by PuckStopsHere on 10/19/10 at 01:47 AM ET
Taylor Hall was the first pick overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He is likely to be a future NHL star, but he isn’t off to a fast start with the Edmonton Oilers. He has one assist so far in his four game NHL career. This has happened despite a solid amount of ice time - over 15 minutes a game. The best scenario for the Edmonton Oilers would be to send him back to the OHL for the season.
Edmonton holds Hall’s rights for seven NHL seasons of until he turns 27 years old (whichever comes first). This season will not count as one of the seven seasons in question unless he plays nine or more games this year. He remains on an entry level deal for the first three years of his NHL career and is presumably a good enough player to be significantly underpaid by the end of that period of time. He is more likely to have a higher value as he matures and gets older. 18 year old Taylor Hall will not be as good as 21 year old Taylor Hall. You are more likely to get a better season out of Hall if you control his NHL career at age 26 and 27 than at 18 and 19.
The trade-off when you play Taylor Hall in the NHL is that you start the clock ticking toward his eventual unrestricted free agency sooner. You start the clock ticking toward the point when he must get a second contract raise and eat a bigger portion of your salary cap. It is in Edmonton’s best interest to not to play Hall in the NHL beyond nine games. Given that his start has been lacklustre, they Oilers would be able to justify sending him to the minors.
The trade-off is that Hall may be unhappy with his lack of an NHL spot, but that doesn’t really matter right now. Hall is under contract with the Oilers for years. His loyalty to the Oilers does not extend beyond his unrestricted free agency age. He is free to stay or go as he pleases and his staying most likely depends upon his contract situation and the Oilers playoff and Stanley Cup chances at the time of his free agency. Whatever happened when he was 18 years old is going to be ancient history at that point. There is also a concern that Hall’s development would be stunted by not playing against top competition that he would find in the NHL. This is a widely held idea, but it isn’t clear how well it is grounded in reality. In the 70’s, NHL players could not join the league until they were 20. Did that stunt their development? Eric Lindros was clearly NHL ready when he was 18, but held out a year prompting the Quebec Nordiques to trade him to Philadelphia. Did that stunt his development? It isn’t clear that it did. The best example of a player who might have had stunted development at age 18 was Marc-Andre Fleury, who the Pittsburgh Penguins sent down to limit their team salary. Fleury has never developed into that top goalie that was pictured as a first overall pick in 2003, despite his 2009 Stanley Cup win. It isn’t clear that anything better would have happened under different circumstances.
The NHL CBA has set up a situation that it isn’t in team’s best interests to play rookies who still qualify for junior hockey in many cases. Edmonton would be better off saving a year of Taylor Hall’s time with them for a year when he will be a better NHL player (age 26 or 27) and a year of his entry level contract until age 21, when the Oilers will be a better team and might have a better chance to win and might need that salary cap space to better compete. This is one aspect of the CBA that I do not like, but it is in Edmonton’s best interest to not keep Taylor Hall in the NHL. There should be as little in the way of keeping the best possible players in the NHL. Should Taylor Hall be one, he should be in the league. At this point, it isn’t clear that he is an NHL calibre player and the Edmonton Oilers must make a decision in nine games (and they are nearly halfway there), given the CBA rules it is in their best interests to choose to send him to junior. At this point, the Oiler franchise is not publicly acknowledging this possibility.
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