Note: We've been holding off on doing our "The Departed" series until the fate of other Penguins free agents such as Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan was determined. Having grown impatient, we've decided to eulogize Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi. Scuderi's eulogy will appear tomorrow.
For the stretch drive of the 2007-08 season, Penguins general manager Ray Shero felt his team needed some size in front of the net. Suffice it to say, he got it when he swung a deal that brought 6-foot-7, 250-pound defenseman Hal Gill from the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline.
Prior to becoming a Penguin, most hockey fans in Pittsburgh were familiar with Gill through the work he did against former Penguins captain Jaromir Jagr. When Gill was with the Bruins, he was routinely one of the few defensemen who could contain the Penguins' former franchise player.
Gill's first game against with the Penguins didn't go well. The Penguins' were blasted in Boston, 5-1, Feb. 28, 2008 and Gill was on the ice for four of the Bruins' five goals. His shoddy performance was overshadowed by a knee injury to Hossa that ended his Penguins debut after all of 10 minutes.
As time went by and Gill was more and more acclimated to the Penguins' system and his new teammates, he showed why Shero brought him to Pittsburgh. He provided a nasty, intense presence in front of the net and routinely gave the business to anyone who would venture too close to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Even managed to endear himself to Penguins fans by picking up a goal and an assist in a 7-1 rout of the rival Flyers, March 16.
The Penguins entered the playoffs with Kris Letang teamed up with Gill as their third defensive pairing and it seemed to work well as the Penguins pretty much cruised with little trouble to the Stanley Cup final. Once they got there, that duo struggled against the sleek Red Wings in two shutout losses in Detroit.
Letang was benched and Gill was teamed with veteran Darryl Sydor for the rest of the series.
Perhaps Gill's lasting impact of that series was the seemingly never-ending one-on-one battle he had with Detroit's power forward, Tomas Holmstrom. Their conflict was so intense, it resulted in Holmstrom suffering an injury in Game 3 and being forced to sit out Game 4.
Ryan Malone would argue Gill's biggest impact in that series was on his nose:
The Penguins entered the 2008-09 season with what seemed like a surplus of NHL-caliber defensemen. But injuries to Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar dug into that surplus. Gill was a player the Penguins leaned on early in the season to pick up some of the minutes that would normally go to Gonchar and Whitney.
A shoulder injury forced him to sit out ten games in December. When he returned, Gill seemed to be a step slow or even less aggressive initially. As the team struggled, so did he.
Once the Penguins, got all of their blue liners healthy, dealt Whitney to Anaheim and made other personnel changes, the team emerged with Gill and Rob Scuderi as a shutdown pair on defense. This pairing would routinely see action against the opponent's best line and was often times, the first duo of blueliners put on the ice during the penalty kill.
Coach Dan Bylsma relied quite a bit on Gill and Scuderi in the 2009 postseason. In the second round against the Capitals, they always seemed to be matched up against Alex Ovechkin's line. And when the team's Cup hopes were on the line at the end of Games 6 and 7 Stanley Cup final, both players were on the ice against the powerful Red Wings.
Following the team's championship, Gill signed with the Montreal Canadiens.
Hal Gill played in 80 games during his Penguins career and scored a total of 14 points (three goals, 11 assists).
(Photos: First-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Second-Jim Rogash/Getty Images)