At the start of the National Hockey League's free agency period at 12 p.m. on Friday, the Buffalo Sabres were not seen as a top candidate to land one of the top free agents of the forward group in left winger Taylor Hall.
As TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger said on Friday in his weekly conversation with The Instigators on WGR, he expected the Sabres to make their pitch to Hall, but "I'm not putting Buffalo on the top-five of that list as a prime contender for Taylor Hall. I'm not saying that they've go no chance, because my understanding is that Buffalo is among those teams that are expected to express interest."
However, the hockey world was stunned on Sunday night when they learned that the Sabres had, in fact, won the sweepstakes for Hall, signing the 28-year-old to a one-year deal worth $8 million.
"As we went into free agency, I called as soon as it opened. I called [Hall's agent] Darren Ferris immediately, let him know of our interest and then we went from there," said Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams when speaking to the media Sunday night in a conference call. "That was the top of our list priority of trying to figure out how to put this roster together, and we were hopeful that we were able to get to this point. We knew it was going to take a lot of conversation and we knew it had to be a fit for both sides."
It was originally thought that with the salary cap situation the Sabres could be in, Buffalo would not be big players in the free agent market. However, that was not the case with Adams going out and making it a point to do whatever it took to go get players to make his hockey team better.
"Going into our planning leading up to free agency, obviously starting with the conversations with Terry and Kim [Pegula], we begun to put together what we would love to see this roster look like," Adams said. "I think the fact that we did this signing with Taylor underlines ownership's commitment. They have proven that over and over again in this city, and what they have done for this organization is incredible, and this is another example of that.
"This is the position that we're in right now where we have to go and get better every day and work to become the team that all of us want to become. We wanted him as a piece of the puzzle, and he did as well. I certainly think that when he looked at our roster, he felt comfortable with how he could fit in, and what it would mean for him, as well as the bigger picture of the team."
Since being the first overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2010 NHL Draft, Hall has played in 627 games with Edmonton, the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes, scoring 218 goals and racking up 345 assists for 563 points.
His best season came in the 2017-18 season with the Devils, where he scored career-high totals in goals (39), assists (54) and points (93) en route to winning the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player.
In that mindset of wanting to make his team better going forward, Adams was keen on bringing in players that not only could help turn things around in Buffalo, but also were committed to what the message is going forward in the Sabres organization.
"I made it very clear in the beginning to Darren and his group that we want players that want to be here. We want players that are humble and hungry, and want to win and be part of something special. If that didn't fit, then we wouldn't keep going down that road and have conversations," Adams said. "It became very clear quickly that there was interest and Taylor had an interest in being here and being part of something special and there's where we got to. It's exciting."
Where the Sabres may have had a significant advantage over any other team in the NHL is Hall's familiarity with the current head coach in place in Buffalo.
Back in December while speaking with Lance Lysowski of The Buffalo News, Hall spoke highly of his former head coach in Edmonton, Ralph Krueger, saying that he really enjoyed playing for him with the Oilers.
In his one and only other season as a head coach in the NHL, Krueger led the Oilers to a 19-22-7 record in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He was fired following that season as part of some organizational changes in Edmonton at the time.
In that season, Hall scored 16 goals and registered 24 assists for 50 points in 45 games, which was the second-highest points per-game average of his career.
When it came to trying to land Hall as a free agent this offseason, Adams believed that Krueger's presence in Buffalo's pitch to Hall was a huge factor in his decision to sign with the Sabres.
"I think the way that Ralph had built a relationship in his time with Taylor previously absolutely played a big role in this," Adams said. "The reason that I talk about the teamwork is that we really spent a lot of time over the last couple of days between ownership, myself, Ralph and others just really having open, honest communication with Taylor and his representatives and it got to this point. I'm really excited about that, and it was an absolutely important piece to this in how integral that played into all of this with Ralph's relationship."
Another significant factor that Adams felt was huge in getting Hall under contract was the presence of Jack Eichel in the Buffalo lineup. Adams believes that adding a player of Hall's caliber to the lineup, along with what Eichel has proven to accomplish in the NHL, the Sabres lineup could instantly look better in the 2020-21 season.
"We're very fortunate here in Buffalo to have one of the elite centers in the game, and we feel that we're adding one of the elite wingers in the game. So we're excited about the potential of that," Adams said. "I think Ralph will put together the roster on the ice and the lines the way he feels that will put us in a position to have the best success. We clearly identified that as a possibility, and I do think Taylor obviously understands the player that Jack is."
As for the terms of his contract, there were a number of ways that Hall could have approached free agency this year. As Dreger pointed out on Friday on WGR, "I think there's going to be some very creative opportunities for him, and you're going to find out whether he's looking for long-term security and the money that comes with it, or he's willing to buy in to a more futuristic approach, or he wants to win now and he's willing to take a short-term deal and then roll the dice on a longer term deal after that."
In the end, Hall chose to take the short-term approach with the Sabres with his one-year deal. However, signing the one-year deal is not any indication that the relationship between the Sabres and Hall is going to be a short one, according to Adams.
"From our standpoint, we were open to different scenarios," Adams said. "We're looking to make sure that we're doing things responsibly in how we put our roster together. Just because it's one year shouldn't give any indication that we only wanted one year. We believe in Taylor as a player and as a person, and we hope this turns into a long-term relationship for both sides that works. We'll see where that goes, but we've made that clear to them and they've made that clear to us as well."
Hall is expected to speak with the Buffalo media for the first time since Sunday's signing on Monday.
You can listen to Adams' entire conference call below: