Ralph Krueger first spoke to Taylor Hall at the Edmonton Oilers facilities in 2010. Krueger was a first-year assistant coach in the NHL, having spent the entirety of his career to that point overseas. Hall was 18 and fresh off being selected with the No. 1 overall pick.
"At the fitness test, we ended up alone on a bench by where we were waiting to see the doctor," Krueger recalled Monday. "He was my first NHL player that I sat together with. And our relationship grew from there."
Hall detailed his decision to sign a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday in an open letter published on Sabres.com. He credited his relationship with Krueger, with whom he spent three seasons in Edmonton, with helping sway his decision.
Hall envisioned himself playing for the Sabres even before free agency opened last Friday. He sat with his agent, Darren Ferris, and evaluated all 31 teams for their potential fits. Upon considering Buffalo, Hall told Ferris it was place he could see himself if the chance presented itself.
The Sabres made contact at the very first opportunity. General manager Kevyn Adams reached out to Ferris to express the team's interest as soon as the clock struck noon on Friday. Krueger, meanwhile, sent an immediate text to Hall himself.
Those overtures led to a call in which Hall heard from Adams, Krueger, and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula. They spoke about the passion of the city and about Krueger's philosophy and how Hall would fit. Krueger assured Hall that the Sabres were headed in the right direction and that he could be a difference maker.
"Really, that put the bug in my head right off the bat," Hall said. "From there, obviously I fielded other offers and took the time to talk to other teams, but in the back of my head I always knew that would be a good situation if it came down to it."
Video: Taylor Hall on why he chose Buffalo
To Krueger, the pitch wasn't all that complicated.
"Well, it was an easy conversation because I just had to tell him the truth," he said. "We have that trust level, Taylor and I. We developed it early on and we've held onto it over the last decade. I just let him know what we're doing here."
Hall looked at Buffalo and saw a young team on the rise. He pointed to Jack Eichel, of course, but also to Rasmus Dahlin as a player ready to take the next step. He spoke of his respect for Eric Staal, with whom he texted late Sunday, and Jeff Skinner, with whom he trains during summers in Toronto.
Krueger described the traits he felt Hall shared with Eichel: speed and skill and a burning desire to make a difference at crucial moments within a game, words that carried weight with Hall. Hall told the media Monday that he hoped to help get Eichel to the playoffs "where he belongs."
Krueger was bullish about the potential to see the two players share the ice.
"In general, you have to be excited when you think of two elite forwards of that caliber attacking the opposition with the system that we have," he said. "It will be lethal."
Hall pointed to the Colorado Avalanche, which has made three straight playoff appearances since finishing with 48 points in 2016-17, as how quickly things can turn in hockey. He helped lead New Jersey to the playoffs during his Hart Trophy season in 2017-18, one year after the Devils finished last in the Metropolitan Division with 70 points.
"Things can happen and things can turn pretty quick, especially if you have elite pieces like the Sabres do," Hall said. "And I really believe that.
"I said before, when you look past some of the smoke and some of the stuff that's happened to the Sabres over the last couple of years, under the hood there's some really good pieces. And I really believe that. And that's where my mind was the past couple of days thinking about Buffalo."
Both Krueger and Hall echoed Adams' comments from Sunday in saying that they see the potential for a long-term relationship. The fact that a one-year deal worked best for both sides was a reflection of the market and how it's been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hall said the best-case scenario is one that sees him remain a Sabre for a long time.
With a decade of familiarity to lean on, Krueger expressed confidence in the future.
"I have no fear in this at all, because I know Taylor Hall," Krueger said. "If we get this atmosphere right, we get the results right, and he's having fun, that will be a major driver in him. He has changed teams a few times these last few years. That's not really in his character. He is somebody that would prefer something constant and the parameters to be consistent so that he can execute without thinking and play naturally and instinctually. And he knows that we've got the system that will allow him to do that here.
"So, I am really confident that let's just get going, let's work it a day at a time, and the end result will take care of itself. It's not the length of the contract that matters in this case, it's how this process evolves. And should it evolve the way I see it, I also see a longer-term potential in this relationship for sure."