Grades for every big NHL free-agent signing: Why Taylor Hall to Buffalo makes sense

NHL free agency for 2020 is underway!

For each key signing, Emily Kaplan, Chris Peters and Greg Wyshynski will be assessing the player’s fit with his new team, weighing whether the terms of the contract make sense and serving up an overall grade.

We’ll be grading the most notable offseason signings below, so come back for updates as deals are completed throughout the fall.

Free agency: Tracker | Preview | Top 60

Trades: Grading every big deal

Draft recap: Every pick | Grades | Takeaways

Terms: One year, $8 million

Where does he fit? If it is up to Jack Eichel — and given his sway in the organization, let’s assume that it is — Hall will fit to the left of Buffalo’s star center every time he hits the ice. With due respect to Jeff Skinner, Hall is the best player Eichel will have played with in the NHL.

The door swings the other way, too: Eichel is by leaps and bounds the best center Hall will have played with since he lined up next to Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton. Hall had a down year in 2019-20, playing with the Devils and the Coyotes, to whom he was traded in December 2019. Hall’s 16 goals and 36 assists for 52 points represented his lowest points-per-game average (0.80) since 2016-17. He had been flirting with places such as Nashville, Colorado and Boston as a free agent, but all of those teams have competition on left wing that Buffalo doesn’t have when it comes to top-line minutes.

Although he had a downtick defensively last season, Hall has been a reliable and improved 200-foot player. That was a hallmark of his Hart Trophy season with the Devils in 2017-18. Predators coach John Hynes was behind the bench for the Devils that season, and his relationship with Hall fueled speculation that Nashville could land the winger as a free agent. But we all slept on the fact that another of Hall’s former head coaches is also behind the bench: Ralph Krueger of the Sabres, who was an assistant in Edmonton and then the head coach for one season in 2012-13.

Here’s Hall on Krueger to the Buffalo News last year: “If I could take anything, and this may sound weird, but if I were to coach someday, I’d want to have an attitude like he did. As you go through the league and you have different coaches, different assistant coaches, you think, ‘If I was ever a coach or be in that position, what would you want to do, and how would you want to send your message?’ He was a guy that not every meeting was roses, but at the end of the day, you were there to play hockey, and you were there to be a great teammate. I think that’s what I’d take from him.” It’s no secret that players like to play for Ralph. Perhaps Hall wanted to play for him again, along with a pretty good center on their top line.

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