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
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
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
“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.”