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Habs chairman Molson meets players to explain why he went public against league

Geoff Molson is shown during a news conference on December 1, 2009 in Montreal. The Canadiens chairman Molson has met privately with his players to explain why he went public with criticism of the National Hockey League. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Geoff Molson is shown during a news conference on December 1, 2009 in Montreal. The Canadiens chairman Molson has met privately with his players to explain why he went public with criticism of the National Hockey League. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

BROSSARD, Que. - Montreal Canadiens chairman Geoff Molson has met privately with his players to explain why he went public with criticism of the National Hockey League.

The team owner made a rare visit to the locker-room at a team practice Monday to discuss the incident involving Boston's Zdeno Chara and Habs forward Max Pacioretty.

It was his first chance to meet with the players, who returned from a road trip amid controversy over the decision not to issue a suspension over Chara's hit.

Molson explained to the players why he issued a public letter last week in which he blasted the league and said safety must become a top subject at the ongoing general managers' meeting.

"The visit was very much appreciated," coach Jacques Martin said afterward.

"This was a chance for Geoff to provide the players with information. He first of all told them how troubling he found the situation and, after that, explained the process that led him to address the fans (in the letter)."

Molson's visit to the locker-room came two days after Don Cherry, in his "Coach's Corner" TV segment, blasted the Habs owner.

The veteran commentator said Molson should have apologized to his players for the dangerous Bell Centre glass, instead of going public with complaints about the league.

Molson did seek to reassure his players Monday that safety improvements were coming to the Bell Centre.

He laid out some of his proposals for making the game safer. Those ideas included replacing the notoriously rigid glass surrounding the Habs' home rink.

The team says it's been planning for months to replace that glass—but says it can't proceed because it's awaiting league approval.

The hit on Pacioretty did not occur on the area of rinkside glass that has been the subject of player complaints.

Chara, the Bruins captain, smashed Pacioretty into the stanchion separating the team benches in a hit that left him with a concussion and fractured vertebra.

The hit resulted in no fine or suspension.

Molson's letter to fans, which denounced the NHL decision, is what earned him a public scolding from Cherry. Last Saturday night, the flamboyant commentator said Molson should have apologized to his players about the glass instead of running to the media.

The chairman did discuss the glass when he visited his players Monday. But to hear the Habs tell the story, the issue is a little more complicated than the way it was presented by Cherry.

"Five other teams use the same glass as us," Martin said after the owner's visit.

"We are all ready to go ahead with their replacement—but we're awaiting the league's approval. The new glass will be an improvement, compared with what exists elsewhere."

The Habs had already announced plans to replace the rink surroundings after one of the team's top forwards, Michael Cammalleri, publicly expressed his loathing for the Bell Centre glass last fall and compared bodychecks there to being smashed into a wall.

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