Never, ever, ever forget about the mystery team.
In a move that would be shocking if we weren't stuck in the nether-realm that is 2020, Taylor Hall, the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner and top UFA forward on the market, has signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Hall, 28, will be paid a base salary of $7 million with his new deal, to go along with an extra $1 million in bonuses.
For Hall, his choice of team is ... curious.
Given the current fiscal climate of the NHL, it was to be expected that Hall was weighing numerous different contracts with varying terms and payouts — with a short-term deal with a contender allowing the left winger to contend for a Stanley Cup (a rarity for Hall, given that he's been marooned on some dreadful clubs over his career) and set himself up for perhaps a more substantial payout once the league's revenues rebound and the salary cap upper limit rises once again.
Even before the start of this free-agent frenzy, Hall noted that one of his priorities out on the open market was finally aligning himself with a club that could make a deep run in the postseason.
"I think, honestly, it's probably all winning. ... Any player at this stage in their career that has had the career that I've had, 10 seasons, only make the playoffs twice, that's really what I'm after," Hall said. "So we'll see what happens there."
Well, winning might be hard to come by at his next stop, considering that Buffalo hasn't punched its ticket to the postseason since the 2010-11 campaign. And yes, if Hall wants to take another run at things next offseason, his value should spike — given that he will almost certainly be teaming up with Jack Eichel and piling on points in 2020-21. And while Buffalo does have some intriguing pieces to work with, that blue line and goaltending situation is still porous — making them unlikely to truly claw themselves out of a loaded Atlantic Division.
Buffalo winning the Hall sweepstakes is certainly a shock, considering that it seemed as though the only legitimate destinations for the playmaking winger were going to be a contender like Boston (with a little under $12 million in cap space to spend), or a team like Nashville that cleared plenty of cap room and were in position to offer a long-term deal.
At noon on Friday, it appeared as though there were multiple franchises that realistically could leapfrog ahead of Boston when it came to vying for Hall's services, whether it be teams that were shearing off cap like the Blue Jackets or another win-now, dynamic team with cap room like the Avalanche. However, as more contracts were inked and other potential Hall suitors found talent elsewhere (Colorado dealt for Brandon Saad on Saturday night), the notion appeared to be growing that Hall very well could have fallen right into Boston's lap.
Well, clearly it wasn't meant to be — although the reasoning as to how Boston let a star winger like Hall slip through their fingers is a bit puzzling.