Rumors of trades involving all of the Edmonton Oilers’ top players have circulated for years. Oilers management has been hesitant to make moves on many occasions in the past, but today general manager Peter Chiarelli pulled the trigger by trading left-winger Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for right-handed defenseman Adam Larsson.
This is a shocking move for the Oilers.
It is widely known that the Oilers are in need of defensemen, especially on the right side. Chiarelli has been vocal about the team’s priority to address this need.
“Taylor has been a long-standing member here, a very good player here, and he’s a guy that leaves everything on the ice and I respect that,” Chiarelli said. “In the last four or five months, I’ve been very public in saying that we’re looking for some defensemen, we really have to shore up our defense, and we pounded the pavement, and this is the price that you have to pay.”
The Oilers have looked into many options in the past several months. There is not much insight into why this is the trade the team decided to execute, however. From a monetary standpoint, Hall is signed for four more years with an average annual value of $6 million, while Larsson is signed for five more seasons and has a cap hit just north of $4 million. This makes it highly unlikely that cap concerns played a role in today’s move.
That being said, this particular move involving the Oilers’ best player over the past six years and a defenseman who has not yet lived up to his billing is a head-scratcher.
That’s not a knock on Larsson, though. It’s likely that many people reacting to the trade know very little about Larsson. He is a talented defenseman who finally started to come into his own this past season, spending most of the year on New Jersey’s top pairing next to Andy Greene. He was drafted fourth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and he was believed to be a future top-two defenseman. Larsson still has that ceiling, and in fairness to him, his early development was rushed by the Devils organization. This resulted in Larsson being a healthy scratch for most of the Devils’ Stanley Cup run in 2012, playing 33 games in the AHL during the 2013-2014 season and getting sent down to the AHL on a conditioning stint in December of 2014. The conditioning assignment ended up helping him, though, and he has looked like a stronger and more reliable defender ever since. But it hasn’t been an easy road for the 23-year-old Swede.
While Larsson doesn’t have flashy numbers (9 goals and 60 assists in 274 career regular-season games) and hasn’t yet developed into the player many thought he could be (and still can be), the real issue many have with this deal is the fact that it’s Taylor Hall on the other side. Had the deal involved Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or even Jordan Eberle instead, that would have been much more understandable. Most would assume the Oilers could have gotten a much better return for Hall, which is the main objection to the move. That assumption is one shared by many in the hockey world, a group that must include at least several general managers who were in the running for Hall or who would have offered more if given the option.
I kinda feel for Adam Larsson. He's improved a lot but now he lands in big hockey market as "the guy we traded Taylor Hall for." Good luck.
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) June 29, 2016
Larsson made noticeable progress this past season, averaging a career-high 22:30 of ice time per game. He will play on the top pairing for Edmonton this season, and Chiarelli is confident he will be able to match up against the other teams’ best players and will be able to handle 25 to 28 minutes of ice time per game. Larsson is what the Oilers needed: a right-handed puck-moving defenseman. But even if the recent rumors that left-winger Milan Lucic will sign in Edmonton are true, he will not be a replacement for what Hall brought to this team.
Hall, 24, was drafted by the Oilers with the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and finished this past season with 26 goals and 65 points in 82 regular-season games. He has 132 goals and 328 points in 381 career regular-season games and has scored at least 20 goals four times.
Aside from Connor McDavid, Hall was the most valuable asset with which the Oilers had to work. He has been the backbone of the franchise for six years and has been the most important piece in the team’s long-term rebuild. Though he has battled injuries throughout his career from being an all-or-nothing player, he has scored 42, 53, 50, 80, 38 and 65 points in his six seasons, respectively, and he has maintained a 0.86 points-per-game average. Not including McDavid’s 1.07 points-per-game average in only 45 games this past season, Hall’s 0.86 points-per-game average ranks first among Oilers who have played at least 50 games since the 2010-2011 season. His points-per-game average since the 2012-2013 season is 0.91, which ranks 13th in the NHL among active players who have played at least 50 games.
Hall admitted he felt “a bit slighted” by the move.
“It’s disappointing,” Hall said. “I was there for six seasons, so you certainly develop a relationship with the team and the city and with the fans. I’m disappointed that I’m not going to be able to see that through. But I’m excited that I’m going to be able to play for a team that wants me. It’s not that Edmonton didn’t want me, but I certainly do feel a bit slighted by the whole thing. In saying that, I’m excited for New Jersey and I’m excited for the chance that’s in front of me now.”
Taylor Hall: “I’m a proud person. I take this as an indictment on me as hockey player. Safe to say I’m a very motivated player now.” #Oilers
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 29, 2016
Despite the initial shock and disappointment, Hall is looking forward to the next chapter of his career. He will bring a much-needed offensive punch to a Devils team that has been starved for offense. Also, he will be reunited with center Adam Henrique, who was Hall’s teammate on Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League when the two won back-to-back Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010. In fact, Henrique and Hall have already exchanged tweets on the matter.
— Adam Henrique (@AdamHenrique) June 29, 2016
— Taylor Hall (@hallsy04) June 29, 2016
Larsson is similarly looking forward to joining the Oilers.
“I’m pretty shocked right now, but I’m pretty excited to come to Edmonton,” Larsson told Oilers radio. “This trade was a surprise to me, but at the same time, I know how this business works. I know I’m going to a really young team and they have a couple of Swedes there. I’m excited. It’s always shocking to get traded, but seeing the positive side, they have a lot of young players there and I think I’m going to fit in pretty good.”
From New Jersey’s perspective, though Larsson is a valuable commodity with potential for further growth, this trade is a grand slam.
“Taylor is a dynamic player with speed and youth that changes the complexion of our team,” Devils general manager Ray Shero said. “We feel he fits into the direction we wanted to go a year ago, which is that fast, supportive and attacking style.”
From Edmonton’s perspective, the grass doesn’t appear to be so much greener, though the jury is still out considering Edmonton got the right-handed defenseman it wanted/needed. While Chiarelli recognizes the gravity of trading a player like Hall, he is optimistic about Larsson’s future with the Oilers.
“My roots aren’t as deep in this organization as Taylor’s, so I respect his emotions and respected his play and his competitiveness, and he’ll have a real good career going forward in New Jersey,” Chiarelli said in a press conference Wednesday. “There’s a pedigree and labels attached to certain players, and they’re earned, and Taylor has that, and the player that we acquired doesn’t have that, just by virtue of his development curve. But he has the requisite skill set, he has the passion, he has the size, he has the skill, so it’s something that I believe in this player and he’s going to really help us.”
Chiarelli went on to describe his personal belief in Larsson.
“Adam is 6-foot-3, and I think he’s 210 pounds now. He’s a very smart player and it took him a little while to get going, but he had a terrific year this past year. He moves the puck, he defends well, he can log a lot of minutes, he can play 25, 27, 28 minutes. He can match up against all the top forwards, he can move the puck, and he has more skill to show also.
“It’s unfortunate that in these deals [trading a player of Hall’s caliber] is what you have to do, but [Larsson] is a player that I watched closely this year and I can see his game trending up, and it was time to act on it.”
It is often said that the team that lands the best player in a trade wins the deal. If that is true, New Jersey hit the jackpot today. However, no matter what, Hall and Larsson cannot be compared side by side. Though they were both top-five draft picks in their respective drafts, one is a forward and one is a defenseman. Forwards and defensemen simply cannot be compared because they are developed differently and reach their prime at different ages.
But perhaps the key to analyzing this trade is to view it in context after all offseason moves have been made. Chiarelli most likely has other deals lined up and/or may be targeting specific players when free agency opens July 1. Even if this deal itself may be lopsided, the Oilers addressed the team’s most significant need, something that had to be done early on this offseason.
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