Bruins bolster playoff push, acquire Taylor Hall from Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The banged-up Boston Bruins are getting a boost for their late-season playoff push by acquiring forward Taylor Hall in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres reached early Monday.

The Bruins also added checking line forward Curtis Lazar, who has missed the past six games with an upper body injury. Buffalo acquired fourth-year forward Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in a deal completed in advance of the NHL’s trade deadline.

As part of the deal, the Sabres agreed to retain half of the remainder of Hall’s one-year, $8 million salary. The NHL’s 2018 MVP was deemed expendable by last-place Buffalo, which is already re-tooling for the future beyond this season.

The Bruins have lost two straight following an 8-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Sunday. At 21-12-6, they hold the East Division’s fourth and final playoff spot, and are four points ahead of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.

Boston has four players on injured reserve, including forward Ondrej Kase and defenseman Brandon Carlo. In the meantime, defensemen Charlie McAvoy missed his fourth game with an upper body injury, and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is also sidelined.

In a separate trade on Sunday, the Bruins also acquired defenseman Mike Reilly from the Ottawa Senators for a third-round pick.

The Sabres, by comparison, continue to be in sell-off mode with the team all but mathematically assured of matching the NHL playoff drought record of 10 seasons. Buffalo traded defenseman Brandon Montour to Florida on Saturday, and previously traded veteran center Eric Staal to Montreal.

The Sabres began sitting out Hall for precautionary reasons since Tuesday in anticipation of him being dealt.

Hall was the key to the trade because he was considered one of the few remaining impact forwards still on the market. Questions, however, have been raised as to whether his drop in production is the result of the 29-year-old having lost a step or because he’s playing on a struggling Sabres team which is 29th in goals-per-game.

Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, was limited to two goals and 17 assists for 19 points in 37 games, and is in the midst of a 16-game goal drought. That’s a considerable drop from his 2017-18 MVP season in New Jersey, where he posted career-bests with 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games.

Hall is on to his fourth team in two years. He was traded by New Jersey to Arizona last season, and then became a free agent after negotiations broke down with the Coyotes as a result of internal turmoil, which led Bill Armstrong taking over as general manager.

Buffalo acquired the 24-year-old Bjork, who had two goals and three assists in 30 games this season, a year after generating a career-best nine goals and 19 points in 58 games. Overall, the 2014 fifth-round draft pick out of Notre Dame has 16 goals and 39 points in 138 career games with Boston.

Very little has gone right for Buffalo. Coach Ralph Krueger was fired on March 17, and the Sabres’ season was undone by mounting injuries and having to pause for two weeks following a COVID-19 outbreak in early February.

Hall was among the most sought-after forwards on the free agent market in October, and surprised many by signing with Buffalo. He was reunited with Krueger, who played a key role in mentoring Hall during his first three seasons in Edmonton.

Krueger pushed for the signing, making the case to management that Buffalo was one player away from being a contender despite coming off a season in which the team finished 13th in the Eastern Conference standings, and one spot from qualifying for the expanded playoffs.

Hall was initially interested in staying in Buffalo on a long-term basis upon signing with the team. His focus began changing by eventually acknowledging he was open to waiving his no-trade clause last month while the team was in the midst of an 18-game winless skid — the NHL’s 14th longest.

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