A big Coyotes offseason question: pending free agent Taylor Hall
John Chayka was the Arizona Coyotes general manager when he, on behalf of his organization, pulled off a blockbuster trade with the New Jersey Devils to get pending free agent forward Taylor Hall.
Chayka is no longer with the organization. Hall’s fate is to be decided.
“It kind of clouds it a bit,” Hall said of Chayka’s departure, as the Coyotes still have an interim tag on replacement GM Steve Sullivan. “I think John leaving was unexpected for everyone. I had a good relationship with him. He’s the one that traded for me, and obviously had a lot of belief in me, and that was important. But we’ll see. Change happens a lot of in hockey and you have to be ready for that stuff. So we’ll see what happens. We’ll see how the conversations go with whoever’s having them.”
Whoever’s having them — Sullivan or the next GM or owner Alex Meruelo — will have to have those conversations under unique circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has steamrolled the chances of the NHL’s cap ceiling increasing, so the Coyotes and every other franchise will likely have tighter purse strings this year. That’s bad luck for Hall, and for the Coyotes, who are already close to the cap ceiling as it is.
“I think honestly it’s probably all winning,” Hall said when asked what was important to him in a free agent destination. “Any player at this stage in their career that’s had the career that I’ve had — 10 seasons, only making the playoffs twice — that’s really what I’m after. So we’ll see what happens there. I think the Coyotes have a bright future. They have some great guys, some good young players.
“I don’t think the money’s going to be what it was before COVID or before this season. But that’s fine. I think we get paid a lot of money to play a game and we’ll see what happens.”
The new general manager may have an influence on Hall’s decision, and he or she will also have to evaluate where the Coyotes are. Is their entrance into the 2019-20 playoffs a sign that it’s time to invest more into this team and retain one of their best players?
Or does the next GM see a young core locked in for many years on big contracts that just exited the playoffs in the first round and decide a rebuild-like approach is more appropriate? In that respect, the Coyotes may decide it’s not in their best interest to re-sign Hall. It might come down to what the owner — not the next GM — wants to do, too.
Hall didn’t give any inclination on what he intends to do.
“I’ll take a few days here,” Hall said. “I’ve got to talk with my agent and just really let things soak in, I guess. We don’t even know when free agency could potentially be so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But in saying that, I had a really good experience in Arizona and playing for the Coyotes. I didn’t know what to expect coming into it. I didn’t know what the guys would be like or the coaching staff.”
Chayka said when the Coyotes aquired Hall that the organization had a unique opportunity to showcase itself to Hall in a way that others couldn’t. The Coyotes will compete with other teams in free agency for Hall’s services, but Arizona had him in its building and playing games in a Coyotes sweater. He knows the experience first-hand.
“I’ve never played in a market like Arizona, like a hot weather market, a place that might not be a classic hockey market,” Hall said (he has also played for New Jersey and Edmonton). “But they care about hockey there. That was surprising to me. The amount of sellouts that we had and the fan support was awesome. That’s something that I wouldn’t have known about before coming here.
“And then just the guys. Honestly, the guys in the locker room made me feel so welcome and really was a great team that supports each other, a team that gets along well off the ice. And those are kind of things you don’t really have any clue about until you get there. Every team says that they’re close, but the Coyotes were truly a close team and a team that I had a lot of fun playing for.”