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Free Agent Defensemen & the Devils: Hal Gill & Rob Scuderi

In celebration of the Pittsburgh Penguins earning a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, I think it would be appropriate to take a look at Pittsburgh's unrestricted free agent defensemen.   There are three, but two are really of note (see the title).  Philippe Boucher isn't getting regular minutes with Pittsburgh and at age 35, I think it's a case of what you see is what you'll get at best.   He's a two-way veteran defender who would best fit on a third pairing and the Devils have no need for that.   So let's focus on the other two: Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi.

The two-some are paired with each other on Pittsburgh's defense and have been for quite some time. Back when the Penguins were, for a lack of a better word, awful, these two defenders were a mix between comical and just plain bad,  Scuderi often didn't know what he was doing. Gill would be a lumbering man who lumbered himself out of position or into a penalty.   Honestly, when I first saw their names on the UFA list at NHL Numbers, all kinds of mental sirens went off in my head.  My internal voice was screaming, "NO NO NO NO NO NO NO" almost to a donk-like beat.   Yet, the truth is that over the years, the two have improved and they have even - get this - had solid years on defense.  My initial thoughts are mistaken, I think.

James Mirtle has taken note of the duo.  In his Rod Langway analysis, he uses Behind the Net's numbers to figure out who the best defensive defensemen are in the league.  Both not only made the list, but Scuderi was listed at third.  While Mirtle wouldn't go on to name him for a Norris, it's definitely worth mentioning and it's clear that the guys know what they are doing in their own end.

As a pairing, they have been a big reason for the Penguins' success. Whereas on paper, their weakness was on defense; the two defensemen really stepped up their game to truly shutdown the opposition.  They held Jeff Carter to 0 goals.  They limited Alexander Ovechkin from controlling the games (as that is his thing).  They were feature of a vastly-improved and on-point Penguins defense that gave Carolina very little to work with.   I agree with Hooks Orpik at Pensburgh, the two are having a great postseason.

However, I feel the Devils probably don't have the cap space to sign both of them, Also, both are defensive defenseman so it doesn't make sense to sign both Gill and Scuderi.  So let's take a look at them individually.

Let's start out with the more expensive of the two, Hal Gill.

Hal Gill

#2 / Defenseman / Pittsburgh Penguins



Apr 06, 1975

2008-09 Salary: $2.1 million

2008 - Hal Gill 62 2 8 10 11 53 0 0 0 0 40 5.0

Let's consider Gill's strengths first.  While his size is obvious, I want to point out that when he does use his size without being stupid about it.  Gill has only taken more than 100 penalty minutes once in his career and that was back in 2005-06 with Boston. Now, he's not a hit machine - only 78 in this recent season - but he does block more than his fair share of shots with 112.   Still, he's tough to play against and that's what you'd like to see in a defensive defenseman.  Also, he's already on a second pairing in Pittsburgh, so it's not as if the workload or the role would be anything new to Gill.  That has to be a plus since I'm think if he is being looked at, it should be for a #3/#4 position.

Yet, I don't think he'll be a good signing.  Honestly, if you're not big on Mike Komisarek or even Christian Backman, I don't think you would like Hal Gill in Devils red.   While he's had a great season and a strong playoff, there's a lot about his game that I really don't think would help the Devils.   For starters, he's slow.  I mean, noticibly slow.   The Devils don't really have a ton of speed on the blueline; and it hasn't been a big issue since the Devils skaters are so well versed in positioning and backchecking.  Yet, I feel Gill's lack of speed would be a detriment.  It has been noticible even in the playoffs when faced with an odd man rush or when caught out of position.   He has run into his own goalie in the slot while trying to get to where he should have been and cost Pittsburgh some goals!  His speed is that bad.

Second, there's his seemingly nonexistent offense. Forget the lack of points.  I know he's not an offensive defenseman in any sense of the word; I know the Devils already have two defensive defensemen.  But only 40 shots on net in 62 games?  The man is truly a stay-at-home defender.  The Devils don't need another player like that and if they did, there are better, possibly cheaper options than Gill.

Third, and this will apply to his partner Scuderi, there's the price. A great postseason definitely raises value and why not?  The ability to take your game to the proverbial next level in the playoffs is a very valuable skill. While Gill's not a young man anymore, there will be those who want that experience and talent to "step it up." Even if it is more of a fluke, overpayment for a strong postseason does occur (see Ryan Malone). Mirtle has noticed the pairing's effectiveness and I'm sure NHL scouts would agree.  With Gill already earning $2.1 million this year, expect the price for him to go up to $3 million or so. 

Do I want the Devils to pay that much for Hal Gill?  No.  I'd rather they spend a little more for Komisarek if they want a defensive defenseman.  I think there are better options    Or that they spend their money for his partner, Rob Scuderi.

Robert Scuderi

#4 / Defenseman / Pittsburgh Penguins



Dec 30, 1978

2008-09 Salary: $750,000

2008 - Robert Scuderi 81 1 15 16 23 18 0 0 0 0 51 2.0

Some of the criticisms I have about Gill do apply to Scuderi.  He will not bring offense to the table in terms of shots - though I am a little heartened by his 15 assists.  Plus, even before this postseason Scuderi was due for a raise for his season.  After the playoffs, that raise will become quite lucrative and it'll be a question as to whether Scuderi can continue playing like this elsewhere. 

Still, the numbers are making me excited here.  At Behind the Net, in even strength situations, Scuderi was listed as the best defenseman on the Penguins for this season.  While the shots against per 60 minutes have risen when Scuderi is on the ice, the goals against per 60 minutes drastically drop.  When Scuderi is on the bench, the Penguins allow 2.68 goals per 60 minutes. When Scuderi is out on the ice, that number drops to 1.98 goals per 60 minutes.  An improvement of 0.7 goals per 60 minutes, that is ridiculous.  This is not out of dumb luck, Scuderi faces the highest quality of competition on even strength situations on the Penguins.  All this for second pairing minutes (Scuderi averaged 19:09 per game this season).

Adding to his platitudes are his blocked shots.  Whereas Gill's 112 isn't bad at all; Scuderi has blocked 164 this season.  Despite that he doesn't have Gill's impressive size, the more mobile Scuderi gets into the shooting lanes without fear. He's not a statue either, as he has shown that he knows when to drop back or play up on a forward.  Moreover, he has been poised in the slot when loose pucks are about. This has continued in the playoffs where he has faced the best forwards from Philadelphia, Washington, and Carolina in both even strength and shorthanded situations. 

My point is that, yes, Scuderi is a defensive defenseman, but he's definitely a little better than you think.  He's a lot better than what I initially thought! And as an additional bonus, while he's due for a raise, I don't see him getting the type of money Komisarek could command.  Scuderi isn't that young at age 29 and he's a second pairing defenseman. He's not going to transform a team's defense or even lead it, but he can definitely be an important part of it working.  That would fit very well, I think, in New Jersey where he can be placed in that #3/4 spot and most likely at a cheaper cost than Komisarek. 

Of course, if Scuderi noticeably shuts down Detroit or Chicago en route to a Cup, then you can throw out any hopes of a big bargain out the window.  Still, he could be had without committing too much cap space.  He would be viable were the Devils able to keep Oduya and still wish to upgrade the defense.

Between the two, I would prefer Scuderi and I wouldn't mind if the Devils got him as it is. He doesn't have the advantage of youth that Komisarek has and I wouldn't say he's the best option among second pairing defensemen.  But he's definitely a good option as a potential signing.

Have your say in the comments about Pittsburgh's duo.  Maybe you noticed something about Gill that improve his standing?  Maybe you noticed something about Scuderi that would be a big problem in New Jersey?  Maybe I discounted Philippe Boucher too quickly? (Note: No, I didn't) Maybe you have other thoughts altogether?  Share your thoughts on these guys.