When it comes to the possibility of the Bruins spending big money this offseason, the conversation naturally starts with defenseman Torey Krug.
The 29-year-old is a known commodity, with a clear -- and valuable -- role both on and off the ice. But if negotiations get to a point where it’s going to take a seven- or eight-year deal worth $7.5-8 million per season to keep Krug -- and his hometown Red Wings may lead the charge in jacking up that price -- the Bruins may very well decide that kind of money would be better spent elsewhere.
But where? The boring, and maybe most likely, answer is that they wouldn’t spend big on any one player and would instead spread it around to a couple depth signings or save some cap space for in-season deals.
However, what if Don Sweeney and Co. decide that the Bruins’ priority this offseason is to really, meaningfully upgrade the offense after the top line and finally get another top-six wing who is going to consistently play like a top-six wing?
Not just hope that Jake DeBrusk finally turns a corner and consistently plays the way he only plays in flashes now. Not just hope that with a full training camp and full regular season, Ondrej Kase learns how to bury his chances and becomes a reliable scorer.
No, go out and get a proven offensive player to put on Krejci’s wing and then let the less consistent players battle for other spots -- or maybe even move DeBrusk and free up more money if rumors of him and his agent looking for $5+ million a year are accurate.
Enter Taylor Hall. It’s a possibility recently mentioned by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan in evaluating each playoff team’s offseason, although they do call it a “pipe dream.”
“Our favorite Bruins pipe dream? That Taylor Hall decides to take a page out of the NBA and chases a Cup for one season in Boston, serving as the talented left wing Sweeney has coveted in his lineup for years,” they write.
That implies a one-year deal for the unrestricted free agent, which would in fact be quite the “pipe dream.” But there is reason to believe that you might be able to sign the 2018 Hart Trophy winner for something less -- possibly much less -- than the kind of eight-year, $80 million or so mega-deal he appeared to be in line for two years ago.
Since that 93-point campaign with the Devils in 2017-18, the best season of Hall’s career, things haven’t quite continued on that trajectory for the now-28-year-old left wing. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in December of the following season, finishing with 37 points in 33 games.
Then Hall got off to a bit of a slow start this past season before being traded to the Coyotes -- with the Bruins rumored to be interested, but unwilling to pay the steep price of multiple high draft picks and/or top prospects. He had 27 points in 35 regular-season games for Arizona and another six in nine playoff games. That’s not bad, especially on a team as defensive-minded as the Coyotes, but it’s also not peak, MVP-caliber Hall.
So, those last two seasons might raise a couple questions that lower his value a little. The league’s economic situation amidst a pandemic and a flat salary cap for next season might hurt him, too.
And then there’s the element that Wyshynski and Kaplan mentioned -- chasing a Cup. Hall, the No. 1 overall pick ahead of Tyler Seguin in 2010, has only been to the playoffs twice in his career, with this year’s play-in series win over the Predators serving as the only series win of his 10-year career. He has never played for anything resembling a real Cup contender.
Hall himself has said publicly that he will be prioritizing winning, and also seems to be aware that the money may not be what he might have hoped for a year or two ago.
"I think, honestly, it's probably all winning," Hall said after the season when asked what was going to be most important for him. "Any player at this stage in their career that has had the career that I've had, 10 seasons, only make the playoffs twice, that's really what I'm after. So we'll see what happens there.
“But yeah, I'd say it's pretty much all winning. I don't think the money's going to be what it was maybe before COVID or before the season, but that's fine. I think we get paid a lot of money to play a game, and we'll see what happens."
Of course, it’s one thing to say that. It’s another to actually mean it if Hall’s market shapes up to be rebuilding teams with cap space offering him big money on one hand and Cup contenders with much less cap space offering him significantly less on the other.
The Bruins certainly won’t be the team that offers Hall the most years or money. But if they don’t re-sign Krug, they could potentially jump into that pool of Cup contenders who might be hoping Hall is willing to take something along the lines of five or six years worth maybe $8 million a season in order to have a real shot at winning the Cup.
Unlike Krug, who knows this offseason is his one real chance at cashing in and has made it clear he intends to take advantage of that, Hall already has one big contract under his belt -- a seven-year, $42 million deal that just ended.
Maybe he really means it when he says going to a winner is more important to him now. And maybe 10 years after the Bruins first eyed Hall as the “Taylor or Tyler” debate raged, they could look his way again and decide he’s just what they need.