MONTREAL– Members of the First Line, the Canadiens’ official adult fan club, had a chance to grill former Habs defenseman and current NHL senior vice president of player safety, Stephane Quintal, and Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin, as part of the final Q&A session of the 2014-15 season.
Up first on Saturday afternoon, Quintal handled questions regarding his role as the league’s head disciplinarian, playing on both sides of the Habs-Bruins rivalry and the 17 seasons he spent patrolling various NHL blue lines. Here are a few highlights from “Q”’s time in the hot seat.
Stephane, we recently saw a player, Steve Montador, pass away. In that vein, have there been developments in discussions with general managers about concussions and hits to the head or equipment to help minimize those injuries. Will the equipment become softer or safer?
STEPHANE QUINTAL: We’re working with engineers right now to try to get shoulder pads to a point where they offer the same protection to the player, but without being as hard. Sometimes the shoulder pad just hits a player’s jaw and that’s where we see concussions. We want to keep the same protection but want to make sure they’re a little smaller and more fitted to the shoulder.
After suffering a concussion recently, Sergei Gonchar talked about respect. Is that still the main problem with NHL players, a lack of respect?
SQ: I don’t think so. I think there are some players who are on the verge of either playing in the NHL or the American League and they come in and they play three or four minutes a game and need to do something on the ice and those are the players you have to watch for. But sometimes I look at a game, and last night was a good example, where there’s a defenseman who has the puck, he knows a guy is coming and he turns his back. That drives me crazy.
My question has to do with when you were a player. In a previous Q&A session, Chris Nilan talked about being from Boston and playing for Montreal and then going back to Boston. I’m wondering what your experience was being from the Montreal area playing for Boston and then coming home to play for the home team?
SQ: Boston was really great for me. I was 19 years old when I got to Boston and I didn’t speak a word of English. Harry Sinden was the GM back then and he put me up with a family and they taught me English. They’re like my second parents. The four years I spent in Boston were great. It’s a really nice city and a great organization. I really appreciated my years there…but I like it more here.
How long do you spend deciding if something merits a suspension?
SQ: There are some that are really easy, but usually there’s a lot of discussion. There will often be someone who thinks it should be four games and someone else thinks five and another guy thinks three. We’ll debate a lot about one game. In the end, I’m the one who makes the final decision. There are a lot of precedents and comparable to look at and a process to follow. It’s important that I’m consistent in the decisions I make.
Following his friend on stage, Bergevin took some time away from pre-trade deadline wheeling and dealing to field a variety of questions from First Liners – although he was never far from his cell phone during the 30 minute Q&A session. The Habs GM openly answered a bevy of questions, from his take on how the team’s young stars are progressing for how he handles information leaks during trade talks.
It’s a busy time now in the final days before the trade deadline. I know you can’t give away too many secrets, but what can you tell us about the infamous trade deadline day?
MARC BERGEVIN: I can tell you that the trade deadline is on Monday, March 3 at 3:00 p.m. in Montreal and noon in San Jose. (laughs) That’s about all I can tell you.
If you’re discussing with another GM about the possibility of a trade and somebody in the other organization opens their mouth and starts leaking out information that trade talks are going on and it becomes fairly public, would that be enough for you to back off and say, ‘You know what guys? Forget it.’ I know on the human side, you like to advise the player before making it public.
MB: That’s a very good question. It does bother me. The reason is that, yes, these guys are paid to play hockey and they play wherever the teams send them, but there’s also a human side. A lot of these players have families and kids and you can only imagine a nine or 10 year old kid here in Montreal hearing in school that his father’s name has been thrown out there for a trade. I think it’s tough for them. It’s not fair and it affects too many people so I like to keep things quiet. It’s not something I do because I like to control everything; it’s about the feelings and emotions of people involved. I wouldn’t say I would kill a deal because of it, but it will let me know moving forward that I have to watch who I talk to. At the end of the day, my job is to make the Montreal Canadiens the best I can and if I feel a player on that team can make us better, I have to do my job. It’s something I would have to address with that organization after to make sure things don’t leak in the future.
With the big contract P.K. Subban received this year, we saw he had a tough start he had to the year. How much pressure is there for a player to prove he’s worth the contract he’s given?
MB: Players shouldn’t be judged by their contracts because at the end of the day, I’m the one giving them the contracts. If fans are unhappy about a contract, they should be unhappy with me, not at the player. Every player goes through tough times. Even Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, has gone through periods where he wasn’t scoring many goals. It’s a tough league. Even though P.K. had some ups and downs early on, I think his game has gotten to the level we know he’s capable of and he’s raised his game where he helps us win hockey games every night. Any player – Max [Pacioretty], Pricer [Carey Price], [Brendan] Gallagher – they all have times that are tough because the other team is trying to shut them down and temas focus on your better players. You look at a guy on the first line like Patch, and he’s playing against the best defensemen on the other team every night. If Michel moves a guy from the second to the third line, it doesn’t mean he’s being demoted; it’s helping him because he’s got an easier matchup. You won’t face the Charas of the world, you might face a third defense pairing and it will help you.
Stephane Quintal said he calls GMs to have players call him for disciplinary reasons. I’m wondering as a GM when you get that call, besides notifying a player, is there anything else you do?
MB: I’ll tell the player that Stephane will be calling shortly so he knows it’s coming, but I’m not part of the discussion between Stephane and the payer. I’ll know what he’s talking to the player about. When you’re in touch with Stephane it’s usually not good news. Stephane is a good friend of mine and I’ve known him for a long time, but I’d prefer not to get calls from him. (laughs)
It must give you some satisfaction seeing the progression of young guys like Jacob De La Rose and Alex Galchenyuk this season.
MB: It’s fun to see our kids playing well. You mentioned De La Rose. Nathan Beaulieu has taken big steps forward, Thomas brings a lot of energy, Gallagher who plays the same way every night. It’s great to see your young players progressing like that because it’s a lot easier to go get players from Hamilton than it is to get them from other teams.
For more information about future First Line Q&A sessions, or to register for the First Line, visit firstline.canadiens.com.