A candid conversation with Nashville Predators general manager David Poile following the 2007-08 season, his last in the National Hockey League, gave Martin Gelinas plenty to think about.
At 38, and having undergone season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his knee a few months prior, Poile suggested it was time Gelinas start thinking about life after hockey -- at least from a playing perspective.
But the forward, coming off nine goals and 20 points in 57 games in his first -- and only -- season with the Predators, wasn’t quite ready yet.
“He asked me what I was going to do after hockey,” Gelinas told CalgaryFlames.com. “I wasn’t quite ready to move on. I thought I had more. I went to Europe. But I think it was my cue from someone I respect and someone that honest suggesting it might be time for me to start looking at other things. He wasn’t saying it was my last year, but he was asking what I was going to do. That was a good question and it started to make me think. That was my cue there.”
A year with Bern in the Swiss league extended his playing days by 27 games.
“I didn’t shut the door,” he said. “I didn’t close the door. I told him I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to play some more. When I was done, Bill Hay, who is a relative of ours, saw David a month after I was done in Europe and he told him, ‘Marty was ready to work’. I got going again.”
He did. Gelinas accepted a role with Nashville on June 16, 2009 to serve as director of player development responsible for following and evaluating prospects drafted by the Predators. Working with players at all levels throughout the organization, Gelinas assisted their maturation process into an NHL player by focusing on nutrition, off-ice workouts and conditioning, practice habits and game performance.
And in 2012, Gelinas landed back with the Calgary Flames, where he had spent parts of two seasons and a memorable run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
Back on the ice…as assistant coach to Bob Hartley.
CalgaryFlames.com had the opportunity to sit down with Gelinas and discuss his thoughts on the pressures of being a high draft pick, being involved in the biggest trade in hockey history, and his fit with the Flames:
You were drafted seventh overall to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. How do you compare the pressures of being a high pick then to what you see now in a Sam Bennett or a Sean Monahan?
There’s not much difference. Maybe there’s more pressure because fewer kids of that age will make it. Back then, we didn’t have roster limits and so on. You’ve got to remember when you’re 18 years old, you have to have a skill set to play but you’re playing against men and playing against guys making a living and trying to put food on the table for their families. It’s a different mind set. It’s almost survival. There’s so much to learn when you’re 18-years-old. It’s a different league. What got you there is one step. What will keep you there is a different story. There’s a lot of learning for those kids. They’re there because they’re so good and they learn quick. We’ve got some great young kids in Bennett and Monahan.
What do you remember of your first NHL camp?
For me, it happened pretty quickly. I went from Midget CC to Midget AAA to Major Junior to the NHL. In four years I went from the CC-level to the NHL. It happened quick. It’s a blur. It happens fast. I was lucky. I stayed there until Christmas, had a chance to learn at that time in Edmonton. There were so many great leaders. As a young guy I was just lucky without knowing it, just by watching the older guys practice and behave in the room, their leadership, I learned quick.
What was it like being part of a trade that involved Wayne Gretzky at such a young age?
Right after my draft, that same summer, I got traded. It was a little bit of a shock. It was a little bit of a disappointment to start because I was going from a team where I had a chance to play right away to walking into a dynasty where I chance of starting was pretty slim. I ended up staying there and making a bit of an impact as an 18-year-old staying until Christmas. It was a shock when it happened, a little disappointment. I was thankful after that that it did happen. I came and got surrounded by great leaders.
At the time is there a shock in being traded for the best player in the game?
At first nobody believed it when they talked about it. I remember I was working at a hockey school and someone came to me and said ‘you’ve been traded for Wayne Gretzky’ and I had a chuckle, and people around started saying I had been traded for Gretzky. You didn’t see that back then. I always say it was a one-on-one (trade) for Wayne Gretzky….but I was just a draft pick going from one team to another. It worked out pretty good for myself.
What is winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the Edmonton Oilers like as a teenager?
It was awesome. I was 19 years old, going on 20 years old. I was just a young kid. My job was really to bring energy and excitement on the ice. We were called the ‘Kid Line’ with Murphy and Adam Graves. Down 3-1 the first round, they wanted to change things up and put the three young kids together and tried to spark things up and we sure did. It got the older guys going, brought a line full of energy that chipped in offensively. Murphy, remember, had a lot of good skill and Gravy was just a bull. We complimented each other pretty well. It was so much fun, that run. Game after game, the excitement that built was incredible. Anytime you go far in the playoffs is exciting but even more so when you win.
How did that excitement compare to the run in 2004 with the Flames?
That was exciting, but I didn’t really know what that meant. You want to win. You want to be part of it and this is the Stanley Cup. As you get older you realize how hard it is to make it happen and how competitive the league is. When I had a chance in 2004 to go back to Game 7, you really cherished every step of the way.
Was it in?
I thought it was. When it happened, I looked down and thought, ‘Wow, that’s in’ and I’m thinking they’re going to phone down right away. The puck bounced off his pad and went the other way. My nature is I’ve got to track back, got to backcheck thinking in the back of my mind they would phone down (to review). If I had to do it all over again, I’d throw my arms up and jump a little bit, still backchecking but at least show them that it had gone in.
Did the ‘Eliminator’ nickname for you ever resonate? Did it stick?
Some people once in a while will say it. Its kind of fun, but it was just in that playoff run that it did happen.
What’s the hardest part about making the transition from playing to coaching?
You feel in control when you’re a player. You can change the momentum of a game. You can make an impact right away. As a coach, you can talk about it. You can draw a map or a plan, but you’re not the one doing it. That’s the toughest part. You prepare. You make sure their process is all done, but at the end of the day they’re doing it and it’s tough to watch sometimes.
What made Calgary a good fit for you in terms of going into coaching?
Calgary is home for me. I was lucky enough to transition from playing to player development in Nashville. How do you become a coach? That was a nice transition, and then being in Milwaukee (AHL affiliate) in Nashville and spending some time on the bench and with the coaches, that was a good fit. Are you ever ready to be a coach? I’m not sure. I’m pretty lucky. I’m in a good place with Bob learning quite a bit. Calgary was a nice fit because it was home, my kids are here, everybody’s here. This is where I’ll end up after it’s all said and done. It was a good fit for me.