The ultimate Taylor Hall retrospective for Adam Larsson, six years later

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The deal was one for one.

Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.

It had been an ongoing deal for weeks and on June 29, 2016, the hockey world was turned upside down when the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils reached this massive deal.

The Oilers desperately needed help at fullback and the emergence of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as true stars opened the door for then-Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli to do the unthinkable: exchange a major asset. In retrospect, he seriously underestimated how much the Edmonton market valued Hall.

Chiarelli was gutted from the south side to the north side and east to west in the city. Public enemy number one, to say the least. His working theory: The Oilers needed to be tougher to play against. In his eyes and those of the Oilers, star free agent Milan Lucic was to be an Oiler days later and would help make up for the offense lost since Hall’s departure.

We all know how it happened.

“He’s not a sexy defender,” Chiarelli told reporters at a news conference after the deal. “He’s not in the spotlight. He probably doesn’t deserve to be in the spotlight. I can assure you that last year he came out on top. He’s becoming a very good defender in this league.

“We pounded the pavement, and that’s the price to pay.”

On its surface, it was an almost impossible pill to swallow.

Hall was coming off one of his best seasons with the Oilers in 2015-16 — a year that saw him register 26 goals and 65 points, his second-best season in each of the three scoring categories. Hall found himself playing with Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell and the trio packed a powerful offensive punch. They constantly controlled the pace of play and easily overtook their opponents.

Larsson, meanwhile, was eating away minutes for the Devils that year playing 22:31 a night. He scored three goals and 18 points and was known for his penchant for defensive-zone play — admittedly, something the Oilers lacked. Although there was little offensive advantage, Larsson was strong at clearing his zone and getting the puck up the ice.

Regardless of Larsson’s prowess at the back, Hall really seemed to be coming into his own at 24 and entering his prime. Moving him for a stay-at-home defender was a headache.

Neither was wrong. Larsson was a good defender back then, but the valor was miles apart.

Nonetheless, there was a saving grace that Lucic was coming…right? Well, to some. Too much for too long was the biggest deal-breaker with Lucic — the one the Oilers had to go from a three-year deal to a seven-year deal.

But now, years later, there are few resemblances between the Hall for Larsson deal for the Oilers or the Devils as the two teams prepare to face off Thursday night in Edmonton.

In New Jersey, Hall ended up having some of the best years of his career. He scored 53 points in 72 games in his first year there and followed that up with a career season in 2017-18 where he scored 39 goals and 93 points which earned him a Hart Trophy and his first and only trip in the All-Star Game. His time in Jersey ended midway through the 2019-20 season when he was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes in a massive deal that included a first-round pick and several prospects. None proved to be of any value to the Devils.

He played the rest of the year there, before signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabers to play alongside Jack Eichel. Although the deal made sense in giving him a chance to increase in value, it was nothing short of a flop. He scored just two goals and 19 points in 37 games and was dealt to the Boston Bruins for a prospect and a pick. Hall stayed there for the past two and a half seasons, signing a long-term contract while scoring 33 goals and 82 points in 107 games.

Larsson took a while to adjust to his new team, but in his five seasons in Edmonton, it was hard to call him a bad player. He did a good, not great, job of suppressing other teams’ offense, but he played with a physical advantage the Oilers lacked. His best time in Edmonton came alongside Oscar Klefbom and the pair were simply tough to go against.

Still, Larsson never provided the value he should have given to what the Oilers gave up for him. He never became a proper number 1 defender and was probably only a good number 3 fullback.

Things haven’t always been easy for Larsson in Edmonton. He was a scapegoat and had a target on his back for probably too long. Her father, Robert Larsson, tragically died on January 25, 2018 of a heart attack while visiting Edmonton. This led to being one of the reasons he left for the Seattle Kraken.

For the Oilers, they spent years trying to replace the secondary scoring that Hall would have continued to bring to the roster. Many players cycled through Edmonton before the club called on Zach Hyman and Evander Kane to deliver the punch they craved.

Although both organizations felt the deal was the right one at the time for both, it hardly worked out for either as they probably hoped. The Devils made the playoffs in 2017-18 with Hall, but lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Larsson, meanwhile, would play a significant role in three playoff appearances for the Oilers: 2016-17 when the Oilers went two rounds in the playoffs, and the two pandemic playoff years where the Oilers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets.

If the deal hadn’t gone through, the Oilers likely would have continued to look for help in the end and probably would have had to make a trade at some point. Neither this 2017 class nor the 2018 class of free agent defensemen featured what the Oilers were looking for.

Either way, we’ll never know what might have happened had the Oilers retained Taylor Hall.

Zach Laing is the News Director and Senior Columnist for the Nation Network. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaingor can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected]

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