There's only a finite window of contention in the modern NHL and the Boston Bruins have aggressively pursued the Stanley Cup during Bruce Cassidy's tenure as head coach, but the few design flaws of the roster rendered the team more vulnerable than it had been in the past entering the 2021 season.
Torey Krug got the bag in free agency, signing a seven-year, $45.5 million deal with the St. Louis Blues. Zdeno Chara — who admittedly is past his prime — left for the Washington Capitals, and the Bruins handed the captaincy over to Patrice Bergeron. Boston's first line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (the perfection line, if you're so inclined) entered the 2021 campaign as one of the league's best, but as the Bruins' secondary scoring completely dried up, there was undue pressure on their headliners.
The few roster limitations weren't reflective of Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney's aggressiveness and willingness to maximize Bergeron, Marchand and Tuukka Rask's window. At the trade deadline, the Bruins emerged as a clear winner, stealing Taylor Hall from the moribund Buffalo Sabres for a dollar (well, Andreas Bjork and a 2021 second-round pick) and got the underrated Mike Reilly from the Ottawa Senators for a 2022 third-round pick.
Hall is paying dividends already for the Bruins, and he's provided the balance the storied franchise needed to maximize their Stanley Cup window. It was a curious decision to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres and his ill-fated tenure with the team was one of the first half's biggest storylines, as Hall tallied just two goals and 19 points in 37 games, with possession numbers that suggested he was still a quality player on a team incapable of scoring, as the Sabres were all year. Boston made a smart, calculated bet that Hall's 2.3 shooting percentage with the Sabres was due for positive regression, and surely enough, he's solved the Bruins' problem of relying solely on the first line for offensive production.
The "perfection line" accounted for 42.8 percent of Boston's regular season goals and with Hall aboard, the Bruins once again become a more dynamic, well-rounded team. Hall's shooting percentage rocketed back up to 16.7 percent upon joining the Bruins in the regular season, notching eight goals and 14 points with his new team. He also posted an identical shooting percentage in five games against the Capitals. Hall may not be a Hart Trophy candidate, but the Bruins got a player in the end of his prime and supplied him with far superior linemates than he had in stops with the Sabres and Arizona Coyotes.
Paired on a line with Craig Smith and David Krejci, Hall is using his elite speed through the neutral zone to frustrate defenders, and it will be imperative against the Islanders, who generally score through the counter-attack and play a defensively sound game that is reflective of Barry Trotz's philosophy. Hall led all skaters with four drawn penalties in the five-game series, while posting an excellent 61.53 expected goals for percentage, according to Natural Stat Trick. In his first season with a genuine Cup contender, Hall is grateful to no longer operate as the focal point of his opponent's defensive strategy.
"Having the No. 1 line ahead of us, they take the tough matchups, they take the hard D-zone faceoffs, they take a lot of the harder matchups, and it allows us to come in and do our job," Hall said to ESPN's Emily Kaplan. "Obviously I'm not the face of the team like I had been in other spots. I just come in and play, do my job, and that's been really fun."
Under Trotz, the Islanders have cultivated a reputation for being a defensive-minded team that does an excellent job of operating on the counterattack, and may be allergic to taking shots from outside of the hashmarks. During their six-game victory against the Penguins, the Islanders lived up to their reputation, as they posted a grim 41.08 Corsi for percentage — the worst mark among playoff teams, while creating 53 high-danger chances, the third-best total among playoff entrants. But Hall's gamebreaking speed and playmaking will pose a threat to their sound defensive principles, and since joining the Bruins, he's been every bit as good as his reputation suggests.
Hall is just free to play his game, unburdened by the expectations that come with his Hart Trophy pedigree. His teammates certainly appreciate his presence too, as opponents can no longer relax when the Marchand line exits the ice. Boston may have started the season more vulnerable than usual, but Hall was the deadline's smartest addition and they now have the requisite balance again to do serious damage this summer.
*All advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
More from Yahoo Sports