Former Habs defenceman Mathieu Schneider guested on Mitch Melnick’s program on Friday over Team 990, giving a wide-ranging interview that touched on his career in Montreal, the death of his former Vancouver teammate Rick Rypien and the recently concluded NHL Research Development and Orientation Camp where new rules were tested.
Schneider played for the Canadiens at the outset and also near the end of his 21-season NHL career, breaking in with Montreal briefly in the 1987-88 campaign as an 18-year-old before sticking the following year. He played five and a half season for the Habs, was on the 1993 Stanley Cup champions and the team that lost in the finals to the Flames in 1989. He scored 20 goals from Habs the blue line in 1994-95, adding 32 assists in his best season in Montreal.
While he was playing for a poor Atlanta team in 2008-09, GM Don Waddell asked him if he’d like to be traded and where; eventually Schneider said he would and Montreal was on the top of his list. Two weeks later, Waddell accommodated him. “That’s gonna be one of the best memories of my career, when I came back to Montreal. I was so excited to be back,” he told Melnick. “I couldn’t imagine being more excited than playing in the old Forum, but they’ve just done a great job there. The fans are tremendous, better than it’s ever been, I think.”
Schneider was injured in early April, 2009 but had 17 points in 25 games and was a highly effective power play specialist teamed with Andrei Markov on the points. He was limited by injuries to only two post-season games for the Canadiens that spring.
Retiring after the 2009-10 season, Schneider is now a Special Assistant to NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. Among his responsibilities is sitting as a non-voting member of the NHL-NHLPA Competition Committee. He had a long history of involvement in the NHLPA when he was still skating, serving as a player representative on the NHLPA Executive Board eight times, as vice president of the Interim Executive Committee, as a voting player member of the Competition Committee and as a member of the Executive Director Search Committee.
There is some thought that because Schneider has a very friendly relationship with his former teammate in Detroit, Brendan Shanahan — who is now an NHL executive — the course of NHL-NHLPA relations might be less rocky than in the past, that Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be able to use these former players to foster a spirit of cooperation, help iron out CBA issues between labor and management and reach common ground on how the game can move forward and become more safe without compromising its competitive integrity (points made earlier on Melnick’s show by Pierre McGuire).
Schneider agreed with that optimistic sentiment. “Things are headed in that direction more and more,” he said. “Brendan and I were good friends and teammates and we see a lot of things the same way and I think that helps as well.”
Because of Derek Boogaard’s death earlier in the offseason and other early deaths of NHL enforcers like Bob Probert and former Canadien John Kordic, there’s a line of thinking since Rypien’s death that fighters are more predisposed to suffer from depression and other emotional problems (here and here, for example). Melnick asked Schneider if he agrees with that.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he answered. “And it’s funny, because typically the guys I played with who were the enforcers throughout my career have been loosest in the dressing room, the funniest guys, the guys you just look to and count on. Great guys in the room. And they seem like the guys that are least likely this would happen to I’ve found in the past.”
In any case, Schneider added, Rypien had been portrayed inaccurately in the recent accounts of his career, saying he was more than a fighter and there was a lot more to his game. “He was an extremely talented player and I think that’s being overlooked a little bit as well.”
Schneider said all players know they have access to the NHLPA/NHL Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program 24/7 from the day they enter the NHL. “It’s helped an awful lot of guys in this league. I’ve had friends that have used it for death in the family, someone to just talk to, and I know it’s gotten most publicity for alcohol and drug abuse, but it’s there for so many different purposes, whether it’s just problems at home and obviously a case like this as well, so I don’t know if there’s anything else that could have been done.
“But at the same time, it’s important that we examine if there’s something else that could have been done and if so, what?. Can we use it to learn from and possibly help players in the future?”
For his thoughts and observations on the NHL’s RDO Camp, you can jump to my SI.com blog post reviewing last week’s activities, which includes all of Scheinder’s relevant comments.
Schneider calls Fehr, “just a tremendous person. One of the most intelligent people I’ve ever come across in my whole life.” Asked what is so impressive about Fehr, he says, “He uses a lot of common sense. Things that you think, ‘Oh, yeah. We should be doing all along. Why didn’t I think of that?'”
Another attribute of Fehr Schneider finds noteworthy is that “he engages everyone. He gets opinions out of everyone….Whether it’s a guy who’s been in the league 25 games or a guy that’s been in the league 15 years, he gets stuff out of them and that’s something I’ve never seen anyone in that position able to do, going back to Bob (Goodenow). And Bob was great; I was a huge supporter of Bob Goodenow, but he wasn’t able to draw guy’s opinions out the way that Don can.”
Telling Melnick he was “extremely grateful for the opportunity,” to work for the NHLPA, he said he hasn’t had any problems adjusting to not being on the ice any longer. “It was one of the easiest decisions when I finally decided to hang ’em up. I haven’t looked back since. I played long enough.”
Melnick offered the Schneider must be proud to have been able to be a factor as an NHL player into his 40’s.
Schneider answered with a chuckle, “Well, I guess some people would argue with that.”
The entire interview can be heard on the Team 990 website.