The big man believes he still has a lot of game to give.
Now Hal Gill just needs a team to give it to.
For a former eighth round pick, Gill has had a pretty remarkable NHL career. The 20-year veteran has played in 1,102 games, with stops including three of the Original Six franchises, the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. (Only three active defencemen have played more.)
Four years ago, Gill skated in 20 minutes a night on the Pittsburgh Penguins team that won the Stanley Cup.
In July, however, the 6-foot-7 defenceman was bought out of the final year of his $2-million a season contract by the Nashville Predators, a move that came as a shock to a veteran that was anxious to rebound from an injury plagued 2013 season.
Now, he is one of a few dozen notable unrestricted free agents that have yet to sign with a new team, a huge group put out of work in part due to the salary cap dropping for the first time and by nearly $6-million.
“I thought it would have been a good fit to play with [Preds super prospect] Seth Jones and help him out so I was surprised,” Gill said on Monday as he took part in the annual BioSteel Pro Hockey camp in Toronto. “But that’s the nature of the business. You’re not always on the same plan as everyone else. It’s something that hopefully in the end will work out for the best.”
The problem for players like Gill is, as mentioned, this is one summer when they have a lot of company on the unemployment line.
According to CapGeek’s UFA finder, there are still 31 skaters available that played a regular shift in the league last season, including some who can put up points like Mikhail Grabovski, Damian Brunner, Brad Boyes, Vinny Prospal, Brenden Morrow and Mason Raymond.
On the blueline, meanwhile, Ron Hainsey, Filip Kuba, Ian White, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Doug Murray are looking for a home.
In previous years, it hasn’t been uncommon to see these types take training camp tryouts in order to try and impress a team before signing a contract, something that may be required for Gill to extend his career.
It can be a trying experience given it comes with little guarantee.
“You know anyone that’s hiring?” Gill joked when asked by a reporter what his plans are when training camps open in three weeks. “I don’t know… My agent is working on it. I hope there’s a team that will look at me, and we’ll see how it goes.”
He doesn’t yet consider retirement an option, either.
“I want to play,” he said. “I’m here and I’m still have the desire, ultimately, to win but to just play and to be a part of it.”
Gill has slowed down since he was a key piece of that 2009 Penguins team, but he can likely fill a role as a veteran third pairing option who can kill penalties and tutor young teammates, especially on a relatively cheap contract.
The tough part for players caught in his position is that there’s a lot of supply and not much demand, and their bargaining position is fairly weak, particularly after a buyout.
At least until an injury or two hits in training camp or even early in the regular season.
Gill remains adamant he has more to give, saying he is healthier than he has been in years and that today’s ultra-quick NHL has yet to pass him by.
As proof, he was pushing himself hard in Monday’s skate to keep up at a camp that includes several NHL superstars and up-and-comers like 16-year-old Connor McDavid, the potential first round pick in 2015.
“I find the older I get the more intelligent I get – not off the ice, but on the ice,” Gill said. “I feel like if you can read the play, it’s a skill game, it’s a fast game, but it’s still a thinking man’s game. To be honest with you, I feel better than I ever have.”