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Preds pay for Hal Gill, but make a statement

2/17/2012

The Nashville Predators likely overpaid a tad, but you have to admire the message they’re sending with Friday’s rental acquisition of Hal Gill: They’re loading up for a Stanley Cup run.

"Definitely," veteran Predators GM David Poile said Friday on a call with media members. "I think the management and the hockey operation [staff] owes the team the chance to not only make the playoffs, but to go further."

The message this season is incredibly important for the Predators, who are trying to convince the star defensive duo of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber to make Nashville their long-term NHL home.

Both blueliners are free agents this summer, Weber a restricted free agent and Suter a Free Willy unrestricted free agent. But make no mistake about Friday’s trade, it’s another subtle message from Poile to his two studs that the Preds are committed to going for it. This year and beyond.

And they’re not done either. If the Predators have their way, they’ll also add a top-six forward before the Feb. 27 trade deadline. One name being linked to them is Ales Hemsky, the electrifying yet maddeningly inconsistent winger in Edmonton who becomes a UFA on July 1.

OK, the price was a little high for a 36-year-old defenseman who might walk out the door July 1 as an unrestricted free agent. Nashville sent Montreal a second-round pick (2012) and prospect forwards Blake Geoffrion and Robert Slaney.

Consider Thursday's two trades involving rental players (UFAs): 27-year-old blueliner Nicklas Grossman fetched a second- and third-round pick and veteran center Dominic Moore got a second-round pick.

The Preds had to throw in three pieces, although Slaney has played mostly in the ECHL this season. This is mostly about Geoffrion who, famous bloodlines notwithstanding, the Preds believe will be a very good player for Montreal. And of course you can't forget about the second-round pick.

"You got to give up to make a deal at this trade deadline," Poile said. "We did in giving up our second-round pick and Blake Geoffrion. ... We’re happy with what we got and I know Montreal is happy because we gave them very good compensation today."

But the Preds have drafted, developed and carefully stocked their organizational depth for years, so they can afford to overspend.

In Gill, they got one of the league’s premier shot-blocking blueliners, a penalty-killing workhorse (it’s no coincidence the Habs are ranked No. 1 on the PK) and perhaps most importantly, a player who oozes character and brings valuable experience and a Cup ring with him in a dressing room that got younger last offseason.

"This was a missing ingredient for our hockey club," said Poile.

The Predators, sources tell ESPN.com, were very high on Tim Gleason, but had to aim elsewhere once he re-signed with the Hurricanes. Gill was a good compromise.

The price was high because other teams coveted Gill, including the Philadelphia Flyers, who despite Thursday’s acquisition of Grossman also liked the thought of adding Gill.

As for the Canadiens, they’re not done selling. Forward Andrei Kostitsyn and blueliner Chris Campoli (both UFAs) will almost surely be dealt. What’s not so sure at this point is the future of gritty winger Travis Moen, also a UFA on July 1. One NHL source told ESPN.com on Friday that he believed the Canadiens might keep Moen and try to re-sign him after the season; although it would depend on how much a team was willing to offer in a trade.

I will say this for beleaguered Habs GM Pierre Gauthier: I’ve been hard on him this year, the Tomas Kaberle deal still stinks just like that contract and the Rene Bourque-Mike Cammalleri deal is likely a wash, but this was a good deal Friday. The Canadiens got a decent return for an expiring contract.

Let’s see how they fare in the next rental player sale.