Happy third night of Hannukkah and merry Christmas Eve. This edition of Blake’s Takes won’t be very festive, but it will have some interesting content. Last week was a busy week in the NHL. Taylor Hall was finally moved and Ilya Kovalchuk is now a free agent! I’ll also highlight a breakout performer and take a closer look at one of my favorite plays of the week.
1. Arizona Lands Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall did what many North Americans do come winter, they move down to Arizona for the season. After failing to sign Hall to an extension, the New Jersey Devils traded their former Hart Trophy winner to the Arizona Coyotes. The trade was definitely a blockbuster as there were a ton of moving pieces.
The Devils received Arizona’s 2020 first-round pick, Arizona’s 2021 third-round pick, and prospects Kevin Bahl, Nick Merkley, and Nate Schnarr. Both draft picks are conditional. If the 2020 first-round pick lands within the top three, Arizona will keep the pick and send their 2021 first-round pick. The 2021 pick can become a second-round pick if the Coyotes advance a round in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs or they re-sign Hall. The pick can also become a first-round pick if both conditions happen. If neither comes to fruition, the Devils will only receive the 2021 third-round pick.
The Devils will still retain 50 percent of Hall’s 2019-20 salary. The Devils also included Blake Speers in the trade.
We know enough about Hall to understand what Arizona is going to receive. But, what about the prospects the Devils received? Bahl is a defenseman currently playing for the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL. He was the 55th overall pick in the 2018 draft and will represent Canada in 2020 World Juniors. He’s enjoying a fine season with 20 points in 28 games.
Merkely was a first-round pick in 2015. He has 16 points in 28 AHL games this season. He’s played one career game in the NHL back in the 2017-18 season.
Schnarr was the Coyotes’ third-round pick back in 2017. He is a center playing in his second season in the AHL.
And for the Coyotes, Speers was the Devils’ third-round pick in 2015. He is a forward and has one point in 12 games this season in the OHL.
So, it looks like Bahl is the only prospect with a high chance of making an impact at the NHL level. Obviously, it will take years for us to accurately judge this trade. As of right now, it seems like the Coyotes will, at the minimum, get half a year of Taylor Hall for a solid prospect.
I love that the Coyotes made this move. They’re currently in first place in the Pacific Division. This is the best season in the desert since they lost in the Conference Finals in 2012. This is exactly the move they needed to make and their fans wanted to see. They added a former Hart Trophy winner to a first-place team with Phil Kessel and tremendous defense.
There are obvious risks here. But, if we learned anything from Columbus last year, sometimes it’s worth taking a few risks to energize your fanbase. If that’s the least Arizona gets out of this trade, I would say it was worth it.
2. Kovalchuk Hits Free Agency
Unlike Taylor Hall, former Devil, Ilya Kovalchuk, has hit free agency at midseason. Last week, the Kings placed Kovalchuk on waivers with the intent of terminating his contract. After Kovalchuk received a scheduled bonus of $2.65 million, he left the team. This allowed the Kings to terminate his contract. It was obvious Kovalchuk wanted to leave after the Kings announced they were benching him back in November and scratched him for 18 straight games.
Kovalchuk made $14 million during his year and a half with the Kings. Although he cashed in, he didn’t do much to earn his money. After making his long-awaited return to the NHL, the once-renowned goal-scorer was only able to muster 19 goals and 43 points in 81 games with Los Angeles.
I admit I was hyped for Kovalchuk to return to the NHL. Especially after he played well in the KHL and won an Olympic gold medal in 2018. It’s too bad he was a complete and utter bust with the Kings. I don’t blame the Kings for shelling out the money to get him, I just feel bad a player with his talent amounted to so little. It’s safe to say Kovalchuk is officially over the hill. It will be interesting to see if he gets another shot in the NHL and can redeem himself.
3. Acciari Explodes
After a solid run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019 with the Boston Bruins, Noel Acciari signed with the Florida Panthers as a free agent. He was expected to provide grit and physicality and maybe score a few goals.
Acciari certainly delivered on the goal-scoring this past weekend. He scored a hat-trick in back-to-back games against the Senators and Stars. He has also scored a career-high in goals this season with 12, breaking his previous high of ten.
At the time Florida signed him, I was expecting Acciari to be the same player he was in Boston. I’m pleasantly surprised with the season he’s having. After watching last week’s highlights, it’s evident he’s benefiting from playing alongside Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau might have even outshined Acciari in both games, scoring once and adding another seven apples in those two games. If anyone is clamoring for All-Star attention in South Florida, it’s Huberdeau.
4. Toronto is Surging
A few weeks back, the Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock. That set the hockey world on fire as everyone came out of the woodwork and bashed Babs for his controversial coaching style. It also did a lot of good by empowering other players to come forward and speak about the injustice they had suffered on behalf of other coaches. Ultimately, Babcock was fired because he was not winning enough hockey games, despite having all the talent in the world on his team.
Sheldon Keefe has turned it around. The Maple Leafs were squarely out of the playoff picture when Babcock was ousted a bit over a month ago. Since then, they have surged and have worked their way up to second in the Atlantic Division. They are 7-3 over their last ten games and are riding a five-game winning streak. It helps that they’ve had Mitch Marner back. Still, there’s no question this team is firing on all cylinders right now.
This is another example of a team successfully firing their coach midseason. Shanahan, Dubas, and co. clearly saw a change needed to be made, and they weren’t afraid to make it. I’m impressed with the gall they showed and just as impressed with the job Keefe has done with this roster. Again, it helps to have arguably the most talented roster in all of hockey. I think the rest of the hockey world might even get behind seeing this young and fun Leafs team make a deep run this postseason.
5. My Play of the Week: Matthews’ Slick Pass
Speaking of the Leafs, their very own Auston Matthews is the owner of the best play I saw this week. Check it out:
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.