Not to be lost in the shuffle of all the craziness the hockey world witnessed in a 23-minute span last night was the Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall swap between the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers.
While a number of fans raced to Twitter (at least for a few minutes, before an even more shocking trade occurred) to declare that the Devils had robbed Edmonton blind, this classic one-for-one swap could prove fruitful for both sides, even if the value exchanged appears a bit unbalanced.
Adam Larsson For Taylor Hall a Win for Both Sides
This deal makes a lot of sense for the Devils, who were dealing from a position of strength to address a position of weakness, as New Jersey is nicely stocked with young defensive talent.
Last season 21-year-old Damon Severson continued his upward trajectory, leading all Devils defensemen in points with 21, while 25-year-old John Moore and 24-year-old Jon Merrill also made an impact. The club’s top defensive prospect, Steve Santini, is just 21 years old and also ready to make an impact at the NHL level.
Losing Larsson undoubtedly hurts, as the Swede was once the centerpiece of the new blueline core in New Jersey and his poise and all-around ability will be missed. However with Cory Schneider between the pipes and a blueline featuring a number of promising players (and let’s not forget the veteran presence of Andy Greene), the Devils inability to score became a much more pressing concern, and one they addressed in a big way by acquiring Hall.
Hall a Huge Upgrade for Goal-starved Devils
To describe New Jersey’s offense as “top heavy” would be putting it kindly. Last season the Devils boasted two 30-goal scorers, Adam Henrique and the surprising Kyle Palmieri, however they had just two other players (Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri) who managed double digits in goals, scoring 14 apiece.
Throughout 2015-16 the team rarely got goals from the lower lines, finishing with the worst goals for per game in the league at 2.22, while their goals against was a respectable 2.46. By season’s end it became clear that if the Devils were to have any hope of icing a competitive team next year, they would have to address this disparity.
Enter Hall, who was one of the Oilers 1st overall picks (2010) who hasn’t disappointed thus far. Hall has proven to be a dynamic scorer on the wing who plays a game some have likened to Marian Hossa. In 381 games with the Oilers, he has scored 132 goals and 328 points, with his best season coming in 2013-14 when he notched 80 points in 75 games.
In Hall the Devils are getting exactly what they need: A dynamic, All-Star, first line talent who can be a threat any time he’s on the ice, produce at near a point per game level, play a responsible two-way game, is signed to a reasonable contract ($6 million for four more years) and is just 24 years old.
Full Taylor Hall quote: pic.twitter.com/409QCrzWil
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) June 29, 2016
They’re also getting a foundational piece who has shown an intense passion for the game and strong leadership abilities. In Hall, the Devils have a player up front they can build around, and perhaps even a future captain. Plus, a duo of Hall and top prospect Pavel Zacha could be positively terrifying down the road.
Losing Larsson hurts, but you have to give a little to get a little, and the Devils got a lot.
Rising Oilers Needed to Address Blueline
While instant analysis says the Oilers overpaid for Larsson, here too was an example of a team dealing from a position of strength to address a glaring need.
Yes, at first glance the Oilers didn’t exactly have the best offense in the NHL last year, in fact it was quite awful at 2.43 goals per game, good for 26th, however there were a number of mitigating factors.
One assumes that a full season of health for Connor McDavid is going to have a massive impact, as he projects to be a top 10 scorer in the league for many years to come. Throw in the emergence of Leon Draisaitl, whose offense took off like a rocket last year, hopefully more health from the likes of Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the potential for the Oilers to land one of the bigger fish in free agency like Milan Lucic, and the Oilers boast a top-six which is the envy of many teams in the league. Throw 2016 4th overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi into the mix and the Oilers portend to be dangerous up front indeed.
While Hall was a leading part of that offense, pacing the club in goals (26), assists (39), and points (65) last season, he was also their most valuable trade chip not named McDavid, and something had to be done about that moribund blueline.
Here is where many people feel the Oilers lost the trade. Yes, on a certain level trading Hall makes sense, after all something had to give. Many were saying if a trade of that nature was to be made, the Oilers would have to walk away with at least a first-pairing, All-Star level defenseman. Does Larsson fit that bill?
Could Larsson Become Edmonton’s Victor Hedman?
At the present, no. But it’s not hard to see what Edmonton is hoping will happen here. Larsson, the 4th overall pick in 2011, has long been compared to fellow Swede Victor Hedman, who was chosen 2nd overall by the Lightning in 2009.
Both have large, projectable frames and play a solid defensive game with modest offensive contributions and a ton of potential for more. At least that’s how Hedman was viewed until his age 23 season, when his game on both sides of the puck exploded to new heights. Now, at age 25, Hedman is considered an upper-echelon defenseman in the NHL and a Norris Trophy candidate.
Larsson is, perhaps not coincidentally, 23 years old.
That isn’t to say the Oilers are getting a dominant force in Larsson, however the possibility is there and Edmonton is taking a very risky gamble. If Larsson becomes the player New Jersey hoped he would evolve into when they took him so highly in the draft, this trade will look very different in retrospect.
He wasn’t defending the trade but one NHL head coach on Adam Larsson: “He’s a unicorn because he’s right-handed and he can play.”
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) June 29, 2016
Plus, the player the Oilers are getting at present is still a huge upgrade to their blueline. Last season’s Edmonton squad was abysmal in their own zone, regularly allowing three or more goals against per game, and while the onus on that surely must fall to a less-than-stellar season by goaltender Cam Talbot, it’s hard to blame him given how the Oilers blueline was allowing more than 30 shots against per game.
That said, there are some nice pieces on the Edmonton blueline. Oscar Klefbom looks to be the real deal, while Darnell Nurse made the full time leap to the NHL last season and 2012 4th overall pick Griffin Reinhart is still floating on the edge and has tons of potential.
However, what that group lacks (aside from a true power play quarterback) is a young stud the defense can hang its hat on. In Larsson, the Oilers evidently think they’ve found him.
While the price may have been too high and the club likely could have gotten a better return for Hall, there is no arguing that the Oilers biggest weakness, it’s blueline, is significantly better today than it was yesterday.
Hopefully for Edmonton the cost of losing Hall, one of the best five-on-five scorers in the league, doesn’t come back to bite them as hard as many think.