Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Hal Gill Won't Be Booed at the Bell

Hal Gill, perhaps the most questioned signing Bob Gainey made in July, and for good reason. Hal had already been booed out of one major Canadian hockey city, and gained a reputation for being a pylon in his own zone. But since then Hal Gill has had a bit of a renaissance in both the way he plays, and in the way he is perceived by NHL managers.

When Gill was with Toronto he was forced to be a #4 defenseman, playing 20 or more minutes in the season in which he was booed out of town, and a bit less the season before. In Toronto it would probably come as a surprise to most Leafs fans that Gill was a plus player, a +11 over two seasons, although he was just even in his second season in Toronto when forced to play more minutes. Gill was also more focused on offense (40 points in 145 games is a lot for Gill), as well as physicality in Toronto. While that may sound like a good thing, Gill's lack of skating ability led to being caught out of position while pinching, as well as while making hits at ill informed times.

When Gill was traded to Pittsburgh he was coming to a team with much more depth on defense than Toronto, and he was slotted into the 6th defensive spot. With less ice time and better coaching, Gill reformed his game. Hits dropped, offense dropped, and his +/- went to +27 over 124 games (playoffs included). All of a sudden Gill was lauded in the media as a shut down defenseman, and people started noticing that his strength in front of the net, and active stick work in his own zone helped Marc-Andre Fleury immensely.

In Montreal, despite his pay, Gill is the 6th or 7th defenseman depending on how well Gorges and O'Byrne play. This is the element in which Gill excels, am I saying he'll win the Norris? Obviously not, but he'll be a plus player, probably in double digits and probably get around 9 points. His stick work will valued on the penalty kill all year long and Montreal fans will come to appreciate him as an asset.

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