If you haven’t already heard, Taylor Hall is no longer a New Jersey Devil. He played his first game in an Arizona Coyotes’ jersey Tuesday night. You most likely already knew that. If you haven’t heard, I’m sorry this had to be the way you found out.
With New Jersey sending off its best player, the Devils have a chance to test out a unique theory in sports. Could the Devils be better without Taylor Hall? What does history suggest? More specifically, what does New Jersey’s history suggest?
The Ewing Theory
There’s a theory in sports called the Ewing Theory. If you’re a New York Knicks fan, you’ve probably heard of it. Also, if you’re a New York Knicks fan, I feel sorry for you.
There was one time when the Knicks got lucky, and that’s where the Ewing Theory comes from. In 1999, during the playoffs, star player Patrick Ewing was injured and couldn’t return to the series. The Knicks surprisingly won the series to make it to the NBA finals, where they ultimately lost.
So, the Ewing Theory was devised by Bill Simmons and his friend Dave Cirilli. It states that a team gets better once they lose their best player. It worked to a degree for the Knicks, but will it work for the Devils?
The best case study in the NHL’s recent history for this is the New York Islanders. The Islanders infamously had star free agent John Tavares leave for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2018. It was a slap in the face for an already struggling franchise. Having Tavares was a game-changer, and any long term success seemed consistent with him staying on Long Island. Well, he didn’t, and the crowds are less than welcoming when he returns.
The Islanders, surprisingly, have been one of the Metropolitan Division’s best teams since Johnny Turncoat went up north. In Tavares’ last year, before signing with the team of his childhood pajamas, the Islanders missed the playoffs. The next year they would not only make the playoffs but advance to the second round. They look poised to make the playoffs this season as well.
Tavares leaving the Islanders wasn’t the only change to happen to the team that offseason. The team brought on Lou Lamoriello as general manager to right their seemingly signing ship. Lamoriello convinced Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz to join him. Those additions likely have more to do with the Islanders’ surprising success than the Tavares departure.
The Devils Recent History
While not a perfect example, we can compare Taylor Hall being sent to Arizona to Ilya Kovalchuk’s infamous “retirement.” While Hall may not be moving back to Russia, both instances left the Devils without their best player.
The 2013-2014 season was not one to remember for the Devils, as they missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. They were a lot better than anyone expected them to be in the wake of Kovalchuk leaving. Not only did they exceed expectations, but their 35-29-18 record left them in the playoff hunt until the season’s last week.
If it weren’t for their ineptitude in the shootout, the Devils may very well have made the playoffs that season. It may not be as good a turnaround as the New York Islanders, but the Devils were better than anyone thought they would be. If nothing else, that should count as a moral victory.
Who Needs To Step Up
If the Devils want to get better without Hall, then some current players will have to step up their game. When he was leaving jersey, Hall pointed specifically at Hischier and Hughes as being able to be the face of the franchise. Both are young players with huge potential. After signing his contract extension in the offseason, the timing is perfect for Hischier to take the next step forward. Hughes isn’t even a full season in the league, so he may take some extra time.
With Halls departure means an extra alternate captain designation is available. Blake Coleman remains a favorite for the designation to be bestowed upon. The underrated forward has gone above-and-beyond to be one of the Devils’ best players this season.