If the two strides back the Edmonton Oilers have taken this season weren't enough for their fans to deal with, now they have to put up with how well Taylor Hall has played in the past two months.
The 26-year-old Hall extended his unofficial points streak to 26 games (he missed three games during the run with a thumb injury) with two power-play assists in Tuesday's all-important 6-4 home win for his New Jersey Devils against the Montreal Canadiens.
Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli made the bold move of trading Hall to the Devils straight-up for defenceman Adam Larsson on June 29, 2016, six weeks after Hall played so well for Canada in its gold-medal victory at the world championship in Moscow. He scored six times in 10 games.
The Hall-for-Larsson trade has been debated up and down. It looked like the right move when the Oilers made the playoffs a year ago, while Hall and the Devils failed to do so. But Hall has found his groove in his second season in New Jersey, and appears to be set to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in his eight seasons and more than 500 NHL outings.
"I don't know if vindicated is the right word," Hall said in a conference call with reporters prior to the Devils-Canadiens game. "I always wanted to play on a playoff team. I've always wanted to be on a winning team, a successful team. For whatever reason, it didn't happen in Edmonton. More so, I'm happy to be in that situation, I'm happy to be in a playoff-race spotlight. That's a fun place to be for me after not experiencing that for my career.
Career-high 30 goals
"So I don't think vindicated is the word I'd choose. I'm happy for the season I'm having personally, and I'm happy for my team's season. That's a good feeling to have after the years that I've been through."
Hall has enjoyed his most productive season yet with a career-high 30 goals and is just six points shy of his career-best 80 points in 2013-14. During his current points streak, he has checked in with 18 goals and 38 points, tied for the fifth-longest such streak in the past 30 years.
- 46 – Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh (1989-90)
- 30 – Mats Sundin, Quebec (1992-93)
- 28 – Steve Yzerman, Detroit (1988-89)
- 28 – Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh (1995-96)
- 26 – Patrick Kane, Chicago (2015-16)
- 26 – Taylor Hall, New Jersey (2017-18)
Hall was down in the dumps when his old teammates made the playoffs without him last season. With him, the Oilers finished 30th, 29th, 24th, 28th, 28th and 29th. Now, for the first time since his back-to-back Memorial Cup wins with the Windsor Spitfires in 2008-09 and 2009-10, he's playing in meaningful games late in the season.
'I don't really feel all that much pressure individually. ... I'll trade a zero-point night at this point for a win.' — Devils forward Taylor Hall on his 26-game points streak
It should be noted the Devils have only gone 12-12-2 during Hall's point streak. They still have a hard road to travel to make the playoffs.
With 15 games remaining, New Jersey sits in the first wild-card spot in the East, three points up on the second wild-card team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and five points in front of the red-hot Florida Panthers, who occupy the ninth spot. but have played three fewer games.
Trade hard to stomach
"I don't really feel all that much pressure individually," said Hall. "More so, we feel pressure to make the playoffs, to get in there and get some wins down the stretch. That's where my attention is now. I'll trade a zero-point night at this point, for a win. That's where we're at in the season right now."
Hall admits the trade 21 months ago was difficult to take. The Oilers were a mess and he found it stressful to play for five different coaches (Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Craig MacTavish and Todd McLellan) in his six seasons in Edmonton.
In New Jersey, he's had one head coach in John Hynes. Hall and Hynes have a sound relationship. They talk often and Hall has become a leader on the Devils, playing on a line with two talented teenage rookies in Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt.
"I've tried to play with a bit of a chip on my shoulder," he said. "It's been a year and a half since I've been traded, so a bit of that has worn off. It's more about how can I help my team here, how can we get into a better spot, how can we get into the playoffs. That's been my motivation more so this year than last."