Pierre Gauthier finally has acknowledged the inevitable and has started to try to extract some value from the players he has who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer. While the debate still rages if the unpredictable GM is the best man to be entrusted with this job, at least he is getting on with it.
Veteran defenseman Hal Gill and a conditional fifth-round draft pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft are leaving Montreal for Nashville. Coming to Montreal is Nashville's second-round draft pick in this year's entry draft and two prospects—Robert Slaney and Blake Geoffrion.
Gill is a big (6'7", 241 lbs) defenseman with 105 playoff games to his credit. He was a key member of the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup run in 2008, and then again when they won the cup in 2009.
Gill has been a stabilizing veteran presence in Montreal, mentoring their young defensive corps in general and the mercuric P.K. Subban in particular. He has no offensive skills and may currently be the slowest man on skates still in the NHL. His career is approaching the end, though he seems ready to make a smooth transition to becoming an assistant NHL coach.
The glacially slow Gill seems like a strange pick-up for the Nashville Predators, who boast two of the best defenseman in the NHL in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. This team seems to need additional scoring rather than another hulking defenseman. I might have expected them to make a deal for a Michael Grabovski or Andrei Kostitsyn ahead of adding an old defenseman.
Montreal picks up Nashville's second-round draft pick, which would currently be the 56th overall pick in this year's NHL entry draft. That is about as good a return as you could expect for the rental of the veteran defender.
Also in the deal are prospect forwards Slaney and Geoffrion.
Slaney is a 23-year-old left winger with reasonable size (6'2" 205 lbs). The Predators picked him up from Toronto in the Matthew Lombardi deal. He has yet to be able to play his way out of the East Coast Hockey League, let alone the AHL. Hockeysfuture.com projects him as a possible checking line player.
Geoffrion's greatest recommendation is his pedigree. He is the son of former NHLer Danny Geoffrion, who played parts of three seasons in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. He is the grandson of Hall of Famer and Canadiens great Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, the man credited with popularizing the slap shot in the NHL. He is the great grandson of another all-time Montreal great the Stratford Streak, Howie Morenz.
You have to fear this is one of those deals that are more about name recognition than talent. Geoffrion is still a name to conjure with in Montreal, but no one has done that successfully since Boom Boom retired from Les Habitants back in 1964.
Blake Geoffrion was a Hobey Baker award winner back in 2010 when he played for and captained the Wisconsin Badgers to a national championship.
Geoffrion is of good size and appears to have some reasonable skills. He was listed as second on the depth chart among Nashville left wingers back in the fall.
Geoffrion has played 42 NHL games to date and has scored six goals and 11 points. He might find a niche on the Canadiens as a checker—perhaps a younger, higher potential Mathieu Darche.
Trading an unrestricted free agent at the end of his career for a second-round draft pick and two middling to low-end prospects is probably the best outcome the Montreal Canadiens could expect from this deal. It also hopefully signals that they could deal many of the rest of their UFAs for some value.
If next year comes and Montreal feels they want Gill back, they could probably sign him. Gill will likely be ready to retire at the end of this year. If so, it would be nice to see Montreal or some other team take him on as a defense coach. Gill's lack of mobility has made him a master of positioning throughout his career, and that knowledge is probably eminently transferable.
What the Nashville Predators want with Gill beyond experience and defensive depth is hard to understand. It seems unlikely that having Gill in the lineup will improve the Predators defense. Maybe this is just the start of deals to help them make the playoffs and assure UFA Ryan Suter and RFA Shea Weber that the organization wants to improve the team and win the Stanley Cup.
This seems to be mere lip service to that aim. Hopefully much better is soon to come.