MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens made it official Friday they will be sellers leading up to the NHL trade deadline, dealing veteran defenceman Hal Gill to the Nashville Predators for a draft pick and a piece of their history.
Montreal sent Gill and a conditional 2013 fifth-round draft pick to Nashville for a 2012 second-round pick, prospect Robert Slaney and Blake Geoffrion, the 24-year-old grandson of Hall of Famer Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion.
But Blake Geoffrion will have to wait to don a Canadiens’ jersey as Montreal assigned him to Hamilton of the AHL.
The Canadiens’ chances of making the playoffs are minimal. Now that they’ve made a deal, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they move other veterans before the Feb. 27 deadline, including winger Travis Moen and perhaps forward Andrei Kostitsyn or defenceman Chris Campoli.
Geoffrion’s bloodlines are more impressive than his NHL resume, which includes six goals and five assists in 42 games over two seasons. His great-grandfather was Canadiens legend Howie Morenz, while his father Dan Geoffrion also played in the NHL.
The surprise was that the Predators’ traded him. Geoffrion was born in Florida, but grew up in Nashville.
”Wow..what a day…it’s bitter-sweet, going to miss my hometown of Nashville, but going to where it all started with my family…MONTREAL!!!” he wrote on Twitter.
Predators general manager David Poile said he was ”very torn” about dealing Geoffrion.
”If it wasn’t for Montreal, the unique situation with his family, the history, all that stuff, I probably wouldn’t have traded him,” Poile said on a conference call. ”It’s extremely tough to do because of his obvious ties to Nashville.
“It was fabulous to have a local player here in Nashville.”
Geoffrion, whose great-grandfather and grandfather have banners hanging at the Bell Centre in honour of having their numbers retired, won the Hobey Baker award as the top player in U.S. college hockey in 2010 with Wisconsin.
The six-foot-one, 190-pound forward was drafted 56th overall by Nashville in 2006.
He has split the past two seasons between AHL Milwaukee and Nashville. He had only three assists in 22 NHL games this season before being returned to the AHL.
Poile said Geoffrion struggled on a team loaded with first- and second-year players in Nashville and was still a strong NHL prospect.
The six-foot-two, 205-pound Slaney, a 23-year-old left winger, has 11 goals and seven assists in 30 games with Cincinnati of the ECHL.
Montreal got good value by acquiring a second-round pick for 36-year-old Gill, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
”You have to give up a lot to get (Gill) and we did,” said Poile.
Gill was to join the Predators in Detroit, where they were to face the Red Wings on Friday night.
”Merci a Montreal. It was a lot of fun to be a Hab. Great organization with great fans. Au revoir,” Gill wrote in his fairwell Tweet.
The six-foot-seven Gill is a strong stay-at-home defenceman who is particularly effective in penalty killing, an area in which the Predators need help. Nashville is 15th overall and 25th on home ice while shorthanded in the 30-team league.
”We needed a veteran defenceman with experience and size,” said Poile. ”I think that in Hal Gill, we get everything we were looking for.”
The deal suggests Nashville will not trade either of top defencemen Ryan Suter or Shea Weber, who will be free agents this summer, but in fact will add pieces to try to make a long playoff run. Poile said it is up to coach Barry Trotz how Gill will be used but doesn’t expect the Suter-Weber tandem to be broken up.
Gill signed with the Canadiens as a free agent in 2009 after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win a Stanley Cup.
The defenceman, who is as popular with his teammates as he is with fans, makes up for his lack of skating speed using his size to keep opponents to the outside. He is also an expert shot-blocker.
Gill played a key role in Montreal’s run to the Eastern Conference final in his first season with the team in 2009-10.
”His leadership and commitment were much appreciated,” Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier said in a statement.
With Gill’s departure, Erik Cole was named an alternate captain.
ESPN reported the condition on the Montreal fifth-round pick was that Nashville will receive it only if Geoffrion plays at least 40 NHL games next season.