Taylor Hall is a former No. 1 draft pick. He has a Hart Trophy to his name. At his best, he’s one of the NHL’s most explosive, dynamic players.
There’s a whole lot to feel good about if you’re Hall. So, then, why does he have such a problem with confidence right now?
The Boston Bruins acquired Hall in a blockbuster trade late Sunday night, and he’ll make his debut with the Black and Gold on Tuesday night, coincidentally against his former team, the Buffalo Sabres.
Hall’s decision to sign with Buffalo couldn’t undo the Sabres’ run of awfulness. He scored just two goals with Buffalo and the Sabres were atrocious. Unsurprisingly, that season from hell took a toll on Hall, who was incredibly honest Monday about where his head was at as his Buffalo run came to an end.
“It’s obviously been a bad year for me, personally, and I need to play well. I need to contribute and most of all, I want to be part of a team that wins games,” Hall said in a video call with reporters.
He later added: “Unfortunately right now, I’m not the most confident hockey player right now. Throughout this year, it’s been a lot of struggles. obviously, goal scoring has been the biggest one, so I’ve gotta find a little bit of that part of my game back.”
The big question will be whether the Bruins can help Hall regain that confidence. There are few, if any, situations in the NHL better suited to take on a player like Hall and aid his turnaround than the one in Boston. The Bruins are good, arguably better than any team he’s ever played with, and Bruce Cassidy might be the best coach Hall has ever had.
It likely goes without saying, too, that Hall’s teammates are much better now. He’ll skate on Boston’s second line to the left of David Krejci, one of the more consistent centers of the last decade-plus.
But the biggest way in which the Bruins can help Hall’s confidence is by managing expectations. Cassidy said Tuesday the B’s don’t need 2018 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. They just need him to buy in to their system and do what’s asked of him.
“I would think a guy who has scored his whole life, what will get him going is producing offensively. That’s just what they’re used to. That’s probably how they’ve been measured their whole life, right or wrong,” Cassidy told reporters Monday. “That kind of becomes the story. I told him, ‘Hey, you’re gonna play with good players here, but help us win games. That’s how we’re measuring you.’ We measure ourselves here in wins and losses, how do we do in the playoffs? Yes, he’s an individual that will get judged by his point totals, but for us here, if you play well and do your job and help us win, the points will just come because he’s done it every year.”
The good news for the Bruins is Hall seems ready to do just that.
“Going to Boston, there are so many great players on that team, Hall of Famers, guys that have had amazing careers, careers that if I had anything like that at the end of my career, I’d be super happy,” he said. “I’m 29 years old, but I still feel you can learn stuff about the game at this age and you can better yourself as a player and a leader. Seeing these guys, I’m excited to be part of that group and just be one of the guys. I don’t expect to come in and light the league on fire. I just want to come in and win games and be part of a team that has something I haven’t had before. That’s what makes me most excited.”
It’s been a trying year for Hall. The Sabres were supposed to be better but were railroaded by COVID-19 challenges, awful play, regime changes and everything in between. Now, he gets a chance to resurrect his career — in a contract year, no less — while playing for a team that expects greatness.
“For us,” Cassidy said, “you’re in an organization that has expectations and a city that has expectations, and we want those. We want pressure on us. We want to embrace that because we’ve handled it well over here. Help us win games by playing to your strengths. That’s kind of the message we’ve given Taylor, and hopefully that helps his confidence a) winning and b) him making the plays he’s used to making.”
If that happens, the relationship should benefit both sides.