MONTREAL - Hal Gill wonders how much one more point would have meant to his days as a Maple Leaf.
The big man, honoured here Saturday night for 1,000 NHL games, has almost no regrets about his career, but of the four cities heís played in, two years with the Leafs marked the only stop where he missed the playoffs. And that was by the slimmest of margins. On April 7, 2007, the Leafs beat Montreal 6-5 to reach 91 points and knock out the Habs, only to see the Islanders win a shootout against New Jersey the next day for 92, stealing eighth spot.
Gill didnít finish another year, traded to Pittsburgh for draft picks, while the Leafs havenít been in post-season or cleared 90 points since.
ďIf weíd made it that year, then itís a whole different story for everyone involved,Ē Gill said, no doubt thinking of general manager John Ferguson, who had signed him, coach Paul Maurice and many departed teammates.
Ferguson and Maurice were let go during and after that season, respectively.
ďIíve talked to (ex-Leaf assistant coach) Randy Ladouceur (now with Hamilton of the AHL) and itís a similar situation. You hope you get those points, but you didnít, and youíre sitting on the outside, watching. Thatís the tough part. I have a lot of great memories of Toronto, the people and the city itself, but hockey was a tough one there. I thought I played well, but we didnít get over the edge.Ē
In Gillís first full year with Pittsburgh, the Penguins won the Cup. In their initial title defence, Gill had gone to Montreal as a free agent and had a huge role in eliminating the Pens. He has played 69 playoff games since leaving Toronto and 43 before that with Boston. Now heís in the 1,000 game club, having gone through four major hockey markets and the accompanying scrutiny.
ďMy family has been a big part of why Iíve kept my sanity through the years, so itís nice to have them out there (Saturday).Ē
Gill has wondered about life in one of the NHLís non-traditional franchises.
ďIt would be nice to go down to Florida, where itís not as big a market, you can just enjoy the sun, play hockey and focus on the game,Ē he said. ďAt the same time, every game (with an Original Six club) means something big. There are implications, even for a Tuesday night against a non-conference opponent. That keeps you sharp. So you take the good with the bad.Ē
Gill received gifts from the Habs, Leafs and the NHL before Saturdayís game. The 36-year-old will eventually have some great historical decor for his man cave, with his three Original Six sweaters mounted next to some Cup souvenirs and his 1,000th game mementoes.
ďSomething anybody would always want to do is play in Toronto, Montreal, play in your hometown (heís from the Boston suburb of Concord) and win the Cup. Iíve been pretty (lucky) in all of that.Ē