a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

03/28/12 The Impact of Hall's Surgery

Seven or eight months from now, hopefully we'll be talking about the concern with Taylor Hall's injury being overblown and unnecessary as he starts his third NHL season strong and healthy. For the moment we don't have that luxury, and analysis of what his surgery means will be bounced around for weeks. Some thoughts below:

Now is Teemu Hartikainen's time to shine. He's found a home on the Oilers' second line LW with Hall out, and the fact that #4 isn't coming back this season likely means that Hartikainen will get the balance of the season to show what he can do. After scoring 3-2-5 in twelve games at the end of last season, Hartikainen has been a little quieter this time around with 3 assists in eleven outings. He's averaging just over 13 minutes per game so far; almost all of which has been at even strength. 2:35 of Hartikainen's ice time last year came on the powerplay, and it will be interesting to see if he gets a look there with Hall out.

Also getting an opportunity is Ryan Jones. Starting with the game against Calgary in which Hall got hurt, Jones has collected 7 points in 6 games. After scoring no points in the eight games prior to that, Jones has flourished in his new top line role. He's seen his ice time increase in each of the last four games, all the way up to a season-high 20:06 against Columbus; a game in which he scored a goal and two assists and was a plus-3. Jones obviously isn't a long term solution, but it's nice to know that he doesn't look out of place on the top line in a pinch. His shooting percentage (13%) is directly in line with his career average (13.1%), which means this is something close to the real Jones we're seeing and not a mirage. A 15-20 goal man for that price with Jones' versatility is a very good asset to have in the fold.

But at the end of the day, Hall is the one who's got to fill that left wing slot on the Oilers' top line. His 8 powerplay goals leads the team, and his absence is a big reason that the Oilers have gone 2 for 15 on the PP since he's been out. This is a player that the Oilers have been searching for for years, so being bit by the injury bug as frequently as he has is very bad news.

On the other hand, if this was going to happen there could have been worse times. Next season, for example, when the Oilers hope to be (and should be) battling for a playoff spot. If Hall has been playing with this injury since Junior, as he says, then it was only a matter of time before it had to be dealt with. Better to get it out of the way now when the Oilers' season is already over, with a long, playoff-free summer to rehab. Also of note is Hall's age. He'll bounce back from surgery much easier at 20 years old than he would even in his late twenties, as evidenced by another Oiler who has had shoulder problems.

Another take appeared over at Lowetide, wherein he says that the Oilers may want to think about lifting the untouchable status from Taylor Hall when it comes to trade talk. No doubt, the fearless winger could fetch a hefty price on the open market, and maybe even a bigger one than this year's first round pick because Hall is a proven NHL player who still has a ton of untapped potential. That's precisely the reason that such a deal would be a substantial gamble. Then again, it's an even bigger gamble to stake the future of a team on a player that is as oft-injured as Hall has been. Seven-time 30 goal scorer Marian Gaborik may be one of the best players in the entire world when he's healthy, but that hasn't happened enough over his career.

At this point no one is suggesting that the Oilers should trade Hall, or that a decision of this magnitude should be made without careful consideration, but the possibility is there. Of course, other teams will have as many questions about Hall's health as the Oilers and the fans do, and the Oilers will also have questions regarding just how good Hall will be. Until some of those are put to rest, don't expect any movement unless the deal is too good to be true.

For the moment, the best that fans can do is hope for a speedy recovery for the star winger, and pray that his luck will be better next season. Things can't be as bad next year for Hall as they were this year on the injury front. A skate to the head? Really?

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