Hall finds stability with Bruins, expects to thrive under Cassidy

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The Boston Bruins forward can unbox his belongings, stretch out in the comfort. There is a measure of certainty in his future — a newly purchased home in Boston’s Seaport, a fiancée, a four-year contract — and he is feeling unburdened.

Finally.

It has taken more than a decade to get here.

Starting the moment Hall’s name escaped the lips of Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Hall has found turbulence. His longest stint — his six seasons in Edmonton — featured five coaches. In the five seasons since, Hall has played for four teams, traded three times.

But now?

Hall said he believes he has found a home, a place where he can feel settled as he rockets toward 30, as the back half of his career nears. Hall, traded to the Boston Bruins from the Buffalo Sabres on April 12, signed a four-year, $24 million contract with Boston on July 23.

“It hasn’t been like the picture-perfect No. 1 overall pick career that you would have thought 11 years ago, but that’s life,” the 29-year-old said. “I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through some ups. I’ve been through some downs. You won the Hart Trophy, but you have only won one playoff round. It’s like, there’s a lot in between.

“The ending is obviously unwritten. I feel like there’s a lot of time left to win a Stanley Cup and to have success in the playoffs like I’ve always wanted to do. So that’s my focus at this point: What can I do to be the best player I can be in the playoffs and help my team win a Cup? Because at this point in my career that’s really all that matters.”

 

[RELATED: Boston Bruins 2021-22 season preview]

 

When Hall joined the Bruins after a disastrous 37 games with the Buffalo Sabres, he admitted to being a shell of himself as a player, lacking confidence, unsure of his game. He rediscovered all that in a place that seemed made for him, found linemates to connect with, stars to shelter him.

Now, though, the work starts. The contract is signed. The adrenaline has faded.

Now it is up to Hall to script the rest of his story. It is up to Bruce Cassidy to help him.

“I want to keep improving as a player under coach Cassidy,” Hall said. “And I feel like he’s a guy that can get that out of me.”

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Soon after Hall was traded to the Bruins, Cassidy placed a phone call to John Hynes, a longtime friend and former coach of Hall’s in New Jersey.

Cassidy wanted to know about Hall, who he was, what he was like, how he might do in Boston. And, perhaps even more importantly, he wanted to know how to guide him, as Hynes had done, mentoring him to the 2018 Hart Trophy voted as the NHL’s most valuable player as a member of the Devils.

“It was more about, OK, here’s a guy that’s bounced around a little bit,” Cassidy said. “Why was he so good with you? Why did he have an MVP season?”

And how could Cassidy coax out the same success?

Cassidy didn’t need to use much of the advice that Hynes gave him in the final months of the 2020-21 season. Hall found his stride almost immediately, scoring 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 16 games with the Bruins after scoring 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 37 games with the Sabres. And while Hall slipped in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring five points (three goals, two assists) in 11 games, that wasn’t exactly the right time to start laying on the coaching.

But things are different this season.

Then it was, as Cassidy put it, “Just play.”

“And now, signing a new deal, it will be interesting to see if he takes more of [the other parts] on,” the coach continued. “He’s part of our core now.

“Now you’ve been here, we’ve made an investment in you, you’ve made an investment in us, let’s see how you can make your line better, our team better.”

Video: BOS@WSH, Gm2: Hall knocks puck home to tie game

To do that, Hynes — now the coach of the Nashville Predators — advised Cassidy to develop a relationship with Hall, to form trust, to try to understand him. Hynes had known immediately that Hall’s “heart’s in the right place,” but he also understood that Hall needed help. He needed coaching.

It started with a conversation, where Hynes asked Hall what he wanted to accomplish. A Stanley Cup. A Canadian Olympic team. The Lady Byng. Playing in the playoffs. More respect around the NHL. More respect for the Devils. It was an important talk, but Hall remained guarded.

The second year, things changed. Trust had built, a foundation formed in a season together and via multiple efforts by Hynes to talk with Hall in Toronto that summer.

” ‘Hynesy’ was really the first coach to talk to me a lot and in one-on-one settings and bring me in a lot and have constant dialogue,” Hall said. “And he was a guy I started to trust. At that point, I really hadn’t had a coach for more than a year, year-and-a-half, during my time in Edmonton. So I found the process of connecting with a coach a little bit more difficult.”

Their relationship improved. They figured each other out, from their expectations to their tendencies.

“I think he was hungry to be coached,” Hynes said. “I believe he was willing to look himself in the mirror a little bit. It’s like, I’ve got to make some changes here, and I’m going to do it with these guys. I think he was at the right point in his life.

“I do believe he is a guy that obviously [is] tremendously talented. I think he needs and likes guidance in the right way where he can be coached and can be advised but has some trust with the coaches.”

Which is where Cassidy comes in.

“I’m like, ‘Butchy,’ this is going to be a great situation,” Hynes said, recalling that initial conversation with Cassidy. “You’re a really good coach, you’re demanding. He needs that type. He needs that type of direction. I think you’re going to be a great coach for him. I think he’s going to come in hungry.”

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Already, there have been moments that stood out to Cassidy, moments in which the coach was able to impart the expectations that the Bruins have, able to guide Hall.

There was one he remembers, not long after the trade, where Hall didn’t finish a drill and thought the puck was dead.

“He just thought the next group was up,” Cassidy recalled. “But I said, this is how we do it here, Taylor. We play to the whistle. You’ve got to finish the drill. Just because you lost the puck, you’ve got to go back and get it. A second-effort team.

“After that, he did. It didn’t take much. Some guys you’ve got to tell them 50 times to try and get them to keep going. And other guys it’s like, OK, that’s the way it’s going to be in practice, that’s fine by me. I love to practice, he told me that after.”

The pair talked. Cassidy had seen him play at 15 in Kingston, Ontario. He knew one of Hall’s former coaches. They chatted about Hall’s father Steve, a former Canadian Football League player, with Cassidy making sure to let Hall know that he had taken the time to find out about him, that he cared.

That he wanted the best for Hall, and the best for the Bruins.

“He’s demanding,” Hall said. “But he’s also willing to understand as an offensive guy that you need some freedom, and you need parameters you can work with. … I haven’t been with [Cassidy] as long to develop the personal relationship, the meeting-every-two-weeks kind of relationship that I had with John Hynes, but I think that’s something that could possibly come.”

Video: NYI@BOS: Hall beats Sorokin for OT winner

The Bruins are the type of team that Hall has always wanted to play for, one that routinely makes it to the playoffs, one that wins. One that has high-end talent that can insulate him, that he can learn from. That is why he signed. That is why Boston has become home.

“He’s motivated. He knows the team and what we’re trying to accomplish, and he wants to be a part of that,” general manager Don Sweeney said.

He wants to live up to his promise, the promise heaped on his back all those years ago as a No. 1 pick. The promise that skates next to him every day, in the form of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He believes Cassidy can help foster it, but that, ultimately, it’s on him.

“I think I still have a lot of time in this League,” Hall said. “And as much as I respect those guys a ton, there’s always going to be inner competition. Brad Marchand’s the No. 1 left winger on the team, but I still want to try and play as well as him.

“I’m not going to stop that. I’m only 29. And I feel like the last couple of years haven’t been exactly what I wanted for myself. I hope that the next couple of years are a lot better.”

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