Hal Gill stepped out of his North End apartment recently and got a taste of what it might be like when he returns to Boston during the upcoming season.
"Why the hell did you sign with Montreal?" an electrician up on a pole yelled.
Gill, who signed a two-year deal with the Canadiens in July, laughed and waved to the obviously loyal Bruins fan that remembered where Gill started and played the first eight seasons of his career. Fans haven't been the only ones to wonder why Gill decided to play on the other side of one of the most storied rivalries in pro sports.
"My family and friends were kind of taken aback by it and wondering what was going on with me signing there but it really seemed like a good opportunity," Gill told NESN.com as he was preparing for his family's move to Montreal. "I wanted a two-year contract and they were excited about getting me and giving me that. It just all fell together and seems like a good fit. They're a good team and the new roster looks solid."
The Canadiens have received a complete face-lift this summer as GM Bob Gainey used cap money he freed up by allowing the likes of former captain Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Mike Komisarek to walk via free agency. Gill was one of six notable players brought into the mix in Montreal, including Scott Gomez and unrestricted free agents Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Moen, Jaroslav Spacek and another former Bruin, Paul Mara. After a year of turmoil both on and off the ice, Gainey is hoping this group can help the Habs get back on track.
"I think in the last year, there were a lot off-ice issues that I really don't know anything about but it seemed like that was definitely a distraction," Gill said. "Montreal is obviously a pressure-cooker and I know what that can be like from playing in Toronto. So we have a chance to form a new identity here and gel as a group and that's an exciting opportunity. Obviously the allure of playing for such a prestigious organization and in that environment was huge too. I'm really excited and looking forward to this opportunity."
Of course Gill was able to make the best of a huge opportunity in Pittsburgh last season and parlay that into his new two-year, $4.5 million deal in Montreal. Gill and former teammate Rob Scuderi formed arguably the best shut-down pair in the playoffs helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup and increasing both their values as evidenced by the four-year, $13.5 million deal Scuderi was able to land with the Kings.
"Playing with Scuderi, we helped each other out a lot," Gill said. "We knew our role and knowing your role, you keep it simple and know your job. You're more successful as a team when everyone knows their roles and is able to go out and get it done, so I thought we had great chemistry all around and were able to show what we can do."
Signing a new contract was obviously one of the highlights of his summer, but nothing was better than his day with the Stanley Cup. Gill brought the Cup back to Nashoba Regional High School in his native Bolton and threw a Cup party with his family and friends.
"It's a surreal thing, you know?" Gill said of winning the Stanley Cup. "You dream about it happening so much and to finally have it happen is a really nice feeling. You want to share it with so many people: your former coaches, my agents, my friends and family. They were all able to be there and it was really cool to have the people that helped shape you as a person and player experience that with me."
Gill admitted that when he won the Cup, he also thought of former teammates and what it would have been like to share the experience with them.
"You learn so much when you go through the years and you think of all the guys you played with like Ray [Bourque] and Joe [Thornton], and you definitely wonder 'What if?'" he said. "I really think that 2004 team we had before the lockout … I thought we had a great chance to maybe go far. That was such a great roster, but we lost in the first round to Montreal in seven games. That 2002 team, as well, we had a great team then but we just couldn't get it going in the playoffs. But that's the way it goes and obviously you take whatever chance you have at it and make the best of it."
Gill admitted it will be a bit weird coming back as a member of the Canadiens team that ended those two playoff runs. But he is a Hab now and is ready to taste the rivalry as one.
"It's definitely going to be interesting coming back as a Canadien, but that's my team now and I'm excited to help them turn things around," he said. "It's been a while since I was a Bruin, though, so it's not like it's the first time."