Three days before the start of the free agent signing period, the Nashville Predators managed to keep an experienced defenseman off the market.
No, not Ryan Suter. They must wait a little longer to find out what happens with him.
Hal Gill, acquired in a February trade with Montreal, agreed to a two-year, $4 million contract to stay with the Predators on Thursday.
The 37-year-old veteran of 1,070 NHL games provides some stability for a defense unit that faces at least a partial, and possibly a significant overhaul with the start of the new contract year Sunday.
“I know for sure it’s good for us,” general manager David Poile said. “It gives us one less piece to look for via free agency, a trade or promotion from within the organization.”
Suter and veteran Francis Bouillon both are set to be unrestricted free agents. The same is true of Jack Hillen, who was scheduled for restricted free agency but the team opted not to make the necessary qualifying offer to retain his rights.
Those three combined for 200 games played for Nashville in 2011-12.
Suter figures to be one of the most coveted free agents at any position. Nashville hopes to re-sign him after he sees and hears what other teams are willing to offer.
“I’ve talked to [Suter] in the last couple days and he will go to free agency on July 1,” Poile said. “We will talk to him sometime on July 1. … I think he will talk to lots of teams.”
Gill played 23 games for the Predators after he arrived in a Feb. 17 trade with Montreal. He had no goals and five assists but more importantly — with his 6-foot-7, 241-pound frame — was a significant defensive presence, particularly on the penalty kill. Of his 13:38 of average ice time per game with Nashville, 3:28 was in shorthanded situations.
The Predators are his fifth team in a career that began back in 1997-98, the year before Nashville joined the NHL. He previously played for Boston, which drafted him in the eighth round in 1993, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Montreal. He won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009.
He is the only player currently on Nashville’s roster with his name on the Stanley Cup.
“We like everything about Hal Gill as a hockey player and Hal Gill as a person,” Poile said. “We like that he’s the biggest player on our team, that he has all those experiences and all those leadership qualities.
“If things go as we hope they will [with Suter] he probably will play a lot with some of our younger players, players like Ryan Ellis or Jonathon Blum. He’s going to be good for us.”