BUFFALO, N.Y. (WROC) — The Sabres turned the hockey world upside down when they landed top free agent and former MVP Taylor Hall on Sunday. The left winger signed a one year, $8 million deal with Buffalo.
It all started with texts exchanged with head coach Ralph Krueger on Friday afternoon. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Krueger Connection
Taylor Hall was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers first overall in 2010, the same year Ralph Krueger earned his first NHL coaching position. Krueger recounted to Western New York media on a Zoom call Monday that Hall was the first NHL player he interacted with in Edmonton.
Kruger climbed the coaching ladder with the Oilers and became the head coach in 2012. That was the same year Hall feels he made a splash in the league.
“The year that I had him as a head coach was probably my most successful year even though it was a shortened season, other than my MVP year,” said Hall in his introductory Zoom call. “He got the most out of me. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Before this year, the Sabres would not have been the first team that came to Hall’s mind for a next stop. What they did in Buffalo last season put the team on his radar.
“I saw the team hire Ralph and I saw the team start off really well and have some really good momentum behind them,” said Hall. “Obviously, it didn’t work out but I think Buffalo is a team, whether the guys realize it or not, everyone in the league pulls for them. It’s a good city. They have passionate fans, a fanbase that’s starving for a winning team and hasn’t had that lately.”
Krueger had two main conversations with the highly coveted free agent after sending him that initial text on Friday afternoon. The first was with the Pegulas and general manager Kevyn Adams on the phone.
“It was an easy conversation because I just had to tell him the truth,” said Krueger. “We have that trust level, Taylor and I, and we’ve held onto it for the last decade.”
In that initial conversation, Krueger “talked about the Sabres, the city of Buffalo and what their plans were”, which put the bug in Hall’s mind. “In the back of my head, I knew it would be a good situation.”
The Hart Memorial Trophy winner fielded different offers from various cities, but reached out to Krueger saying he wanted to talk one more time on Sunday. That was a completely different conversation and more geared toward quality of life than hockey.
One year, for now
Hall’s main goal during free agency was to sign a one-year deal. It was what made the most sense to him professionally and personally. He also saw that in the landscape of the NHL right now.
“I knew in the back of my head it would be a good situation if it came down to that I wanted to do a one year contract,” said Hall. “It was appealing to me. Even before free agency, I told my agent Buffalo was a place I’d think about playing.”
Before free agency began, Hall was open about his desire to join a team that was destined for postseason play. In his decade-long career, Hall has only made it to the postseason twice.
“It’s a situation where you go in and improvement is going to be seen as a positive,” said Hall. “Sometimes if you go to the best team in the league and you don’t do well, it’s seen as a disappointing thing. There’s a lot of positivity that can come from this, and I hope that happens.”
The addition of such a talented forward also sent shockwaves through the fanbase because his signing came days after some lackluster acquisitions by Adams.
“Adding Taylor Hall is a sign from the Pegulas, Kevyn Adams, the coaching staff and the organization that we are doing all we can to win now,” said Krueger.
Much to the surprise of many media members on his introductory Zoom call, Hall expressed that he would be interested in a long term deal in Buffalo.
This isn’t a “prove it deal” for Hall. He called it a “show me deal” for both parties.
Ralph Krueger said it best: “Having the most sought after free agent in our ranks choose Buffalo for multiple reasons is a sign that we are doing a lot of things right here.”
Hall is extremely excited for a chance to not only play for Krueger again, but to be a part of something bigger than himself. His goal before free agency was to join a team that was destined for greatness. He feels that greatness lies beneath the smoke, under the hood of the metaphorical car that has been the Sabres.
“When you break it down and you have an open mind about things and you’re able to look past the smoke that’s surrounded the Sabres the past couple years, I think you see a team that has elite players, ownership that’s committed to building a winner,” Hall said. “I saw what they’ve done with the Bills and a coach that can get a lot out of its players.”
He did shout out the Bills in his introductory video on the Sabres social media channels, which will garner some brownie points.
Even more than that, the three-time All-Star is excited to play alongside Jack Eichel, even going so far as to say Eichel will still be the best player on the team. Hall also shouted out Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner (his offseason workout buddy), and fellow newcomer Eric Staal.
“When you sign a one year contract you’re betting on yourself, but I was also betting on the fact that the Sabres can improve and have a good hockey season,” said Hall. “I really believe that. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I really think that there’s steps to be taken and the pieces are there. Hopefully, I can add to that.”