Sweeney makes a Hall of a gamble

When even casual fans know that a team needs to make improvements that’s usually a sign that the sellers in the trade market can smell blood in the water and the cost of getting any sort of significant additions to your club gets higher and higher by the minute. With lots of teams looking each has to bid against the other buyers for the prime pickings.

But somehow Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney managed to add some decent pieces to his roster without mortgaging the farm by acquiring forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar in exchange for Anders Bjork and a 2021 second-round pick. Ordinarily getting two first-round players, including an overall number one pick, and only having to give up a depth player and a second-rounder should automatically put the winner’s checkmark in your column.

But these aren’t ordinary times.

Hall is one of those players who has boatloads of talent but can never seem to put it all together. Despite winning the Hart Memorial Trophy for being the NHL’s MVP in the 2017-18 season, it’s hard to call Hall anything but a bust. This is the fourth time in his 11 season career he’s been traded, and in none of those seasons has he led the league in any offensive statistic. In fact, ranking in the top five in any stat has been few and far between for him. And amazingly, he somehow parlayed that into an $8M, one year deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

Now the price to acquire Hall was pretty cheap, but it’s still a gamble because Bjork is young, just 24 years old, and has looked like he’s ready to mature into a solid NHL player. It’s also a gamble because there’s no way to know how Hall will fit into the team and the dressing room, something that players like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron say is one of the best assets of the Bruins this season.

The good news is Hall seems to understand this is probably his last chance to show what he can do, and he knows what it will take. He also knew he wanted to do it in Boston.

“Since I knew I would be traded for the last few weeks, it was a team that I really wanted to join and really wanted to be a part of,” said Hall during his introductory press conference Monday. “I don’t want to set expectations too high, I want to come and win games. And I feel like I can help teams do that. Unfortunately, so far in my career, that hasn’t happened. A fresh start, especially after the season that I’ve had and everything like that, the last five or six days, being away from hockey and being able to reflect, I still believe in myself a lot as a player.

“That’s what makes me most excited. I really want to be a part of a winning team. I want to add to that and however I can do that, I’m all in.”

Hall also admitted that he’s not been producing lately. “Unfortunately, right now, I’m not the most confident hockey player. Throughout this year, there have been a lot of struggles and obviously, goal scoring has been the biggest one. I’ve got to find a little bit of that part of my game back. I don’t think it’s completely lost or anything like that.

“But I’m not expecting to come and score 93 points in Boston again. I want to be a part of a winning team and whatever I have to do to do that, that’s what I’m here to do. I still believe in myself a lot as a hockey player. In saying that, I still believe I have a lot of athleticism and a lot of speed and I hope I can add to the team with those trades.”

To be honest, I wasn’t on the Hall bandwagon before and I’m not so sure I’ll be jumping on now. Getting Buffalo to eat half his remaining salary makes this more palatable for me, but now I have to hope that Hall plays well enough to contribute but not well enough for Sweeney to get all starry-eyed and sign Hall for a big dollar contract. That seems like a fine line that has little hope of being walked.

I won’t waste a lot of column space on Curtis Lazar, who is the definition of “warm body”. He’s cheap at $800K and under contract for next season. If the Bruins get anything from him, it will be a nice bonus for the team.

In a separate deal, the Bruins acquired defenseman Mike Reilly from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a 2022 third-round draft pick. Reilly is a reasonably solid depth defenseman with pretty decent offensive skills who’s played for some really bad teams in his career. His $1.5M salary is a bit high for what he brings to the table, but with all the injuries to Boston’s blueline Reilly was probably as good as they were going to get without making a much larger deal. Like Hall, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Unlike Hall, Sweeny isn’t gambling on him.

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