Hall was open to playing in Buffalo before free agency began

New Sabres left winger Taylor Hall sees a lot of good pieces in place to turn things around in the 2020-21 season

October 12, 2020 - 6:45 pm
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In Taylor Hall's first go-around with unrestricted free agency in his career, the 28-year-old quickly realized just how different the landscape of this year's period was going to be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We knew it was going to be a unique marketplace coming into free agency," Hall said on Monday while meeting with the Buffalo media on a Zoom conference call. "It went from wanting to get a six- or seven-year contract to thinking maybe a one-year deal might be best for me financially and personally. Then we can see what the landscape of the NHL and, really, the whole U.S. and Canada looks like after that."

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Hall was seen as one of the top free agent targets heading into the 2020 offseason, maybe even the best offensive weapon available to be had by all 31 teams. The former Hart Trophy winner in 2018 had just come off a season with the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes where he tallied 52 points (16+36) in 65 games before the coronavirus shut down the regular season on March 12.

After exploring his options for a couple of days and testing the market, he surprised many in the hockey world by opting to take a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres worth $8 million.

"Right from noon-on on Friday, Ralph [Krueger] texted me, and then we hopped on a phone call. I never met Kevyn Adams before, but I obviously knew Ralph really well, and we hopped on a call and he talked about the Sabres, the city of Buffalo, what they're plans were and where I'd fit in. That put the bug in my head right off the bat," Hall said of his overall experience. "From there, I fielded other offers and took the time to talk to other teams, but in the back of my head, I knew that that would be a good situation if it came down to me wanting a one-year contract.

"When we started thinking that one year might be the best play, a situation just like Buffalo was something that was appealing to me. When I sat down with my agent and I talked to my dad and people close to me, it started making more and more sense."

However, the interest in the Sabres was much more than just talking with Krueger and the team once free agency started this past Friday at 12 p.m. ET. With knowing what the market could have been heading into free agency, Hall knew that if came down to the one-year contract situation for the 2020-21 season, that Buffalo was a good candidate.

"Even before free agency, Buffalo was a place that I told my agent, Darren Ferris, that I would think about playing there," Hall said. "It would be something that I think would be enjoyable, and I'm really glad that we're here."

Hall joins a Sabres team that has missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs for nine straight seasons, and have not come close to even sniffing the postseason for several years. This past season, the Sabres finished 25th in the league standings with a 30-31-8 record, 68 points in the standings, and just missed out by three points of the 12th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference Qualification Round to the Montreal Canadiens.

The season did get off to a decent start in Krueger's first year as the Sabres head coach, but things started to sputter heading into November and then really didn't get much better from there.

At the NHL Trade Deadline, the Sabres were sitting just outside the playoff picture with a chance to win some games and pull closer to a playoff spot. However, Buffalo went on to collapse and lose six straight games, all but crushing any hope of a chance at the playoffs. Even when the NHL announced its Return To Play format, the collapse the team saw put them just out of reach of playing this summer in the Toronto bubble.

Despite the team's struggles and the playoff drought that has loomed over Buffalo for nearly a decade, Hall can see some promise in the Sabres when looking at the organization from top-to-bottom.

"I think when you break it down, you have an open mind about things and you're able to look past the smoke that has surrounded the Sabres the past couple of years, I think you see a team that has elite players, ownership that's really committed to building a winner (I've seen what they've done with the Bills), and a coach that I feel can get a lot out of his players," Hall said.

"I know that they want to be a puck possession team, a quick team, a transition team, a team that could either score off the rush or a cycle game... Rasmus Dahlin is a player that I really think is ready to take a step as well. He's big, he's elusive, he's a great puck mover. Jeff Skinner I have a lot of respect for. I work out with him in the summers and I see what he puts into his craft. I know that last year might not have been the year that he wanted, but he's someone that really cares and I feel like he can take a step back to where he was. Eric Staal is a guy that still has a lot of game. There's a lot of good pieces on this team.

"When you sign a one-year contract, you're obviously betting on yourself, but I'm also betting that the Sabres can improve and have a good hockey season. I truly believe that. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here. I really think there's steps to be taken and the pieces are there, and hopefully I can add to that and have a good year."

One of the biggest pieces on the team that attracted Hall to Buffalo is Sabres captain Jack Eichel. To have a chance to play with one of the premier centers and play-makers in the NHL was something that Hall did not want to pass up.

"There's no doubt about it that him being there is a big reason why I chose Buffalo," Hall said of the Sabres captain. "He's an amazing hockey player. I think that he took a great step last year. Now it's about can we find a way to get him into the playoffs and really produce on a stage that, I feel, he deserves."

When Krueger joined Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Monday, he joked with them, saying that he had a sheet in front of him with line combinations where Hall was playing alongside Eichel. When Hall spoke with Krueger, the Sabres head coach said that the new Buffalo winger is really going to like playing with Eichel.

"Have I been told that I'm going to play with him exclusively? No, I have not. But when Ralph talked to me, he thinks that we're a really good pair, not only on the ice, but he feels like we have the same personality and we're going to gel well. That means a lot coming from Ralph. He doesn't just say that. I'm excited to get on the ice with him, and hopefully along with everybody else on the team, we can have a good year and take a step individually and as a team."

As for the potential of playing more than just this year in Buffalo, Hall said that he has not ruled out any possibilities going forward. In fact, he said he can envision the idea of playing in Buffalo beyond the 2020-21 season.

"I'm very interested. It's close to home, it's close to my parents. It's a place that I can see myself for a while," Hall said. "Hockey is an interesting thing. Three years ago, no one thought that Colorado would be the No. 1 destination for guys to go to. Things can happen, things can turn pretty quick, especially if you have elite pieces like the Sabres do... When you look past the smoke and some of the stuff that has happened to the Sabres in the last couple of years, and under the hood there's some really good pieces and I really believe that. That's where my mind was the past couple of days thinking about Buffalo."

You can listen to Hall's entire conference call below:

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