Nashville Predators defenceman Hal Gill photographed during the final game of the Western Conference semifinal vs. the Phoenix Coyotes.
Christian Petersen, Getty Images
Nashville Predators defenceman Hal Gill is packing up his Montreal address with his wife, Anne, and their three children – daughters Isabelle and Sophie and son Talon – and preparing to move in mid-June back to their new offseason home in Boston.
The former Canadiens rearguard, traded to Nashville on Feb. 17 after having spent more than 2 1/2 seasons in Montreal, sat with me last Friday for a leisurely, wide-ranging talk over a Crescent St. lunch. We delved into the Habs, the team’s management and coaching of this past season, a number of Gill’s key teammates, Gill playing the five-game Western semifinal on a broken ankle, and a whole lot more.
Gill – aka @Skillsy75 on Twitter – arrived at lunch on crutches and his right foot in a protective boot; he’d had surgery two weeks earlier in Nashville for a fractured ankle suffered two games from the end of the regular season when he was struck by a Sheldon Souray slap shot. Gill played the five-game Western semifinal on the fractured tibia, the foot frozen before each game.
Between soup and the arrival of his salad and sandwich, he happily scrolled through the X-ray images in his iPhone of the ankle before and after the placement of a steel plate and three screws.
“I haven’t set off any metal detectors yet,” Gill joked.
What follows is an edited transcript of our talk. Look for more in a column written for Tuesday’s Montreal Gazette, in print there and online Monday evening, to be linked when it’s available.
Both Mike Cammalleri and Jaroslav Spacek, respectively traded to Calgary and Carolina, have been sent their Canadiens jerseys by Geoff Molson, the team’s principal owner. How about you?
I received it from Geoff when I got back to Montreal a week ago. That’s nice. Geoff is doing things the right way. He’s working pretty hard.
The prevailing sentiment is that the Canadiens have turned an important corner in their rebuilding with the hiring of Marc Bergevin as general manager to replace Pierre Gauthier. The Gauthier era was confounding, to say the least. What was your take on it?
(Almost 15 minutes of Gill’s reply was off the record. What follows was on the record.)
I think the way Pierre ran the team is what they’d teach you in business school about managing people. I think he went by the book, that that was kinda the funny thing (given the nature of a hockey team). … I’d ask Pierre every day why we had to do things a certain way, kinda have fun with it. But he didn’t mix very well with the team so communication was different. He’s a different person.
In Nashville, I’d go to (GM) David Poile, who’s the nicest man, so up front, and he’d say, “We’re all in this together, what should we do? Do you have any ideas? Do you think we handled this situation right?” It was a different world. I think Bergevin is going to be great. I don’t know his track record after his playing days, but as a player he was a first-rate beauty, a clown. … I think it’s going the right way in Montreal. I hope it is.
Jaro Spacek spoke to me at length recently about former coach Jacques Martin’s system. Talk about that?
I read where Spatcho said we didn’t have a system that fit us. I think Jacques put something out there then let us handle everything else. He let the older guys kinda take control – Gio, Cammy, Gomer, me, Moen… all these guys who’d come in (as UFAs or, in Gomez’s case, by trade). I thought we didn’t really know what to do, but it was our team. Then we had success because we worked as a team, that’s how we got into the playoffs (going three rounds deep in 2009-10).
The message (from the coaching staff) was we need to play as a team with their system. I tried to preach it but the hard part was we didn’t play to guys’ strengths. With Gomez, you don’t expect him to chip it up the boards, you want him to come back and pick it up. If he can’t do that, he can’t be effective. With me, I have to do what I do.
There wasn’t a huge difference in the system of (Nashville coach) Barry (Trotz), but the D always stay together. You don’t have a forward in the middle. (Laughing) Basically, I couldn’t even tell you what we were running. But the D stayed together. If the puck goes this way, I go to the boards and my D stays with me. …
This was my first time playing in the Western (conference) or maybe it was the team, but I felt a lot of times I had more time with the puck. There were subtle differences.
Did Gauthier put Randy Cunneyworth in an impossible position, parachuting him in to replace Martin?
I guess so. It was completely unfair. I think that’s the hardest thing about Montreal – you can’t just go for the best guy for the (coaching) job. You’re the GM and you have a guy who doesn’t speak French and he’s the clear best for the job, but you can’t hire him. That’s got to be the most frustrating thing. I don’t care if the coach spoke only Russian. If he’s the best coach?
Some (in the media) get fired up and talk about it. I think Cunney took the job as kind of a puppet. I don’t think he had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted to do.
I think the hard part for us as players is that we had a coaching change, but nothing changed. Gomer was excited: “Now we’re going to play!” That’s what you need, you have a coaching change and you go from the doghouse to a new life. Guys who weren’t in the doghouse say, “I have to prove myself.” That’s why you get a jump and everyone kind of picks up their game. But for whatever reason, Cunney said, “I believe in the system, let’s go with the system.” I like Cunney, I think he’s great. I just don’t know if he got to (call his own shots).
Cunney was very good about it and we joked around some. I guess I don’t understand it because I’m not French. Maybe if I was I’d have more (stake) in it. But I just want to win. If we’d started winning, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.
A lot of fans in Montreal would love to have you back…
(Laughs) But the sad part is, they’re telling me, “Can you come back as a coach?” I’m thinking, “Can I play a few more years?” I think (about coaching), yeah, but not now. I’d like to give playing a few more cracks.
I had a good exit meeting in Nashville. We’re going to try to work something out. It’s hard to compare Nashville to anything I’ve been a part of: Toronto, Boston, Pittsburgh, Montreal. In Nashville, if you make a turnover and cost a goal, you’re not afraid of the boos. You really have to be awful to be noticed. You can just go out there and play. It’s great but I don’t know how long you’d last before you’d get complacent.
The great part about playing in Montreal is you have a Tuesday night game against Columbus and in the streets you hear, “Do you think (Rick) Nash is going to be traded?” There’s a story for everything. A Tuesday Predators game against Carolina in Nashville, no one’s going to be talking about it.
But it was fun, different, to go from the pressure-cooker of Montreal to just going out there to play, and make plays.
Are you expecting to talk contract with the Predators before the July 1 UFA period kicks in?
I think we’ll talk more coming up, I’d like to hear what (Poile) has to say. Right now they’re thinking about (UFA defenceman Ryan) Suter. If they don’t get Suter, it’s going to be a different ball game. If they lock him up, I think everything falls into place. I think that’s kinda what they’re looking at.
You’ve adopted Montreal as much as Montreal adopted you. Will it be hard to pack up in mid-June and move, or have you been doing this often enough during your career to just get on with it, without emotion?
Anne and I and the kids love it here. I came up here saying, “I’ll go play with the Habs, make some money, do my job, keep quiet and stay under the radar.” That was my whole plan. My wife laughed at me. I could never do that.
The trade (to Nashville) was hard because (the Canadiens) weren’t yet out of the playoffs and I wanted to make it. No one wants to leave. You make the best of it when it happens. You can’t control it. Just before I was traded, I felt, “We can do this, we put a few wins together.” That was tough.
I think my 7-year-old is eventually going to be crushed. Once we move, it’s going to hit her. Right now she says, “My first choice is to stay in Montreal, my second and third are New York or L.A. – or anywhere with a beach.” For me, just as long as we’re together because it was hard being away from my family for that long.
Both kids are speaking French (Isabelle is 7, Sophie is 4). And Talon (the couple’s 7-month-old son) is a monster. He’s huge. He’s a beast. And he’s such a guy, too. At six months old, he was wearing clothes for a 12-month-old. (Mischievous expression) Gio sent me a picture of the two of them together and I thought it was funny they were the same size. (Laughs) I was going to tweet the picture that but I thought it was inappropriate. You’ve got to be careful on Twitter. It can come back and bite you.
Well, you do have fun on Twitter as @Skillsy75, having lurked for awhile under an alias…
I retweeted one that said, “Women say childbirth is the most painful thing… obviously they have never stepped on a Lego.” I thought it was the funniest thing but I had a bunch of people telling me, ‘How dare you say that…” I mean, it’s a joke.
Carey Price finally joined Twitter this week and his first tweet was to the effect that you drink wine coolers. Not today, obviously, since we’re drinking beer. But presumably, the wine-cooler crack was an insult. What’s up with that?
(Laughs) I still don’t know what that was all about. But did you like my #bartlesandjames hashtag? Do they even make wine coolers? … Carey gets kinda passionate about things, I can see him (as @CP0031) saying, “You guys should just (expletive)…”
Then you have people saying things back to you and you’re thinking, “This is the worst thing ever.” It stings. But then you look and the guy has two followers.
Twitter is how I get all my news. I don’t think there’s a faster news source: USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone magazine. You can read more if you want. I can follow (TSN’s) Bob McKenzie and he’ll probably know I’ve been traded before I do.
As not, well, the fastest skater in the NHL, what inspired the photo you took in mid-May and tweeted of yourself standing among traffic pylons on a Montreal street, with the caption, “I’m the highest paid one!”?
(Laughs again) Anne knew what I had in mind. She just said, “You’re an idiot,” and took the picture on my iPhone. I thought it was kinda fitting, me among the pylons.
Are you surprised the Canadiens went their entire centennial year, your first season here, without a captain?
No. The whole captain/alternate thing is just for the fans. (I suggest to Gill it’s largely symbolic and he agrees.) We followed Gio because of his presence on the ice. He’s not a guy who says much, but when you see him go to the net, take a crosscheck then get up and go at it again, that’s why you follow him.
You’re still nicely recognized on the streets of Montreal.
They’re really good. If you stop and take a picture, you can be there forever. But if you just say hi, people have been great. My daughters don’t like it too much. We go and get ice cream and I do 20 minutes of signing.
My 7-year-old’s quote last year was, “I can’t wait to go (home to) Boston where no one cares about you.” Thanks, hon. But it’s so true. Boston people ask me, “What are you doing nowadays? You played for the Bruins, right? What are you doing now?” Last summer I said, “I played for Montreal, remember we played seven games against the Bruins?” And they said, “Oh really, you were out there?” In Boston, if you don’t play for the Bruins, you’re dead.
Your pal Josh Gorges led the NHL in blocked shots this season. Did you coach him on that?
Georgie got really good at it. I tried to tell him earlier in the year, “Don’t try to block a shot, be in a position so they don’t shoot.” That’s ideally what you’re supposed to be doing. But he got really good. What he’s really good at and what we did on the penalty-kill is we’d have a guy pressuring so the opponent would have to shoot a wrister. We wouldn’t give up a slapper, so as soon as the wrister goes through we’d block it. You can try to block slap shots but it’s a lot harder. Georgie got really good at finding a way to get in front. Good for him because he’s not a big guy, he can’t take a guy and move him.
Did you see Carey Price mature during your time here?
Yes. Pricey is good. He’s a different guy. It’s hard in Montreal. You go out somewhere, and I’ve been out with him, and people are taking pictures and video, and you’re thinking, “This is ridiculous.” Everyone wants to buy him a shot. He’ll accept one, be a nice guy and talk to them, then someone else wants to buy him a drink. He’s out a little late, then (the media or others online) give him (crap) for being out late.
It’s the same for P.K. Everyone loves him, everyone wants to party. Then they say, “P.K. was out late last night, he shouldn’t have been.” Every time you go out in Montreal, it’s the best night out.
Carey was over that when I got here in 2009. But after everyone turned on him that season and when (goalie Jaroslav) Halak was the end all, be all, the best thing ever, I said to Carey, “You must be excited to get out of here,” and he said, “No, I really want to make it work.” He wanted to stay after all that? I don’t know, he was stronger than I would have been. I’d have been, “I’m getting out of here, I can’t wait to go somewhere else.” He was awesome, I liked playing for him.
(In a text message to HIO, Price hailed Gill as “the favourite teammate” he’s had in hockey.)
What about P.K.? You were a major influence on him on the ice and in the dressing room and are best placed to comment on his game.
The frustrating part is I wanted to play with P.K., that’s why I signed (last summer) for another year. But Jacques wanted to switch it up.
Can a veteran, a Stanley Cup winner like yourself, not discuss this with his coach?
Communication wasn’t Jacques’s strength. He’s a great guy but he’s quiet. You could talk to him but he was rigid in his ways. It would be, “I’ll listen to you but I’m the coach and this is what I’m going to do.” Some guys now, newer coaches, want to hear what you’re thinking. When I went to Nashville, the coaches were talking to me: “What are you thinking? What do you want to do? Do you like playing with this guy or that guy?” There was a lot more communication.
So back to P.K.?
I really wanted to play with P.K. The problem was with P.K. is that everyone wanted to fix him. P.K. is P.K. You don’t fix him. You have to just keep him focused and on the ball. That’s why I thought I had a good relationship with him – we’re going up the ice and I’m yelling at him to go, yelling at him. And he’s like, “Oh yeah, okay…”
We had Randy Ladouceur and Perry Pearn coaching him and I was his partner. I think it was a lot. I told P.K., “There’s a lot of people all over you. If you want to talk, come and talk to me. If I see something on the ice, I’ll tell you, but I’m not going to bother you.”
I thought he was awesome, I’d talk to him a lot. In the Buffalo airport, as I was leaving for Detroit after the trade, he called me and talked to me for five minutes. He’s a really good kid. He just needs to play the game. That’s all it is.
He’s got to learn to focus. He’s so gifted, he just kinda goes and does his thing, that’s what he’s always done. He goes out there – “It’s my turn? I’m going to jump on the ice and be awesome.” Just focus. He’s a young kid. When you first get to the NHL, you’re thinking, “It’s my first year, I’m going to be awesome.” Your second year comes around and it’s, “I’m awesome, I’m just going to do what I do.” Well, it doesn’t work that way.
Was the situation with Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov in Nashville blown out of proportion – breaking curfew during the playoffs?
I think it was. They made a mistake, they paid a price. But the problem was it was a distraction. Those are the things you don’t need.
Agree or disagree with the team’s decision to suspend and sit them for a second game?
Agree. But luckily, I don’t have to make decisions like that.
A lot is made of the media around the Canadiens, turning over every rock for the scoop. You’ve played in Toronto and Boston, Original Six hockey cities and hot hockey markets. Any way to compare?
There’s so much media in Montreal that you kind of forget about it. Toronto was crazy but in Montreal, there’s a feeling of celebrity more than just hockey. Carey Price is a celebrity. If Brad Pitt and Carey Price are standing there, I think people are going to Carey. Toronto is similar in some ways, but there’s a lot more going on (in sports). Here, there’s a lot of “what are players doing off the ice?”
I’m not pretty to watch, I get that. I understand when fans want to see someone make a saucer pass or score a goal. But I was really impressed in Montreal the way people said about me, “No, that’s not what he does. Watch, he’ll make a pokecheck.”
In Toronto, I had the best year of my career, a bunch of points, but I was doing everything they really didn’t care for. I’d do a full two minutes on the PK, doing everything, and they were just like, “He’s not good.”
I come to Montreal and I’m like, “I hope they don’t boo me out of here, as they can.” It was kinda nice that they got on my good side and saw what I could do well.
Is there an anxiety now, sitting and waiting for an offer from the Predators, or from someone else after July 1?
Let’s talk about friendships. Players you get thrown into a bunch of friends and you slowly meet people away from the rink. My wife is part of so many moms’ groups and we still have friends from Pittsburgh and Toronto. You meet new people wherever you go. We’ll always have those friends in those cities, as we will in Montreal, and we’ll look them up next time we’re there.
We’ll put our stuff in storage, move down to our new home in Boston and wait to see. I’m anxious. I’m used to it now, it’s kinda like sit and wait, there’s nothing you can do about it.
In the event of a lockout, or the phone not ringing come July 1, do you have a Plan B for the future?
The labour’s the big thing. I don’t know. It doesn’t look… I don’t really know what both side are going to go for. I can’t imagine missing a year, that’s a tough hit. Phoenix has just got on board, L.A.’s in the Cup final… to miss a year after all that buzz would be a shame.
Anne is going to eventually work. She wants to open a store, she’s making a bag right now, just starting out. She’s like to do something like that. That’s the hard part for her. When I was in Boston she wanted to open a store but she couldn’t do it, I was gone so much. That’s the hardest thing for her – arranging our kids’ lives, schools and so on. All I have to do is show up at the rink. I have a bunch of friends I play hockey with.
An enduring memory of Montreal, as you start packing up? And is there a lot of Habs memorabilia to pack?
No, I’m not a collectibles guy. I don’t collect anything. I have my 1,000th game stick from the Canadiens. My wife wants that more than I do.
For my 1,000th game, Geoff Molson made labels for Molson Export bottles with my picture on them. I’ve got a case. I think there were two cases but we had a party after. I thought that was pretty cool.
There are a lot of memories. Making the (2010) playoff run. Some people said we played over our heads. That’s what makes you laugh. In order to win, you have to play over your head. At some point you have to do something. New Jersey’s Stephen Gionta – he’s playing over his head. But that’s how you win.
New Jersey is surprising me but that’s why they’re winning. They have depth. It’s doing it when it matters. You expect Zach Parise to be there, but I won (the 2009 Stanley Cup) with the Penguins, and we had Malkin, Staal and Crosby. Then Max Talbot scores two goals in Game 7 and we win it.
You told me before the 2009-10 season began that you hadn’t sat down to watch Game 7 and the Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory. Have you done so yet?
No. I’ll watch it when I’m done. I just don’t care to now. Why should I?
Some guys are big on their own stats. They can catalogue their goals like they’d know a birthday. Can you?
(Laughs) No, but I should (with 36 goals in 1,070 career games). I’m not a stats guy. Someone told me that in (Nashville’s) Game 5 against Phoenix, we outchanced them 24-10. I tweeted that stats are for losers. Go ask whoever wins the Cup this year – ask one of the players what their stats were and they’ll have no idea. But ask the losers and they’ll tell you all their stats. Here’s the only stat that matters: 16 wins.
Well, you’re going to keep playing until you score one in the postseason, right? You’re 0-for-110 games…
(With a straight face) I shoot wide just so I can always have that. I want that record. “Damn, that almost went in…” Hey, it would be nice to score, but only if it helps us win.
Follow Stubbs on Twitter: @Dave_Stubbs
• Below, courtesy Anne Gill and @Skillsy75 on Twitter: Hal Gill’s legendary tweet, photo taken in mid-May on Montreal’s Laurier Ave.