline Hall was only rivaled by the speedy Hinostraza for 5v5 Zone entries by way of carry in.
In New Jersey, Hall was 2nd in the NHL in entries/60 in 2018-2019 before the injury (Link To Graph) so this trend holds true. Eichel was 5th in the NHL in zone entries which makes sense from well, watching any Sabres game all season.
I guess the question that needs answering is, do you allow Hall to drive play on the 2nd line with a much slower Eric Staal or do you see what kind of magic he can make with Eichel? I am sure both will be tested and if he plays with Jack expect his rush goals stonks to soar. The Sabres just added one of the elite play drivers and getting the puck successfully through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone is crucial for the success of this team.
Goals, Goals and Goals
At the end of the day, hockey is about scoring more goals than your opponent. With the addition of Taylor Hall, the Sabres now have two of the top three goal scorers from the 2010 draft. The combination of Hall and Skinner legitimizes the top-6 left wing positions with lethal scorers, something the Sabres have desperately needed for years.
The variety of ways Taylor Hall puts the puck in the net immediately stands out when looking through his highlights.
First off, just because this is one of my favorite shots, Hall goes over the pad, but under the glove:
Something I took away from Jack Eichel speaking on his uptick in scoring this past season, besides pulling the trigger more, is shooting lower. While a bar down snapper looks pretty, going top shelf (where mama hides the cookies) isn’t always the right shot with a goalie cutting off the angle. Taylor does a great job getting the puck in the perfect position to beat a goalie going into his butterfly.
What could be better about that goal? I don’t know, maybe if he did it without looking?
Of course Hall can always pop a goalie’s bottle too. He may have been given more time and space than normal as it looks like the Coyotes were on the powerplay, but there was no way Jimmy Howard was saving that missile.
Hall is crafty with the puck too, whether it’s on the rush or in a more “half court” offense. Granted this next goal is on the powerplay, focus on his deception of the goaltender again, then whipping a quick, accurate wrister.
Another quality I’ve noticed about Hall is his ability to cause turnover and/or make teams pay for their turnovers. This next clip is coach’s dream. There’s no gliding up the wall with the player he first made contact with, he’s hounding the puck and creating the turnover. Once he gets it, his head is up immediately and he finds the open man.
Continuing on his ability to make teams pay for mistakes, his linemate creates a turnover and he dangles Marchand. Hall beats the goalie clean, this time over the shoulder as he’s cutting off the angle.
That’s just an impressive goal all around and it seems like Hall is a player that can change the angle of his stick at the last second, deceiving goalies as it’s too late once they have adjusted.
By now, everyone knows Hall for his powerful speed and knack for scoring, but his passing and vision are impressive tools that makes it difficult for defenses and goalies to defend against.
Hall will find passing seams that players with his speed and shot don’t always see. The best example of this is Evander Kane. He had the speed and the shot, but his playmaking ability for others lacked enough that it’s not a threat to burn a team often.
Putting his teammates in good positions is a common theme while digging through highlights.
Hall is an all-around offensive star with a wide array of talents including a shot that can beat goalies clean. Additionally, his playmaking has evolved into a force to be reckoned with, giving the Sabres another dual threat playmaker in their top-6.
While it may only be for a year, Taylor Hall has the ability to raise Buffalo’s offense to another level.
Thank you for reading!
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Article contributors: Paul, DJ, Bill