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What can the Bruins do to get Taylor Hall going?

He hasn’t been bad, but hasn’t been as good either.

San Jose Sharks v Boston Bruins Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

What a difference a season (and center) can make.

When Taylor Hall arrived from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline last season, he found instant chemistry with his line mates, giving the Bruins the dynamic 1 - 2 punch at the top of their forward lines that they had been searching for.

In Hall’s first 16 games as a Bruin, he scored 8 times and added 6 assists. On top of his points, Hall was also noticeable every time he was on the ice, either involved in high danger scoring chances or controlling the puck with a great set of hands and strong skating.

In the 16 games they played together, the Hall-Krejci-Smith line had an expected goals per 60 minutes of 2.89, making them one of the most productive lines in the NHL, and had an xGA/60 of 1.6, making them one of the stingiest lines in the league as well.

As a result of Hall’s successful first season in Boston, he was rewarded with a four-year, $24 million contract from the Bruins, a deal that looked great going forward for both the player and team.

On to 2021, and David Krejci is now playing in the Czech Republic, and Taylor Hall is not the same player he was last season.

Offensively, to the non-Bruin observer, it doesn’t seem like Hall has declined that far, as he’s scored 3 times and has 7 points in 10 games, but if you dig a bit deeper you’ll see that he’s struggling to unleash his natural given potential.

Firstly, Hall is not taking nearly as many shots as he usually does, nor is he getting the scoring chances he’s accustomed to.

If Hall was to play a full 82 game season, based on his career numbers, he’d be expected to have 266 shots on net and 459 total shot attempts.

Thus far this season, Hall has 20 shots on net and just 33 total shot attempts, which would translate to just over 160 shots on net and around 250 total shot attempts.

Obviously if Hall isn’t shooting, he’s not getting scoring chances either. He has just 20 through 10 games; he’d typically be closer to 35 after ten games.

And he’s not setting his teammates up with scoring chances either — the line of Hall-Coyle-Smith has only generated 28 scoring chances combined, leading to just 2 goals as a trio, while giving up 4.

Beyond the stats, Hall is also coming up short in the eye-ball test, at least compared to last year. Gone are the long stretches of puck possession and captivating rushes with the puck. Instead, space seems to be at a premium, with Hall having little time to react before defenders are on him.

On the Bruins’ power play, which has struggled at times this year, Hall seems a bit out of place or his role seems to be undefined, which has led to poor decision-making and unforced turnovers.

Hall also doesn’t seem to be making the same defensive plays he did last year. Though never known for being a strong defender, Bruins’ fans were pleasantly surprised last year to see how strong of a back-checker Hall could be.

There were numerous occasions when Hall, seemingly not even in your TV screen, would use his strong skating to disrupt an offensive rush by opponents. This desire to hound the puck has not been there yet either

On Tuesday night, with the game on the line, Hall played just 60 seconds of the game’s last 8 minutes. Instead, the later parts of the game saw Jake DeBrusk replace Hall on the second line, as Cassidy had seen enough of Hall’s careless puck management.

So what’s happened? Has Hall all of a sudden fallen off a proverbial cliff and his game is now in sharp decline? Have the Bruins made a huge mistake signing Hall to a four-year deal?

The answers, of course, are “no” to all of the above.

What’s ailing Hall this season is the lack of chemistry that he and his linemates have developed.

In their defense Smith was injured, and could very well be playing injured, so that could be the reason for the line’s struggles. But an even bigger reason may be the fact that Coyle is not the right center for Taylor Hall.

That’s not to say Coyle is playing poorly — after knee surgeries in the off-season, Coyle has looked a lot more like the player he was when first coming to the Bruins via trade, and less like the Coyle of last year.

He has put up 3 goals and 3 assists through 10 games, and his strong puck possession has returned, leading to him draw several penalties.

The problem of finding the right center to play with Hall has existed long before this season. The Edmonton Oilers couldn’t find the right center for Hall, nor could the Coyotes or Sabres.

In his career, only in New Jersey with Nico Hischier and in Boston with Krejci did Hall seem to completely mesh with his centerman. With Coyle, that same connection has not materialized, and may never show up.

So what should the Bruins do?

The easiest solution would be to just give the trio of Hall-Coyle-Smith time to gel, and hopefully find the chemistry the Bruins so desperately need.

The Bruins could also give Erik Haula a shot to center Hall as well. Haula himself is in a career-worst slump, and could probably use a change to get his game going as well.

There’s also the possibility of perhaps moving David Pastrnak back to the second line and moving Craig Smith up.

Even though Pastrnak is not a center, he’s as creative and dynamic as any other player on the team. It’s possible that Hall just needs some top end talent to play with to revive his game.

While there are probably numerous other line combos the Bruins could throw together, the answer to getting Hall back to the level he played at last year might exist outside of the organization.

(I discussed the Bruins’ need to bring in a new center in an earlier article that can be read here.)

The Bruins’ top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has combined for 13 of the Bruins’ 27 goals this season (48% of all goals).

If Pastrnak was capitalizing on some of the golden chances he’s been having, this number would probably be even higher.

And while it’s great that the top line is once again producing at the highest level, the fact that the other forwards that have suited up for Boston only have 10 goals is a major cause for concern.

This is exactly why getting Hall going very soon must be a top priority for the Boston Bruins if they have any hopes of a successful 2021-22 season.