New Jersey Devils Taylor Hall
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

An in-depth look back on how the New Jersey Devils’ Taylor Hall and Brian Boyle won hardware at the 2018 NHL Awards. 

They did it.

For the first time since 2003-04, and third time in team history, the New Jersey Devils had more than one player take home hardware from the NHL Awards.

Jersey’s Team had been supportive and waited patiently all season for forwards Brian Boyle and Taylor Hall to collect their NHL Awards, which they had been nominated for almost two months ago. The two players convened for the 2018 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and represented a New Jersey Devils team proud, plus one that had been down and out for almost six seasons now.

Boyle, 33, was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the player that “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” The 6-foot-6 forward was nominated for those qualities mentioned above, after he was diagnosed with leukemia last summer and fought to make a return back to NHL action by early November.

But, that was just half the battle for Boyle.

The veteran found out just after he had been diagnosed with leukemia that his two-year-old son may also have had a form of cancer. While his son wasn’t diagnosed with cancer, Declan was still battling a rare disease (arteriovenous malformation) and was often hospitalized throughout the season. Even with his family dealing with such struggles, Boyle’s perseverance and dedication to the Devils was one of a kind and felt from the get-go.

The former first-round draft pick (2003) had a strong start to his surprising and quick return to the NHL, after being diagnosed during the latter half of the 2017 offseason. His contributions as a depth forward and change of pace skater helped the Devils jump out to first place in the Metropolitan Division for 2017, and it was Boyle’s second goal on the year that really put his mark on what type of player he would be.

Back on November 24, New Jersey hosted its Hockey Fights Cancer Night on home ice at the Prudential Center, where Boyle scored and what will go down as one of the most memorable goals scored in franchise history. Prior to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, this hockey enthusiast hadn’t heard the Rock that loud or electric, perhaps, ever.

That night was emotional leading up to puck drop for obvious reasons but was embraced by all with Boyle’s uncanny presence and timely goal.

It just so happened that Boyle was a key member on a Devils team that clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012, but the award he earned at the 2018 NHL Awards goes far beyond that and his play. But rather his dedication to his teammates, peers and most importantly his family.

Now, almost six months to the date, Boyle joins the likes of great skaters such as Jaromir Jagr, Phil Kessel, Steve Yzerman, Saku Koivu and many more by taking home the Masterton Trophy. He also joins Mr. Devil himself, Ken Daneyko (1999-2000), as the second player in team history to win the award.

Interestingly enough, another highlight from Boyle’s 2017-18 campaign was the fact that he ended up taking the place of Hall at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game down in Tampa, FL in January. The Devils leading goal-scorer had suffered a hand injury just prior to the All-Star Weekend, and it was determined that Boyler would take his place.

Fittingly enough, the two All-Stars found themselves at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas and both walking away winners this time.

“M-V-P!” chants began to ring as loud as church bells, or Hell’s Bells, at the Prudential Center as early on as February this past season. Those three letters and term Most Valuable Player would be referring to No. 9, Taylor Hall.

Hall, 26, had been acquired by the Devils from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson during the 2016 offseason, and with the hope that the former first-overall pick (2010) would find a fresh start in the Garden State.

The term “bust” wasn’t necessarily being used to describe Hall’s playing days in Edmonton, but the expectations were high in Western Canada for the Calgary, Alberta native and arguably wasn’t met with the Oilers.

Hall had a solid first season on a weak offensive Devils squad in 2016-17 (20G-33A – 53PTS), but again the expectations were higher and this time by New Jersey general manager Ray Shero.

Shero challenged Hall to take one more step, or two, forward with this Devils group and perhaps exceed all the expectations the playmaker was ever supposed to meet and lead New Jersey back to where it belonged, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hall got the memo.

The 6-foot-1 forward became just the fourth Devil to record 90 or more points in a season, which put him in the Devils’ Den with the likes of Patrik Elias, Kirk Mueller and the player he replaced on offense in Zach Parise.

While Hall’s 2017-18 campaign is remembered for his eye-catching plays up the ice and clutch goals, No. 9 also set a Devils record by recording at least one point in 26 straight appearances. His 39 goals and 54 assists were career highs, as were his seven game-winning goals.

Respectively, Hall won over New Jersey’s hearts, but he did have an apparent edge in the race for the Hart Memorial Trophy this offseason. His 93 points to lead the Devils in scoring were 41 more than the team’s second-leading scorer in the rookie, Nico Hischier (20G-32A – 52PTS). That difference was the highest in the NHL and also spoke volume to just how important his MVP play was to the Devils all season.

There came a point in time last season when it almost seemed that the Devils would have to win 10 of their final 12 games just to clinch a playoff berth in a Wild Card position for the Eastern Conference standings. Aside from goaltender Keith Kinkaid, Hall exceeded the expectations and accepted the challenge that was ahead of an underdog team.

New Jersey had a record of 9-2-1 in the final 12 contests, which saw Hall find the back of the net nine times and chip in 10 helpers for 19 points. During that stretch, the Devils’ Prodigal Son had seven points on the power play, two game-winning goals and one shorthanded goal that was as clutch as a breakaway goal can ever get. The chances are that it was that final month of the season that pushed Hall ahead as the favorite the win the NHL’s MVP over Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) and Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings).

However, entering the NHL Awards in Vegas on Wednesday night, one still had to think there’s a chance Hall would get snubbed in Sin City. That would be New Jersey’s luck in recent times.

Not one Devil skater had ever taken home the Hart Memorial Trophy before, let alone had a New Jersey forward finish in the top three spots in the voting decided by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. To add to all of the dramatics, the Hart Trophy wasn’t announced until the very end of the ceremony, and one that was an emotional night in itself for all.

Yet, they did it. He did it.

Taylor Hall, the Devils’ Prodigal Son, won MVP.

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Kyle McKenna is a freelancer who covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Hooked On Hockey Magazine & Fansided. Follow him on Twitter @KMcKenna_tLT5 and use the hashtag #McKennasDigest to have your NHL questions featured in an article or answered over his weekly NHL podcast.