MONTREAL— It took less than 100 seconds for a reporter to ask Phillip Danault about his contract situation on Tuesday.
It wasn’t the reason we convened for a Zoom video conference with the 27-year-old centre. Danault had been named the 2019-20 recipient of the Jean Beliveau Trophy—annually awarded to the Montreal Canadiens player “who best exemplifies leadership in the community”—and this was a chance to talk to him about the foundation he built with his wife, Marie-Pierre, and about his anti-bullying agenda.
But Danault knew the subject of his impasse with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin would dominate the conversation.
“At this moment, there are no negotiations,” he said.
And then the questions on that subject flowed steadily until we disconnected 29 minutes later.
But it’s probably for the better it went this way, because we gained some insight on how Danault has processed the events of this Canadiens off-season and how he sees his position with the team, and those insights help put a few different things in perspective.
To start with, what seems clear is that Danault isn’t going to let his contract situation get in the way of what he hopes will be the best season of his seven-year NHL career to date. And he feels some of the changes to the team are going to help him do that.
Danault said he likes the dynamic the Canadiens have up front, with depth and balance that will allow them to spread the offence through three lines, and he said he’s excited about the moves Bergevin made for goaltender Jake Allen, defenceman Joel Edmundson and forwards Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli.
“I think Marc did some really good moves, and I think everyone should be excited, if there’s a season,” Danault said. “It’s a good team in front of us, and you can tell Marc wants to win.”
On the money awarded to those new players—and the money given to Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher on long-term contract extensions—versus his own contract demands not yet being met, Danault admitted there were, initially, some feelings to process.
But he also made it clear he moved past that.
“Letting emotions get in the way of business doesn’t really work. I understood that pretty quickly,” Danault said.
And perhaps the most relevant thing Danault said was regarding the perception (based on comments he made towards the end of August) that he views himself as more important to the team than he actually is.
“I never said I want to play first-line centre and be the man every game,” Danault clarified. “The way I view things is: the day I will want to be set on a defensive role full-time, that day will be like I want to stop getting better every year. That’s the way I was seeing things. And obviously, I want to get better offensively, defensively. But I want to do both; I don’t want to be set in one chair and stop getting better every year. So that’s the thing I wanted to say, in my mind.”
As I argued back in August, if Danault didn’t feel this way, there would be no point in the Canadiens even allowing him to play out the final season of his three-year deal with them.
As for the future, Danault seems comfortable with allowing things to take their natural course.
Would the Victoriaville, Que., native like to have a contract settled prior to starting next season? Of course.
But he sounds like someone who understands that’s unlikely, and it appears he’s come to terms with that.
“I’ll be at camp. The Canadiens gave me a three-year contract (worth $9.24 million) two years ago, and I still have a year to play with the Canadiens,” Danault said. “After that, we’ll see. I really have the intention of honouring my contract and then, after that, we’ll see what the future holds.”
On the very real potential of this situation dragging on through the season and distracting him, Danault said his experience will hopefully prevent that from happening.
“I’m day-to-day in this,” he said. “I made the error three years ago when I was looking to sign … I made the mistake of treating the season differently.”
But Danault assured he wouldn’t make that mistake again, that he’s done a lot of work with a sports psychologist to ensure he’s focused on the right things.
For Danault, those things have been the extra time he’s had with his family and the work he’s done to prepare for this coming season. He said he’s trained hard, and added he’s been fortunate enough to have access to ice to skate regularly.
“I know I can bring even more,” Danault said.
And he knows the internal competition will force him to.
On the advent of young centres Jesperi Kotkanieimi and Nick Suzuki and how he’ll balance serving as a natural mentor to them (as the team’s elder statesman at centre) while competing with them for ice-time, Danault said he sees no conflict.
“At the end of the day, we’re all together in this boat and we all want to win together with the Montreal Canadiens,” he said.
“I believe a lot in those kids and I’m convinced we can help each other win,” Danault added. “They have good attitudes, and it gives me pleasure to be a mentor to them.”
The Beliveau Trophy-winner should be as good in that role as he’s ever been—both on and off the ice.