Canadiens Re-Sign Defenseman Hal Gill

It's been a quiet couple of weeks for the Montreal Canadiens. Ever since they signed defenseman Alex(s)ei (Y)Emelin to a one-year entry-level contract two weeks ago, after over a week of speculation, it seemed as if the Habs brass disappeared.

Likely working hard behind the scenes to figure out new contracts for existing Habs, forming trade and free agency strategies for the summer and preparing for the draft, Pierre Gauthier and his staff sort of fell off the radar, as the NHL playoffs began to wind down. And that's okay. You can't expect the Habs to be news makers every single week of the off-season.

Only problem is, a lot of us may have stopped reading our daily sources for Habs news... I know my daily trips to Hockey Inside/Out had been cut to once every few days, and my trips to TSN were more general visits for hockey news. And while all of us were looking the other way - most, in the direction of Winnipeg, myself, on our other site, Better With Popcorn, as we celebrate Rockstar Games' and their new release, L.A. Noire - Pierre Gauthier actually did something.

Late yesterday afternoon, RDS and Hockey Inside/Out reported that the Montreal Canadiens had re-signed veteran defenseman Hal Gill to a one-year, $2.25 million contract, that would keep the Massachusetts native with the Canadiens through the 2011-12 season. He will be 37-years-old by the end of the term.

Gill was received in Montreal two years ago with a little bit of skepticism from the fans and media, and deservedly so. He's not exactly the fastest player in the league, and the additions of players like Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta that same summer sent mixed messages about signing a defenseman who was big and slow to begin with, and likely in the twilight of his career. Gill had spent the entirety of his career in the the general vicinity of Montreal, playing the bulk of his career in Boston, before signing with Toronto and then winning a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. Despite this pedigree and coming off that cup win, fans were still uncertain of Gill's potential contributions.

Well, needless to say, Gill definitely proved them wrong in 168 games (including playoffs) with the Canadiens. Sure, at times, he was slow, he made mistakes and took "lazy" penalties, but in the end, he was a force on the blueline for the Canadiens, blocking over 300 shots (84 in the playoffs), throwing 150 hits (21 in the playoffs), with 20 point and a -19 rating, and averaging around 20 minutes a game over two season with the team. More importantly, his veteran presence earned him a letter on his jersey and the respect of the locker room, the media, and most if not all of the fans.

His work with P.K. Subban has made the young defenseman into a stud, only a season after he helped make Josh Gorges into a household name for Habs fans. He hasn't shied away from telling Subban when he might be out of line at times either, which has, in the end, made Subban a better player.

I cannot sing this man's praises enough. Most of the time, he won't show up on the score sheet, and that forces his rating into the minuses. There will be games where he won't be as fast and he might find himself in the penalty box, but the contributions he makes as a whole, on and off the ice, earned him every penny of his new contract.

Truth be told, I would have preferred that Gill take a bit of a hometown discount and signed for around $1.5 million, giving the Canadiens a little more breathing room on the cap, but this is not a cap-breaker of a deal and if it makes the aging defenseman happy, then it makes me happy.

Now, the Canadiens have three "regulars" under contract, with P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek both signed for next season, with Yannick Weber as a likely 7th defenseman and Alex Picard on the tail end of a two-way, two-year deal. Prospects Alexsei Yemelin and Raphael Diaz have also both signed deals, and I would venture a guess that Yemelin will start the year in Montreal.

This leaves two spots open, so take your pick among the following: Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges (the likely signings), Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski (the ones everyone wants to see come back but will likely be too expensive), and Brent Sopel and Paul Mara (the late-season rentals that will likely have to find employment elsewhere).

Afterwards, it's on to plugging holes amongst the 12 forwards.

News & Notes:

  • Bruce Garrioch is reporting that the Ottawa Senators have interviewed Habs assistant Kirk Muller as a potential candidate for their vacant coaching job. As we all know, it was reported earlier this season that Muller would likely be leaving the organization at the end of the season.
  • Prospect development camp is next week and Cyberpresse is reporting that recent signings Diaz and Yemelin will NOT be attending. Both will obviously be players to look out for at the main camp in September.
  • Two players that inexplicably raised the excitement level of certain Habs fans (in one case, myself included), will be heading to Russia next season. Reports indicate that Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd, both acquired last season by the Habs, will be playing in Kazakhstan's Barys Astana next season on one-year deals. I was excited about Dustin Boyd as a Hab, as I thought he had loads of untapped potential. But he never got a chance to shine and was unceremoniously waived early in the season. Dawes was a throw-in on the Sopel deal, and didn't play more than a handful of games as a Hab.
  • As we all know by now, Winnipeg will FINALLY be getting an NHL team, 16 years after losing their Jets franchise. Interestingly, as the deal was fairly last minute, they will take the spot of the Thrashers in their first season before moving to the Northwest for 2012-13, which means the Habs will be seeing them four times next season, including to trips to the other windy city. Are you excited to see the Peg back in the NHL?
  • And finally, the Stanley Cup Final begins tonight! Both Montreal and the Canadiens are well represented in the series. Former Habs Michael Ryder and Dr. Mark Recchi will be with the Bruins, and castoffs Max Lapierre and Chris Higgins will be with the Canucks, obviously. Add to that both coaches, who got their starts in Montreal, and the Canadiens are well represented by people they mostly unceremoniously dumped. Not to mention the Quebec contingent on both teams: Patrice Bergeron, Claude Julien, and the injured Marc Savard for the Bruins, Alex Burrows, Max Lapierre Roberto Luongo and Alain Vignault for the Canucks. Who would you rather see raise the cup?

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Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

WOW! I liked Hal when he was a penguin, but I did not think he was worth 2.25 a year. At his age he still performs well, but this does come as a shock.

But then again the defense has not been all too healthy in Montreal so signing a rock like Gill was necessary. All in all it is a good signing, considering it wasn't more than a season, the Habs secured a position that was much in need.

George Prax's picture

We thought the same thing (about his worth) two years ago and he earned every penny of that $2.25 mil per year. I kind of agree that it is a little steep two years later. I was hoping for $1.5M but honestly I'm not complaining, it's not a HORRIBLE number and it's only for one year. Plus, as I mentioned, he's very important for Gorges and Subban, so no complaining.

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

Also, compared to other FA defensemen, that is a steal. The pens signed two defensemen last season that cost them 9 million! Plus as you mentioned, he is really mentoring PK and you cant put a price on that. Look at Kris Letang who was mentored by Sergie Gonchar, that was huge for his development, so this is actually a great signing despite the price.