Sabres lure top free agent Taylor Hall to team up with Jack Eichel, who had made frustrations known

OK, who had Taylor Hall signing with the Sabres? If you did, let us know how 2021 is going to turn out because let’s be honest, this was definitely not on anyone’s radar. 

Among the rumors, Hall was said to potentially return to play for his hometown Flames or a few hours north in a reunion with the Oilers. Others had him signing with the Bruins and a few even penciled him into the Blue Jackets lineup.

Instead, he’s heading to Buffalo. Hall signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sabres on Sunday to suit up next to Jack Eichel.

Hall brings a solid resume with him to Western New York. In 10 seasons he’s tallied 563 points (218 goals, 345 assists) in 627 games between the Oilers, Devils and Coyotes. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner after he scored 93 points in 76 games with New Jersey, Hall missed most of the 2018-19 season with a knee injury that resulted in arthroscopic surgery to remove bone fragments. This past season he scored 16 goals and 36 assists in 65 games between the Devils and Coyotes.

It’s a savvy signing for brand new general manager Kevyn Adams and it comes just months after Eichel, the Sabres’ captain and Hart Trophy contender, expressed his displeasure in the direction the club was going.

“Listen, I’m fed up with losing, and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” he said during a Zoom call with reporters back in May. “It’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months. It’s been a tough five years with where things have went.”

Later in the call, he added: “It’s one thing to be in the tight games. It’s another thing to win them. I’m not getting frustrated with where things are going. But yeah, I’m definitely not in the greatest place where the last little bit went. It’s definitely worn on me.”

In the five years Eichel has been in Buffalo, the team has failed to make the playoffs and narrowly missed out on bubble hockey this summer. In the last two seasons, the squad has jumped out to a hot start only to cool off as the temperature dropped mid-season. Hall, by the way, has only played in two postseason — five games in 2018 with the Devils and nine games in the qualifying and first rounds this year.

The newest Sabre is expected to play on a line with Eichel and could see immediate results, as Jeff Skinner did in 2018-19 when he scored 40 goals for the first time in his career. Line combinations will of course be up to Ralph Krueger — whose position as bench boss was a factor for Hall’s signing. Krueger was an Oilers assistant coach during Hall’s first two seasons in the NHL and the head coach of the team in 2012-13. 

“I think the way that Ralph had built a relationship in his time with Taylor previously absolutely played a big role in this,” Adams said on a call with reporters Sunday night.

“We knew that it was going to take a lot of conversations and we knew it had to be a fit for both sides,” he added. “I made it very clear in the beginning to (agent) Darren Ferris and that group that we want players to want to be here. We want players that are humble and hungry and want to win and want to be part of something special.

“If that didn’t fit then, we wouldn’t keep going down the road and have conversations. But it became very clear quickly that there was interest and Taylor had an interest in being here and being part of something special and here’s where we got to so it’s exciting.”

The upcoming season marks Krueger’s second year behind the bench in Buffalo and the head coach also had nothing but good things to say about his new acquisition.

“We are extremely pleased and proud that he picked the Sabres!” Krueger said in a text message to LeBrun. “The level of trust is very high between us so we can go right back to work.”

The addition of Hall to a roster that includes Eichel, Skinner, Eric Staal, Sam Reinhart (restricted free agent), Victor Olofsson (restricted free agent) and defensive sensation Rasmus Dahlin makes the Sabres a team to keep an eye on in a hyper-competitive Atlantic Division. 

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