|Hal Gill's trade from the Maple Leafs to the Penguins gave him a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup this season. Hal Gill video|
“My wife had to hear about it on TV, and I heard about it after a nap,” Gill told NHL.com. “She didn’t know what to think. She was kind of shocked. She’s not involved in it, but she’s directly involved in it because she’s the one that takes the brunt of it.”
Gill said he was “kind of shocked,” too. Having never been traded in his NHL career, being moved at the deadline for a pair of draft picks was all new to him. He didn’t know how to react even if he saw it coming.
“It was a surprise,” Gill said. “I guess it always is, right?”
We wouldn’t know, but either way this surprise has turned into an opportunity for the towering defenseman. Gill was dealt from a team loaded with questions and likely to miss the postseason to a team loaded with young talent and likely to make a bid for the Stanley Cup.
Yeah, that’s not so bad, at least for Hal. We can’t write on behalf on Anne.
“I feel comfortable here and I think I can help this team,” Gill said. “That’s what it’s all about, trying to contribute to a team that was already a really good team before I got here.”
The Penguins, though, are a much better team now that Gill has asserted himself and become a key cog on the back end. Through seven playoff games Gill is a plus-3 while averaging close to 18 minutes per game. The Penguins are 7-0.
“I don’t think many people realize how good he is defensively until you’re on his team. I know I didn’t,” Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. “He takes up so much room and it seems like you never see him get beat. Whether it’s a one-on-one or a two-on-two he’s got such a long reach that he can pinch guys off at the blue line.
“Just watching him against skilled players like (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) he’s still able to do a good job defensively. You realize how valuable he is after seeing that.”
Since Gill has become a fixture in the lineup, the Penguins penalty-kill has improved dramatically.
At the time of the trade the Penguins were a troubling 25th in the NHL in penalty-killing (80.4 percent). The Penguins’ PK got better over the last 18 regular-season games with Gill and finished tied for 22nd at 81 percent.
It has been a star in the playoffs. The Penguins entered Wednesday night ranked first in the NHL with a 92.6 percent success rate on penalty-killing in the postseason having allowed just two power-play goals in their 27 times shorthanded. They’ve limited the Rangers to one power play goal in 14 chances through three games.
“Gill does make a difference,” Penguins GM Ray Shero told NHL.com. “I want to say when we got him he was the top defensive guy in penalty-killing ice time. Like a power-play guy can be, he’s a specialist at that and certainly does a good job. He’s a lot of what we were looking for.”
The reasons are plenty, but No. 1 is Gill’s size. He’s 6-foot-7, weighs 250 pounds.
“He takes care of players in front of the net,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.
“Look at him, he’s just a big, massive dude so no one is going to move him,” added Pens defenseman Rob Scuderi, who has been Gill’s partner in the second round against the Rangers. “If they can’t get to the net they can’t get to the rebounds, which is really what playoff hockey is all about, crashing the net and getting dirty goals. With him there and being a presence in front it really limits their second opportunities, and that’s huge for our goalie. He can just worry about making one save.”
After Shero traded the two draft picks – a second-rounder this June and a fifth-rounder in 2009 – he figured the deal would wind up flying under the radar only because it was a little later when he beat the buzzer with a trade for Marian Hossa.
The trade for Gill, though, has proven to be just as important, if not more. The Penguins were six defensemen deep at the time of the trade, but bringing in Gill gave them not only depth, but another strong, tall, stay-at-home guy they were lacking since Mark Eaton went out with a season-ending injury in January.
With Gill in the fray, veteran and two-time Cup winning defenseman Darryl Sydor has been a healthy scratch for every game in the playoffs.
“I think he has fit in really well with us and he has gained the coach’s trust,” Shero said. “He plays mean, and off the ice he’s a good guy.”
Shero said it helped that Tom Fitzgerald, one of Gill’s former teammates in Boston who is now the Penguins’ director of player development, sold management on Gill’s attributes.
“Fitzie knew what we were looking for and went to bat for him in terms of his personality,” Shero said. “I guess I want to give (Gill) credit. He hasn’t exceeded our expectations. We thought he was a good player and he would fit in well here.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com