Friday, February 17, 2012

Habs Send Hal Gill to Nashville

The Montreal Canadiens announced today the trade of Hal Gill to the Nashville Predators, along with a conditional draft pick, in return for Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, and a 2nd round pick in 2012. The conditional pick is a 5th rounder in 2013, which the Predators will receive if Geoffrion plays 41 or more games for Montreal next season.

Let's start with the big man - not that any player in this trade is "small." Hal Gill was signed as an unrestricted free agent during the great purge of 2009. Many were critical of his 2 year, $2.25M per season deal, as it was felt that he was too slow and even then his best days were behind him. But Gill performed beyond expectations. He is a slow starter, but is a true heart and soul type player, saving his best games for the post-season when they matter the most. He formed a phenomenal shutdown pair with Josh Gorges during the 2009-10 run to the Conference Finals, and the following season was invaluable mentoring a young P.K. Subban. Gill was a leader in the dressing room, and undoubtedly the most likeable player in the "Get to Know Your Canadiens" video segments (did the Canadiens leak the predictable fact that Gill would be traded by leaving him out of the most recent question video?). He was considered important enough to earn one more year at his previous salary last summer, and this time around the deal was met with much approval. His departure would leave a leadership vacuum in the room, but thankfully last summer's signing Erik Cole has been perhaps the team's top leader throughout this season. Gill's absence will allow Cole to wear a well-deserved "A" on his jersey for the remainder of the year.

But Gill's age showed this season. With Andrei Markov out, and Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski playing elsewhere, the Canadiens couldn't afford to shelter Gill's minutes during the regular season, and as he wasn't his old dependable self, his ice time dwindled. He remained the team's best penalty killer, perhaps one of the best in the league, and that is the main strength he can bring to a young and mobile Predators' blueline. The 36-year old provided valuable services to the Canadiens, and he will be missed. But as sad as I am to see him go, I couldn't be happier with the return. Let's look at the players being acquired.

Robert Slaney is a strange throw-in for the Canadiens to inquire about. Was it a contracts thing? A money thing? Who knows, but the 23-year old seems far from a legitimate NHL prospect at this point. The 6'2", 203 lbs. Newfoundland native has good size no doubt, but the left winger has struggled to establish himself at the AHL level since being signed as a free agent from the QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He has spent the majority of the last 3 seasons in the ECHL, where this year he has 18 points in 30 games. In 52 AHL games over 3 years, he has registered just 8 assists. He is described as a third or fourth line type who, while not overly physical, uses his body well to protect the puck. He adds some depth to the system for a Hamilton Bulldogs team likely to be decimated by call-ups between now and the trade deadline.

Blake Geoffrion, on the other hand, is a nice prospect to add to the stockpile. Having turned 24 two weeks ago, Geoffrion is nearing the "now or never" phase of his career to live up to the hype that had Nashville select him in the 2nd round, 56th overall, in 2006. Either way his acquisition by the Canadiens is a nice story, as - in case you were unaware - Geoffrion is the grandson of Montreal legend Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion. But it doesn't stop there. This also means his great grandfather was another Hab legend, Howie Morenz. And even his father, Dan Geoffrion, was a Canadiens 1st round pick, though he would only play 32 games for Montreal. Thus, assuming Blake does eventually play for the Habs (and there is little reason to doubt he will get a shot), he will be a fourth generation Montreal Canadien!

About the player himself, Geoffrion is a 6'1", 190 lbs winger with strong offensive instincts. He seemed poised to breakout last season, picking up 6 goals and an assist over his first 11 NHL games with the Preds (including a hat trick), but cooled off and added only one more assist over his next 9 games. He was expected to be a lock to spend this season with the Predators, but after scoring just 3 assists through 22 games, he was sent down to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, where he has managed 9 points through 20 games. Certainly not the season Geoffrion had hoped for, but perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good. Sometimes a new/better fit is all it takes, and there is enough potential still there that it is something Hab fans can hope for. Geoffrion gets his hands dirty in front of the net and is skilled enough to someday be a 20-goal scorer in the league.

With regards to his style, Geoffrion uses his frame effectively, able to play a two-way power game. He is a strong skater, meaning that even if his offense doesn't pan out, he could be a serviceable third or fourth liner all the same. He will report to the Hamilton Bulldogs for now, but expect him to be back in the NHL before the season is through. He will be a restricted free agent this summer after finishing his entry level contract which has a cap hit of $1,062,500 after bonuses. Geoffrion is a rather active Tweeter, so give him a follow here: @BlakeGeoffrion.

All in all, with the 2nd round pick, I would call this a win for Pierre Gauthier and the Canadiens. The return was as good - if not better - than anyone could have expected for Gill, and Gauthier struck while the iron was hot before teams with a need for a defensive d-man had all filled their holes. This is not to say the Predators "lose" the deal, but as a Hab fan, I'm quite happy with the return.

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