| Associated Press
Buffalo, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres are banking on Taylor Hall to turn what was a long and unsettled offseason into a far brighter immediate future.
Buffalo became the surprise team to win the Hall free-agency sweepstakes by signing the 10th-year forward and six-time 20-goal-scorer to a one-year, $8 million contract Sunday night.
His addition, even for one year, provides the Sabres a much-needed boost of instant credibility – and offense – after missing the playoffs for a franchise-worst ninth straight year. The drought is the NHL’s longest active streak, and one short of matching a league record.
“I certainly hope that the players and coaches and our staff and the organization are excited, and our fans are excited,” general manager Kevyn Adams said. “This is a great step. But we’re in a position right now where we have to go earn it. We have to go get better every day.”
Adams explained the short-term contract doesn’t preclude the two sides agreeing to a lengthier deal next offseason.
“We believe in Taylor as a player and a person, and we hope this turns into a long-term relationship for both sides that works,” he said. “We’ll see where that goes.”
Hall won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP in 2018, when he posted career bests 39 goals and 93 points with the New Jersey Devils. Over the past three season, his 1.05 points-per-game average ranks 17th among NHL players.
Hall joins his fourth team since being the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. And he’s on his third team in two years after the Devils traded him to the Arizona Coyotes in the middle of last season.
The deal came together after the Sabres made landing Hall their top priority in free agency, with second-year coach Ralph Krueger playing an integral role.
Krueger was an assistant in Edmonton during Hall’s rookie season, and then spent the 2012-13 lockout-shortened year as the Oilers coach. In Hall’s one season playing under Krueger, he had 16 goals and 34 assists for 50 points in 45 games.
“I think the way that Ralph had built a relationship with Taylor previously, absolutely played a big role in this,” Adams said. “I know they spent quite a bit of time over the last few days talking. That to me is what’s critical in this, that we got to a place on both sides that there was a comfort level and we all wanted the same thing.”
The Coyotes acquired Hall in bid to use the remainder of the season to convince the pending free-agent to stay in Arizona. A resolution couldn’t be reached after Hall had personal meetings with Coyotes ownership, and amid internal turmoil that led to general manager John Chayka’s abrupt resignation just before the playoffs began.
Hall, who has appeared in just 14 postseason games, expressed a desire to join a contender after the Coyotes were eliminated by Colorado in the first round in August. He instead joins a Buffalo team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2011, and not won a series since reaching the Eastern Conference final in 2007.
Hall immediately addresses Buffalo’s lack of secondary scoring behind the top line centered by captain Jack Eichel, who led the team with a career-best 38 goals in 78 games. Forward Jeff Skinner particularly experienced a dip in production playing on the second line. A year after scoring a career-best 40 goals, Skinner managed just 14 last season.
Sam Reinhart and rookie Victor Olofsson, Eichel’s linemates for much of the season, were Buffalo’s only two players to top 20 goals.
Buffalo is coming off a tumultuous offseason in which general manager Jason Botterill and much of his staff and scouts were fired and replaced by Adams, who had no previous NHL front-office experience.
Adams has already attempted to upgrade his second line by acquiring veteran center Eric Staal in a trade with Minnesota last month.
The Sabres entered free agency about $26 million under the NHL’s salary $81.5 million cap, and are currently projected to have about $14 million of space available following Hall’s addition. A large chunk of their remaining payroll will be eaten up by restricted free agents Reinhart, Olofsson and goalie Linus Ullmark, who have all opted for salary arbitration this offseason.
Buffalo will have to keep space open next offseason, with star defenseman Rasmus Dahlin due for a hefty raise after completing his three-year rookie contract.
Faksa stays with Stars
The Dallas Stars re-signed center Radek Faksa to a five-year, $16.25 million contract.
Faksa was a restricted free agent. The annual average salary of $3.25 million represents a little over a $1 million raise per season for the versatile forward, who fills various special teams roles for the Stars.
Faksa had 20 points and finished seventh on the team with 11 goals in 66 games during the pandemic-shortened season. The 26-year-old then scored three goals – all on the power play – and finished with eight points in helping the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to Tampa Bay.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Faksa is from the Czech Republic. He was selected by Dallas with the No. 13 pick in the 2012 draft. He has 60 goals and 68 assists in 351 career games.
Blues sign Clifford
The St. Louis Blues signed free-agent forward Kyle Clifford to a two-year, $2 million contract Sunday.
Clifford was a two-time Stanley Cup-winner in spending his first nine-plus seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, before being traded to Toronto in February.
Selected by L.A. in the second round of the 2009 draft, Clifford is expected to fill a secondary forward role in St. Louis. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, he had seven goals and 17 points in 69 games last season.
Overall, he has 61 goals and 71 assists for 132 points in 676 NHL games.
Knights ink trio
The Vegas Golden Knights signed three players, including forward and former Red Wing Tomas Nosek, who returns for a fourth season after signing a one-year, $1.25 million contract.
The 28-year-old Nosek was an unrestricted free agent, who had eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 67 games last year. Overall, he has 24 goals and 48 points in 219 career NHL games over five seasons.
Vegas also signed minor-league forwards Tomas Jurco and Danny O’Regan to one-year, $700,000 contracts.
Jurco, who is also a former Red Wing, had two assists in 12 games for Edmonton last season, and overall has 22 goals and 52 points in 213 NHL career games. O’Regan spent all of last season in the minors, and has a goal and five points in 25 NHL games split between San Jose and Buffalo.
Associated Press writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.