Preds acquire Gill, send famous name to Habs

The Nashville Predators added a key piece for their expected playoff run in a

trade with Montreal on Friday and, in the process, sent a player to the

Canadiens who has a legendary family history with the NHL’s most storied

franchise.

The Predators picked up 36-year-old, 6-foot-7 defenseman Hal Gill, who won the

Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 and helped eighth-seeded Montreal advance

to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. After 6-4 defenseman Shea Weber,

Nashville’s relative lack of size on defense was considered something that

general manager David Poile wanted to upgrade, as well as quality depth. Twice

on a recent road trip, defenseman Ryan Suter played more than 30 minutes —

which is about three more than the league’s leader averages per game.

Poile said he also wanted to upgrade Nashville’s penalty killing. The Canadiens

own the NHL’s top unit, which has killed 88.9 percent of power plays this

season, and Gill leads the team in average short-handed time on ice at 4:00 per

game. Nashville ranks 16th in the league at 81.7 percent.

Overall, Gill averages 16:44 per game, which is not a ton, but at his age and

size, skating is not his strength, yet he remains an effective player. His 122

blocked shots rank 14th in the NHL.

“I think Hal Gill’s career, everybody knows, he’s a big guy,” Poile

said in a conference call. “To describe his skating and his speed, is he

the fastest guy in the league? No. I’m not trying to pick on him or anybody

else, but for him to take one or two strides vs. maybe a smaller player on our

team has to take four or five strides.

“Does he get there? Does he do the job? Do we think he’s a good penalty

killer? Do we think he can shut down other players? The answer is yes and

that’s why we made the trade.”

Gill has played in 69 playoff games over the last four seasons, which Poile

estimated as among the most in the NHL over that period. The Concord, Mass.,

native has played in 1,047 career games and 105 career postseason games with

Boston, Toronto, Pittsburgh and the Canadiens.

Poile said he might like to add a veteran forward before the deadline expires,

which is Feb. 27.

Gill was expected to suit up on Friday, as the Predators,

tied for fifth overall in the NHL standings, visit league-leading Detroit, which

set a record with its 21st consecutive home win on Tuesday.

In the deal, the Predators also acquired a conditional fifth-round pick in 2012 — they will get it if Blake Geoffrion plays at least 40 games in Montreal next

season; he is reporting to its AHL affiliate in Hamilton. The Predators gave up

a second-round pick in 2013, minor league forward Robert Slaney and Nashville

area native Geoffrion — whose grandfather and great-grandfather are both in the

Hall of Fame.

“It was tremendously exciting when we drafted Blake,” Poile said,

“and, obviously, when he played for us in Nashville. It just didn’t work

out this year for Blake, but I think Montreal’s got a real good player here.

“The fact that his name is Geoffrion should work wonders in

Montreal. I think in terms of trading Blake, this was the place to trade him. I

think it was a little bit of a unique situation with the history.  I

believe it’s good for Montreal to get Blake.”

Geoffrion’s grandfather, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, had his number

5 retired by the Canadiens and won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league

in points in 1955 and again in 1961, the same year he won the Hart Trophy as

league MVP. He is considered the inventor of the slap shot. Blake Geoffrion’s

great-grandfather is Howie Morenz, who won the Art Ross in 1928 and 1931 and

the Hart in ’28, ’31 and ’32.

Geoffrion’s father Danny, who settled in Middle Tennessee, where Blake was

raised, had a brief NHL career, playing 32 games for the Canadiens in 1979-80,

making Blake a fourth-generation Canadien — potentially a first in the history

of North American professional sports.

Canadiens fans follow their team with an intensity that is perhaps unrivaled in

North America and that full glare will soon focus on Blake, a promising two-way

player who struggled in the production department this season, but was

effective last season and in the playoffs for Nashville.

Geoffrion responded to the trade via Twitter.

“Wow..what a day…its bitter sweet, going to miss my hometown of

nashville, but going to where it all started with my family…MONTREAL!!!”

He also added: “Want to thank all of the fans of nashville for all the

support over the last two years…..going to miss you guys….”

At 6-1, 190 pounds, he was a second-round pick in 2006 by Nashville, 56th

overall, and won the Hobey Baker Award at Wisconsin as the NCAA’s top player.

In 22 games this season, he had no goals and three assists and a minus-2

rating. The center was sent to the minors just before the start of the New

Year.  He had six goals and two assists and a plus-3 rating in 20 games

last season in Nashville and no goals, two assists and a plus-1 rating in 12 career

playoff games.

Poile said Geoffrion was one of a number of players who were not playing well

at the time he was sent down.

“That’s the real hard question to answer,” Poile said, as to why

Geoffrion wasn’t playing well. “He was struggling. So was our hockey club

and we didn’t really get out of the gate really strong this year. There were a

lot of guys who, I would say, were underperforming from their pace from last

year. We started the year and still are the youngest team in the NHL.

“Blake was just not quite as effective in terms of

getting points or plus/minus or any of those things. He was just off. To me, it

was probably more of a team situation.”

At the start of his career, Poile served as assistant general manager of the

Atlanta Flames. The team was coached by “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. Poile

also has gotten to know Danny Geoffrion in recent years.

Trading a popular local player was not easy, Poile said,

saying he was “very torn.” Geoffrion’s contract is set to expire at

season’s end.

“Like I said, if it wasn’t Montreal, a unique situation, with his family,

the history, all that stuff, I probably wouldn’t have traded him and would’ve

worked hard to get Blake back here,” Poile said. “So it’s an extremely tough

decision to do that because of the obvious ties to Nashville. I mean, it was

fabulous to have a local player here.

“That’s a tough part of the business.”