NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Trading Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes roughly 18 months after the forward won the NHL MVP award for leading the Devils back to the playoffs was a simple hockey decision based on the team’s poor start and the strong likelihood the player was going to test the free-agent market next summer.

Devils general manager Ray Shero said Tuesday the trade of Hall to the Coyotes 24 hours earlier for two draft picks and three prospects was a hard day for him because of his feelings for the player. It was not a hard decision, he added.

Shero said numerous teams had called to inquire about acquiring the 28-year-old left wing, and the lines of communication remained opened with several of them until the deal with Arizona was finalized Monday.

Shero said trading Hall had nothing to do with the Devils realizing they would not be able to sign the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft before July 1. He also insisted Hall neither asked to be traded or nor said he wanted out of New Jersey, where he played the past three-plus seasons.

“From our standpoint, it was the right time and the right move for us and certainly for Taylor,” said Shero, noting Hall is going to a playoff contender.

Much was expected of the Devils this season. They drafted Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in June and he joined a lineup that included Hall and Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. New Jersey also acquired Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban from Nashville and signed Wayne Simmonds as a free agent.

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Things went south quickly. The Devils lost their first six games (0-4-2) and won two of their first 11 (2-5-4). Coach John Hynes was fired earlier this month and Hall was traded Monday. New Jersey has a 10-17-5 record, second worst in the league.

“This was a decision we made that what’s best for us as to where we are,” Shero said. “It may have been a harder decision if we were five or three points out of a playoff spot or at the (trading) deadline; then what do you do? I don’t think that was that hard a decision based on where we want to go and making sure we have assets coming to us that we like.”

In return for Hall and forward Blake Speers, the Devils got Arizona’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft (top-three protected), Arizona’s third-round selection (conditional) in 2021, defenseman Kevin Bahl and forwards Nick Merkley and Nate Schnarr.

The deal has been anticipated for days. Hall was held out of the Devils’ games at Colorado and Arizona on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Shero said he spoke to Hall about a possible deal early last week.

Hall was leading the Devils in scoring with six goals and 19 assists for 25 points. He was limited to 33 games by a knee injury last season, finishing with 11 goals and 26 assists. His career year was in 2017-18 when he had 39 goals and 54 assists in getting New Jersey back to the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.

“Taylor Hall never asked for a trade. Never,” Shero said. “He has never turned anything down. I didn’t turn anything down. I want to be clear about that. His legacy here in New Jersey is important and important to me. He was all-in with this team.”

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Teammates knew a trade was imminent when Hall was scratched those two games last week.

Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was shopping for Christmas gifts Monday and he didn’t find out about the deal until four hours after it was announced.

“He knew it was coming. We knew it was coming,” Blackwood said. “It was just a matter of time before it came together.”‘

Veteran defenseman Andy Greene said Hall was popular and is going to be missed, but this is the business side of the game when a team struggles.

“Those things happen because of us in this locker room and how we played dictated that,” Greene saïd. ‘”We still have what, 50 games left. We can’t sit there and say let’s play the rest of the year out. There’s way too much time.”

Kyle Palmieri, who was the right wing on the line with Hall, said the trade was a shock even though he knew it was coming.

“He was guy who was looked to as a leader and that was how he played and carried himself,” Palmieri said. “It’s tough to see any teammate go but a guy who has been here for a while, and obviously one who had such a big impact on and off the ice.”

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