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Could the Penguins have paid the price for Taylor Hall?

Looking at what the Arizona Coyotes gave up

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New Jersey Devils v Pittsburgh Penguins

Taylor Hall is now a member of the....Arizona Coyotes. In perhaps an unexpected ending, the Coyotes are the big winners of the sweepstakes to acquire the former Devils’ MVP.

Here’s the haul for Hall:

New Jersey also retained the maximum of salary ($3.0 million) for the rest of the season.

Given that not everyone are experts on Arizona’s farm system, and the bulk of this deal involves prospects, how can we stack up the price paid? Could the Pittsburgh Penguins have been in the picture?

Now, this goes a bit beyond the hypothetical of whether NJ would have actually dealt Hall to a division rival like Pittsburgh. (Especially a division rival that fired the man in charge of trading Hall). It’s possible/probable that if Ray Shero was going to entertain the possibility of moving Hall to the Pens, the price wouldn’t have been the same. Shero’s obligation was to get the best return possible for his team, but if the value was similar it obviously makes sense to deal a star player out-of-conference rather than hand him over directly to a rival.

Anyways, here’s what Shero got:

2020 first*: this has been identified as the key to the trade. If AZ crumbles and somehow ends up with a top-3 overall pick, they can keep this pick and will give their 2021 first rounder to NJ. That doesn’t seem very likely. However, if AZ slumps and misses the playoff this could be a pick in the 10-15 range and have high value. Or they could make the playoffs, win a round and be in the 22 range and not have as much value.

Could the Pens have matched this: Yes, they have a 2020 first. However, not all first round picks are created the same. Check out this somewhat aged but still relevant chart from Sportsnet:

The higher the pick in the first round, the exponentially more it has expected value. Pittsburgh with Taylor Hall might end up being a 25-31 overall pick. Arizona with Hall? Remains to be seen, but logically it makes some sense six months out to probably think the AZ first would carry more value than a Pittsburgh first rounder.

2021 conditional third round pick: This upgrades into a first rounder if Hall re-signs with Arizona.

Could the Pens have matched this: Sure, they have a 2021 first rounder available to give. (Remember, this isn’t about SHOULD they match it).

Kevin Bahl: The 19-year old prospect defenseman was seen as a potential hold-up in negotiations, as NJ wanted him but Arizona was reluctant to trade him. Eventually Arizona agreed to include him. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had Bahl as the third best prospect in the Coyotes’ system this summer saying:

Bahl projects to be one of the top physical forces in the league as a 6-foot-6 defenseman who leans on checks regularly. I knew about that last season, but I’ve seen more from him with the puck. He won’t be a power play guy in the NHL, but he’s got average hands and has good offensive instincts...You add in OK feet – but very good for his size – and there’s NHL projection there for a guy who can take on a regular shift in the NHL and kill a lot of plays.

Could the Pens have matched this: Maybe. The Pens don’t have a like-for-like 6’6 defenseman to offer. Pierre-Olivier Joseph is fairly similar as a tall-ish, lanky defender with a similar pedigree. Though Bahl is a Team Canada WJC caliber player and Joseph wasn’t, so it’s very plausible that wouldn’t be quite a good enough substitution for NJ. Calen Addison would be the only other notable defensive prospect for the Pens and he’s about the polar opposite of a player as Bahl as a very small, smooth-skating, puck-moving defender. But Addison is a Team Canada caliber player, so he fits the bill in value to be close to Bahn, even if he’s a very different style of player.

Nick Merkley: Merkley, a 22-year old picked at the end of the first round in 2015, was ranked No. 5 by Pronman for Arizona’s system:

When Merkley returned from injury, he continued his success from the previous season in the AHL, although he didn’t really take a step forward. Merkley’s strengths continue to be evident. He’s a highly skilled and intelligent playmaker. He’s able to make plays through seams and make defenders miss. Merkley isn’t the biggest forward, but he competes well and is strong on pucks. The concern is his very average skating ability, particularly for a smaller forward

His AHL scoring suggests a pretty decent prospect, but in this day and age a 22-year old forward in his third professional season that hasn’t made it to the NHL doesn’t portend to a totally bright future. Some injuries have been in the way to help explain that, but having injuries isn’t a good development.

Could the Pens have matched this: Not really. The Pens don’t have very many prospects like Merkley in their system as former first rounders with strong puck skills. Merkley is a step above what Sam Miletic is and what Kasper Bjorkqvist and Jordy Bellerive has shown lately. Those two are close, so too may be Sam Lafferty, though he’s older and arguably has a lower ceiling. For Hall, you would think that a key point was getting a high-potential, skilled forward prospect like Merkley. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a very close fit in the pro ranks right now.

Nate Schnarr: A 2017 third round pick, Schnarr, 20, is in his first full professional season. Pronman had him as 7th best Coyote prospect saying:

Schnarr had a good final OHL season, as an important part of Guelph’s title run. He was an interesting player to debate this season because often he wouldn’t really pop, but he’d have a few points at the end of the night. I think he’s a smart and skilled offensive player who can move pucks well and surprise folks with his playmaking ability. There is a question of what Schnarr is in the NHL, though. Is he quick enough to drive play? Is there enough skill to be a power play guy? I’m not sure the answer to either of those questions is ye[t]

Could the Pens have matched this: Probably. Craig Custance had a quote from an anonymous scout saying, “Two-way center. I don’t see him more than possible third or fourth line upside.” Schnarr wasn’t moving the needle on this trade a lot, just an extra piece.

In the end..

I wasn’t really that impressed by New Jersey’s return for Hall. He is an expiring asset, but compared to what Matt Duchene swung from Nashville last year or what Mark Stone got from Vegas, this deal feels a bit empty. Bahl is a good prospect, but plenty of prospects never pan out. Merkley is in a similar boat. Schnarr is more of a longshot/future type of player. The first round pick could be solid, could be a coin flip.

As Custance sums up:

For this trade really to hit for Shero and the Devils, the Coyotes either need to tank that 2020 pick into the top 10 or have things go so well that Hall re-signs and that conditional pick becomes another first-rounder.

Having to hope the other team does poorly is never a good strategy. Especially when you just gave them Taylor Hall and made them a much stronger team!

Could the Penguins have matched this deal? Well, value-wise, probably. That’s kinda like saying if you have $125 left for a week should you go buy a pair of $100 jeans? Probably not the wisest move to give up at least one first rounder + prospects like Addison/Joseph and Bjorqvivst/Bellerive + maybe even a Lafferty type to be in that conversation.

There’s also a legit question on what the Pens’ price would have been, if any premium for being a division foe would have struck. Shero was obviously content with thinking the AZ offer would be best for him and his team.

In the end, the Pens weren’t really a tremendous business fit for Taylor Hall coming from the Devils, and weren’t really part of the serious conversations. However, at least seeing this deal, it’s an open possibility that with some decent young prospects and a lot of future picks that Pittsburgh could at least pay similar prices for elite talent if they really wanted to.

And that’s what is worth remembering, because there will be a next time for an aggressive team that will be looking for an upgrade. Whether that’s Tyler Toffoli or Chris Kreider or Andreas Athanasiou or someone else, we’ll just have to wait and find out. None of those players will likely command what Hall just did, so if this trade sets a ceiling for the value of the market, that could serve as a positive development for a team like Pittsburgh.