Over the course of a season that saw injuries pile up for the Habs and an influx of rookies ushered in to fill the gaps, leadership qualities became more important than ever in the Montreal dressing room. While it’s certain that all the first-years took something away from what Gill and his 14 seasons of NHL experience brought to the table, there was no one who benefited more from the veteran’s knowledge than P.K. Subban.
“I think a major reason for his progression – and he’ll tell you the same thing – was playing with Hal,” mentioned Josh Gorges in praise of his teammate, whose mentoring allowed Subban to develop into the Canadiens’ most used defenseman, squaring off alongside Gill to face the opposition’s top lines on a nightly basis.
“He has a lot to teach and really makes coming to the rink and playing fun because you know everything he does or says is always in the best of spirits.”
When not busy giving a hard time to the slew of rookies, the 36-year-old blueliner was back to business, building on his playoff performance from 2009-10. His most recent campaign saw him pick up right where he left off, posting a total of 151 blocked shots on the season – one more than last year – before going on to add another 16 in the playoffs, good enough to rank second among Canadiens in that department, behind only Roman Hamrlik.
Gill also distinguished himself by devouring minutes on the penalty-kill, averaging a team-high 3:47 during the regular season, and 2:37 in the playoffs where the Habs stymied the Bruins on every one of their 21 power-play opportunities for a league-best 100% efficiency rating. The Concord, MA native even found time to chip in on the scoresheet along the way, potting his two goals of the season in consecutive games – the offensive outburst briefly vaulting his name to a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.
Listed among the Habs’ nine players set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, Gill will be hoping that his 2010-11 performance along with his reputation as an anchor in the team’s dressing room will be enough to earn him an extended stay with the Canadiens. His teammates are clearly hoping for the same thing.
“One of the first things I said to the staff was, ‘Whatever happens, we need to make sure we get Hal back,’” continued Gorges. “What he brings to this team is really something you can’t quantify. You would lose what Hal brings to everyone’s attitude and to the room in general, and you lose a huge portion of what makes our team work so well together and be so special.”
And what's Gill's take on the subject of staying in Montreal?
“Would I still like to play here? Yeah, I’d love to keep playing until they kick me out,” grinned Gill. “I’d love to take another run at the cup.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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