Danault not going to let contract concerns affect play with Canadiens

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Phillip Danault said he’s learned his lesson and won’t let concerns about a new contract affect his play with the Montreal Canadiens this season.

The 27-year-old center is entering the final season of a three-year, $9.25 million contract (average annual value of $3.083 million) that he signed July 15, 2018 and can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

“I’m not going to make the same mistake as I did two years ago before I signed my [current] contract,” Danault said Tuesday after being named recipient of the 2019-20 Jean Beliveau Trophy, awarded annually to the Canadiens player deemed to best exemplify leadership qualities in the community. “I was putting too much pressure on myself. I always put pressure on myself anyway. So, I’m going to be the same player. I want to get better. I don’t want to waste a year just thinking about this. I want to get better this year.”

Danault scored 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 52 games in 2017-18, with the next contract weighing on him.

He said that won’t happen this season, even though there have been no negotiations on a contract extension with the Canadiens.

“It’s still at point zero,” he said.

Danault scored 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) in 71 games last season when he primarily played center on the first line with wings Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Danault slid down the depth chart to third-line center, behind emerging youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 10 games.

“I don’t know if I’m ready for this, honestly,” Danault said at the time. “I love producing offensively and have enjoyed my role the past two seasons. I don’t know if I want to limit myself to a specific role, which would only be defensive. I don’t think I will get better by playing just defensively. I’ve seen my role change during the playoffs but with what I’ve proven in the last few years, my role shouldn’t change in Montreal. I’ve demonstrated that I am capable of playing both defensively and offensively.”

On Tuesday, Danault clarified those comments.

“I never said I want to play first-line center and be like ‘the man’ every game,” he said. “I want to get better offensively and defensively. I want to do both. I don’t want to be sitting in one chair and stop getting better every year. So, that’s what I want to say.”

Danault said he’s happy with Montreal’s busy offseason, highlighted by a six-year contract extension for Gallagher, a four-year extension for defenseman Jeff Petry and the acquisitions of forwards Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, defenseman Joel Edmundson and goalie Jake Allen.

“I’m really excited about the team,” Danault said. “I think (general manager) Marc [Bergevin]did some really good moves. And I think everyone should be excited, if there’s a season. So, it’s a good thing in front of us. And you can tell Marc wants to win.”

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