Does Taylor Hall make the Buffalo Sabres a playoff team?

Taylor Hall didn’t join the Buffalo Sabres to give Jack Eichel a shoulder to cry on when they lose. Instead, he came to win — but will he succeed?

The Buffalo Sabres drafted Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Draft and they’ve been struggling to give him the type of support he needs to lead this organization to great heights. Of course, that all changed this offseason when the team signed Taylor Hall to a one-year deal.

I know Sabres’ fans — including Eichel — are put through the ringer every single year when the team makes a ‘big signing’ or ‘big trade’ that’s supposed to help turn this team around, but this is different. This is Taylor Hall.

It’s nothing like the Christian Ehrhoff signing in 2011, which was also met with the signing of Ville Leino. For those that don’t remember, these two players were supposed to help turn this franchise around when new owner Terry Pegula decided to dump money into the Sabres’ organization, opposed to dumping money into another oil well.

Ehrhoff signed a 10-year deal worth $40 million — a contract we’re still paying off to this day. Ville Leino signed a 6-year deal worth $27 million. Both players were bought out three years later and go down as two of the worst deals in NHL history.

In 2013, Sabres’ fans were promised big things when the team signed Cody Hodgson to a 6-year, $25.5 million deal. He was bought out after 2 years. And let’s not forget Matt Moulson‘s 5-year, $25 million deal in 2014. Moulson ended up in the AHL several years later and still plays there to this day.

Jason Botterill didn’t help us out much, either. He did bring in Jeff Skinner, but signed him to an 8-year deal that backfired on him very quickly. That deal still has a chance to work out for Buffalo, but it’s not because of what Botterill did.

This offseason, we didn’t get a Christian Ehrhoff or a  Ville Leino. We didn’t get a Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, or even a Jeff Skinner. We got something much, much, much, much better.

This offseason, we got someone that goes by the name of Taylor Hall. Yeah, THAT Taylor Hall.

Not only is he a former Hart Memorial Trophy winner, but he did this just three seasons ago. He’s a former 1st overall draft pick and is now entering his 11th season (4th team) in the NHL. At just 28 years old, he still has a lot of good hockey left in him.

In his 10 years, he’s played in 627 games and recorded 218 goals, 345 assists, 563 points, 64 power play goals, 163 power play points, 37 game-winning goals, and 10 overtime goals. He surpassed the 20-goal mark 6 times. Here’s a look at how those seasons turned out:

  • 22 goals and 20 assists in 2010-11
  • 27 goals and 26 assists in 2011-12
  • 27 goals and 53 assists in 2013-14
  • 26 goals and 39 assists in 2015-16
  • 20 goals and 33 assists in 2016-17
  • 39 goals and 54 assists in 2017-18

Let’s talk about that 2017-18 season because it’s an important one. Not only was it the year he won the league’s MVP award, but it’s the year he helped lead the New Jersey Devils to their first playoff appearance since 2012. Sound familiar, Sabres’ fans?

He hasn’t quite been the same since that season, playing in 98 games in the two years since (27 goals, 62 assists with two teams). He suffered an injury in the 2018-19 season, which limited him to 33 games. He was then traded mid-season the following year and spent the second half with Arizona.

He did, however, get his second taste of the playoffs with the Arizona Coyotes this past season, so you know he’s more hungry than ever — which should make Jack Eichel extremely happy.

This is truly a perfect position for both sides to be in. Taylor Hall needs to prove he’s still elite before a big contract comes, but the Buffalo Sabres need to prove that the talent around him is enough to find success — after all, that’s why he’s here.

If both of those conditions are met by the end of the year, then a longer-term deal would be earned and deserved — and likely signed. That makes this 1-year deal perfect, especially since both sides have every intention of making it work long-term.

And I hate to jump to conclusions, but it’s extremely hard to find a scenario where this doesn’t work. None of those signings we listed above (Ehrhoff, Leino, Moulson, etc.) had Jack Eichel. None of them had Ralph Krueger. And they didn’t have the true potential this team has.

This team is different.

Just the thought of Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall playing on the same team is scary, but to have them on the same line, side-by-side is a different level of scary. It gives the Buffalo Sabres one of the best lines in the NHL, whether they go with Sam Reinhart or Victor Olofsson as the third player.

Not only that, but it gives them a real, true, scary second line that consists of Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, and either Olofsson or Reinhart. I mean, come on. It also helps even out the bottom-6, which is a game-changer for Buffalo.

With all that being said, is it time to start thinking playoffs?

I’m going to be honest (and most fans won’t agree with me), I thought the Buffalo Sabres were on their way to the playoffs before the Hall signing. Obviously, I thought it would be near the bottom of the board, but I thought they’d make it and show progress.

With Hall on the team, I think it’s definitely time for everyone to start thinking playoffs. And trust me, I’ve gone back-and-forth with myself saying, “Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Then I look at the roster again and say, “Nah, it’s playoffs time.”

At the end of the day, I think this is the year we can 100% expect playoffs from this team. What I mean by that is there are no excuses. We have a solid team, although there are still some holes in the roster.

As it stands right now, this team is built for the playoffs and that’s what we need to expect this year — nothing less.

Why? Because if we don’t make the playoffs, there’s a good chance we see Taylor Hall and Jack Eichel in different uniforms next season. We don’t want that, do we?

What do you think? Are the playoffs a reasonable expectation for this team?

We really hope you enjoyed this blog about our beloved Buffalo Sabres. We look forward to continuing the conversation with the best fans in the world down below in the comments section.