NHL.com: Preds add size, Cup experience with Gill

Friday, 02.17.2012 / 11:27 PM / Features
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NHL.com: Preds add size, Cup experience with Gill
When the Nashville Predators traded for Mike Fisher prior to the 2011 trade deadline, they were a franchise that had never won a playoff series looking to add a veteran with postseason experience.

Fisher helped the Predators advance past the first round for the first time before they were ousted by the Vancouver Canucks in a six-game Western Conference semifinal. Currently the fifth seed in the West and looking to build off last spring's success, the Predators made a similar move Friday when they acquired 6-foot-7, 241-pound defenseman Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens.

The price was steep: young forwards Blake Geoffrion and Robert Slaney and a second-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft. The Predators will receive a conditional fifth-round pick in 2013 if Geoffrion plays 40 NHL games for the Canadiens next season.

Hal Gill
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 8
SOG: 33 | +/-: -7
But general manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz believe the 36-year-old Gill, who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and has more than 100 games of playoff experience to his credit during a 14-season NHL career, is a potential difference-maker come crunch time.

"From a Predators standpoint we have been happy with our defense this year, but we felt we needed to get some veteran experience, some size, and I think with Hal Gill we got everything we're looking for in this deal," Poile said in a conference call following the trade.

That included size, strength, penalty-killing and the ability to play against and shut down an opposing team's top line – especially come playoff time. Gill is used to such pressures, having suited up for 69 of his 105 career postseason games in the last four years.

From 2008-10, Gill made it to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals with the Penguins and then the Eastern Conference Finals with the Canadiens. He contributed a pair of assists and a plus-eight rating in 24 postseason games during Pittsburgh's championship run.

"That's the kind of experience we're missing," Poile said. "Last year at this time when we made the deal for Mike Fisher, I was saying similar things. Mike was a veteran player, playoff proven, who brought a lot of leadership to our hockey club, so obviously we're hoping for the same thing here with Hal Gill."

Gill thinks he can play a useful role on a young team looking to take the next step.

"We played [Nashville] earlier this year and I know we have a hard-working team, a young team, a lot of guys that are gonna go out there and drive the net," he said during an interview after the fisrt period of his Nashville debut in Detroit on Friday night. "Good goaltending and some big players on [defense} and young guys coming up. So, it's a good mix of guys and I think I hopefully can fit in well with them.

"I was waiting for it to happen. It's always a surprise when it does happen, but I'm excited and I think this is a good opportunity for me and hopefully I can help the team out."

Poile said he wasn't sure where Trotz would slot Gill into the lineup, but aside from not breaking up the top pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, he felt Gill could be a fit with any of the Predators' other blueliners. That group includes veterans Francis Bouillon, Jack Hillen and Kevin Klein as well as young guys Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi.

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"We're trying to add pieces or a piece that will help us win," Trotz told the assembled media in Detroit following Nashville's morning skate there Friday. "There are certain areas of our game that we can improve upon and certain elements of the game that can help us win."

Trotz echoed his GM's sentiments about the Predators being a team ready to make some noise having already established themselves as a regular playoff participant.

"I think we've been building the last couple years. Stabilizing our franchise is priority No. 1, and we've done that in Nashville -- where we're a real stable franchise," Trotz said. "We're selling out every night from the business side, we've got a good young team, we've gone through the elephant in the room getting by the first round. We've done that.

"Our next goal is to try to … we're trying to win the Cup. Not that we haven't been trying to, but I think we have all the elements in place to be a team that has enough parts -- from a business side to a player standpoint -- to be a threat for a number of years. The more urgency to win, I think it's not urgency to win, it’s the reality that we want to win. That's a good place to be, not a bad place to be."

It can also involve sacrificing some young talent and draft picks as bargaining chips to get what is wanted. Geoffrion, the first player raised in Tennessee to play for the Predators, scored 6 goals in 20 games down the stretch last season after a recall from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, including a hat trick in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. But he was limited to 3 assists in 22 games this season and hadn't played a game in the NHL since Dec. 26.

Geoffrion was an automatic fit for the Canadiens just with his family history -- he's the grandson of Hockey Hall of Fame member Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, and the great-grandson of Hockey Hall of Fame member Howie Morenz.

"He comes from great hockey genes, a great hockey family," Poile said. "Blake's a very nice young man, very competitive. He has an excellent chance of playing for Canadiens. … It's one of those things where it's a little disappointing this is the player we had to trade, but you have to give up something to get something, and we made that decision today."

Of course, the trade for a defenseman opened up further questions about the futures of Weber and Suter and their pending free agencies. Weber will be a restricted free agent on July 1, while Suter hits unrestricted free agency on that date. Both have had their name come up in trade rumors, but Poile wants to see them remain in Nashville uniforms.

"I'm hoping we're going to sign Ryan and eventually Shea regardless of what we do," Poile said. "Having said that, there's no question whether you're a player or a manager, we're all in this business to compete and win the Stanley Cup. With the parity I referred to, if you make the playoffs you have a real good chance of winning the Stanley Cup this year. I like our defense, but I like our defense being eight deep instead of seven."

Poile also didn't rule out Nashville making additional moves prior to the Feb. 27 trade deadline. He said the Predators could use another forward and wouldn't rule out trading his 2012 first-round pick, but said it would have to be the right player and he hasn't come across that deal yet.

Author: Brian Hunter | NHL.com Staff Writer

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