WILMINGTON (CBS) -- Nine years ago Hal Gill reported to Ristuccia Arena for what turned out to be his last training camp with the Bruins.
Gill, who had been an eighth-round draft pick of Boston in 2003, left as an unrestricted free agent for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2006 after the Bruins debacle of a season ended with their captain Joe Thornton long gone via trade and no playoff games to speak of.
On a Bruins team that gave up 23 more goals than it scored, Gill was just a minus-4 while skating 18:37 per night through 80 games. After 626 games with Boston, Gill went on to play 482 more games. Now he's hoping his final career stats won't read 1,108 games played.
"From where I came from and what I've done, I'm happy with my career," said Gill, who did something that would be unthinkable today – go from high school hockey to college and then to the NHL. "But it's what have you done lately, and that's why I still want to play."
Gill, 39, spent last week skating at Ristuccia with several current Bruins and other with various amounts of NHL or other experience. Despite the lack of a contract for 2014-15, Gill worked out all summer as though he was going to be in a camp this fall. With things getting a little crowded at Ristuccia, he'll probably find his own ice time around the Boston area until he gets summoned.
It'd be a shame if Gill didn't find work, but the competition is stiff. Fellow veteran defensemen Derek Morris and Mike Komisarek are among a laundry list of players with tons of NHL experience that have been shut out this summer by a league that features a salary cap and an obsession with youth.
If teams are weighing whether to give Gill even a tryout shot, they consider the things he's done aside from play in so many games and win the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last season, he was in the unenviable position of being the seventh defenseman with the Philadelphia Flyers. Oddly, there weren't enough injuries on the blue line to get Gill into the lineup. He played in just six games, but earned the respect of his teammates and the Philly media, who named him their Masterton Trophy nominee for dedication and perseverance.
That's the type of character guy Gill has always been. He's the type of leader, like Chris Kelly or Patrice Bergeron on the current Bruins, who might not give off the air of William Wallace leading his troops into battle when the cameras are on, but he knows what needs to be said when a team needs a lift or guidance.
Gill is on the list of players that left the Bruins before the current renaissance hit its peak with the 2011 Stanley Cup championship who deserve credit for the lasting impression they left. The list includes the likes of Aaron Ward, Marco Sturm and P.J. Axelsson. Gill set an example for several young Bruins who either became important players in Boston or became valuable assets. He's among those that helped a teenaged Bergeron adjust to the NHL.
And on the ice, Gill's career has always been about adjustments. Long before he had to learn how to stay ready as a seventh defenseman last season, he was a 6-foot-7, slow-of-foot top-four defenseman that people said wouldn't last when the NHL came out of the 2004-05 lockout and cracked down on slower players clutching and grabbing. Well, here were are almost a decade later and he's still trucking.
"The game is changed, and everyone talks about how the game has changed, but you change with it," Gill said. "Everyone talks about the speed of the game, but the positioning in the game is important. And I think I know the game well enough and know where you need to be and try to be there before you need to panic to be there."
Gill's willing to keep adapting to any role. And there's no doubt that he'd be a great mentor on one of those teams that's committed almost entirely to young players. When that team calls, he'll definitely be ready.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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