Glaring Needs Facing Gorton and Hughes

By Bob Trask – Every team has holes to fill in their line-up but when your team sits at the bottom of the NHL standings, it’s easier to find huge gaps needing to be filled. Take a look at the roster of the Montreal Canadiens and two glaring needs become obvious. One is a center who can take some of the offensive burden off the shoulders of Nick Suzuki; the other is an upgrade on RD. In order to give a clearer picture, let’s break it down by position.


In an ideal situation Suzuki would be the team’s 2nd line center at this stage of his career. He would attract less attention from opponents as they focused on the team’s 1st line center. In this role, he could continue to mature and develop his skills with the goal of eventually becoming the team’s #1 center.

The departures of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phil Danault created a void that Marc Bergevin attempted to fill with Christian Dvorak. Unfortunately he is more to a 3rd line role than a 1st for 2nd line role. Jake Evans was initially slotted for the 3rd line role but has bounced all over the lineup. Ryan Poehling was thrust into mix after an excellent start in Laval combined with a handful of injuries and Covid related absences in Montreal.

Throw in Cedric Paquette, Matthieu Perreault and Lukas Vejdemo into the mixing bowl for good measure.

The result has been a muddled picture with one center suited to a 2nd line role, some to 3rd or 4th line roles, and a couple serving as placeholders until a better solution can be found. Everyone seems to be playing a position that is one level above where they should be.

Left Defense

It may seem strange to begin the discussion of the weakness at RD by talking first about LD. But approaching the topic in this manner serves to bring the entire situation on defense into sharper focus.

Even if Ben Chiarot is traded the Canadiens look relatively deep on LD… maybe not spectacular but deep.

That depth hinges on a return to health for Joel Edmundson. Along with Romanov, the top 4 pairings on the left side would be set with a handful of players with varying experience and skill sets vying for the 3rd pairing job. The names range from Kaiden Guhle to Corey Schueneman with a few others in the mix.

Becaus it would be a 3rd pairing position it would not be the most difficult postion to fill.

Right Defense

The right side is a different story.

Jeff Petry

Jeff Petry is having a sub-par season. Whether it is because he is in over his head as a 1st pairing defenseman, because he is on the downside of his career or because of other factors is hard to say. Perhaps the best solution, if possible, is to slot him back in on the 2nd pairing

David Savard has also struggled and could maybe benefit from dropping down from a 2nd pairing to a 3rd pairing d-man.

The rest of those who have filled in on the right side have been a mixed cast of characters ranging from low end free agent signings, waiver wire pickups and others. Chris Wideman is the only right shot among the group which includes undersized defensemen whose offensive contributions have disappointed and whose defensive play is sporadic at best.

Filling the Holes

Number one centers and 1st pairing defenseman don’t grow on trees. You can draft and develop them and that takes time or you can trade for them but that costs a king’s ransom in assets. The third option is the UFA market but attracting a free agent to a bottom dwelling team in a high tax jurisdiction is unlikely.

Objectively speaking the Habs have a solid #2 center, a couple of #3 centers and a handful of role players at that position. The situation is similar, if not worse, on RD. In Petry they have a player who is probably best suited to 2nd pairing and in Savard, a player who is probably best suited to a 3rd pairing. The remainder are hopefuls and pretenders.

Adopting a plan to first become respectable again before becoming a legitimate contender, might mean that the team foregoes a search for a true #1 center and a true 1st pairing RD. The alternative may be a situation where the team looks for someone to share those 1st line and 1st pairing duties with Suzuki and Petry.

This approach would allow the responsibilities to be shared rather than relying so heavily on a player not quite ready or not quite suited to the role they have been tasked with.

The change is also subtle. In the case of defense, Montreal wouldn’t be replacing their current 2nd pairing defenseman with one who may be slightly better. They would be adding a 2nd pairing defenseman who would bump everyone down to less demanding roles. The improvement could be greater than than thought at first glance.

While all this is happening the team can continute to draft and develop talent that will eventually fill those hard to replace positions.

In the System

Ryan Poehling

The list of centers in the system that could fill in as a 1B or 2A center is pretty short… in fact, it looks like no one is quite ready. Ryan Poehling seems to be the closest but looks like he best fits as a #3 center. The same could be said for Dvorak. Ideally they would serve as the #3 and #4 centres on the team.

A pleasant development would see Poehling perform over the next couple of months and put himself into contention.

Number 1 or 2 defensemen whose strong side is the right side might be even rarer. Josh Brook may or may not recover fully from his knee injury and if he does, he needs to be worked in on the 3rd pairing before graduating to anything higher.

The short term solution does not seem to be waiting in the system.

The Trade Market

You aren’t going to fill either one of these positions by trading a bunch of spare parts. Any package would have to include current players and/or prospects that you really don’t want to part with.

That means names like Carey Price, Jake Allen, Ben Chiarot, Brendan Gallagher, Tyler Toffoli, Jonathan Drouin, Arturri Lehkonen and Mike Hoffman would have to be in the discussion. Because the position of RD is already weak, it may mean that Jeff Petry’s name would be off the list… unless the Habs were overwhelmed with an offer.

Those kinds of players are more likely to be the targets of Cup contenders or bubble teams. They are unlikely to give up a key piece of their current roster and diminish their playoff chances in doing so. If one or more veterans are traded to fill those two holes, the return would have to be a high end prospect currently playing overseas, in the minors or in the amateur ranks.

The Canadiens may also have to prioritize which prospects they want to keep and which they are willing to include in a trade. For example, there isn’t room for all of Guhle, Romanov, Struble and Xhekaj on LD. Can one be included in a trade if a player of equal talent but at a different position is available.

Any draft picks accumulated would be with an eye on the future… 3 to 4 years down the road.

Perusing the depth charts on Cap Friendly can give you a good idea of the talent that exists at each of the positions.

The UFA Market

Succeeding in this market would required all the powers of persuasion that the Canadiens management team can muster. Selling their vision to a prospective player is a Herculean task given the team’s current struggles and the tax disadvantage of playing in Montreal.

And even success in the UFA market would come at a price. Because Montreal is already tight to the cap, at least one or two big contracts would have to be jettisoned in order to make room for the new addtions.

The same names that were mentioned in the Trade Market segment would apply here. However, if one or two free agents were signed, the focus in any off-season trades could shift more heavily but not completely to draft picks.

This approach is a gamble because opportunities at the trade deadline may not exist in the off season. In addition players that management may have on their list of possibilities could re-sign with their existing club or any other team of their choosing.


For all of these reasons, the Canadiens may favour the trade market as the best way to solidify the team for the short term while allowing the pipeline to develop.

That could begin before the trade deadline and culminate at the draft table. If the management team demonstrates a clear vision of how they wan the team to develop and couple that with astute moves, the Canadiens could become a palatable destination for a free agent or two.

As we wait for the new management team to be name, the possibilities about how the roster will be filled out are endless. Only time will tell how it unfolds.

In the meantime Habs fans are left to speculate about trades, check depth charts of opposing teams, watch the list of pending UFAs and dream about high draft picks.

More reading…

Round Table – Kent Hughes, New Habs’ GM

The Road to Respectability and Success by Bob Trask

GM Announcement Coming Soon, But Narrative Won’t Die

Round Table – Kent Hughes, New Habs’ GM

There you have it folks. The search is over. After firing Marc Bergevin and hiring Jeff Gorton as VP of Hockey Operations at the end of November, they have finally found their new General Manager. Kent Hughes has apparently beat to the wire Mathieu Darche and Daniel Brière as Gorton’s right-hand man.

Since we’ve added some quality Contributors to the site, we’ve decided to present you with our team’s first impressions of this hiring, as a round table. Without further ado, here’s what our writers feel about the news of Hughes being hired as the Canadiens’ GM.

Bob Trask

My gut feeling is that Hughes is an astute hire. As a former player agent, Kent Hughes will have intimate knowledge about the mindset of players when it comes to contract negotiations which should put him in good standing at the bargaining table. That seemed to be a weakness with Bergevin. As a former player in the NCAA and two sons playing in the NCAA, Hughes obviously has lived and breathed hockey from that point of view as well. His experience on multiple fronts in the hockey world should serve him and the Canadiens well. He seems like a great complement to Gorton and can draw on his experience as a GM. I can see them evolving into a very strong management team.

My second impression of Hughes is that he doesn’t crave the spotlight and works diligently in relative obscurity. He is the antithesis of Patrick Roy in that regard. The focus of attention should be on the team and not the GM which is another reason this move makes sense.

Marc-André Breault

I think Hughes is the man. Gorton knew him and wanted him. I’m not one who thinks that Gorton wants to have people around him just for appearances, but rather because he wants to know and understand all of the options. At the same time, he can evaluate if he can put some of them in other positions. Hughes is from here, in Beaconsfield. He speaks French fluently and he will certainly do it.

No matter what some people think about this, he is Gorton’s choice and the team’s VP of Hockey of Operations knows better than us what he wants, what he needs. I have full confidence in him. It’s now up to them to make this team better with what Bergevin has started building since the 2018 reset.

Sylvain Perreault

It seems pretty obvious to me that Jeff Gorton had wanted to work with Kent Hughes for a long time. All that was missing was the right timing and the opportunity. I think these 2 are quite complementary in their skills and qualifications. Hard to find better fit in my opinion. Hugues is extremely respected in the industry and he will not have to put in too much effort to “make his place” in the brotherhood of GMs.

Some will wonder why were there interviews if Gorton already had a favorite? Simply because that’s always how it should be. Jeff Gorton took the time to see, hear and compare the approaches from the different candidates and in this case, probably confirmed his initial choice.

In the end, the CH has just hired a GM who will be able to bring a new perspective, both to the fans and to his staff. But the real work has only just begun. The challenges the Gorton-Hughes tandem is now facing, looking at the team’s performance on the ice could make anyone of us dizzy. Let’s give them some time… Welcome aboard the crazy train!

JD Lagrange

I have to say, Martin Madden Jr was my first candidate but it wasn’t meant to be as the Anaheim Ducks never gave the Habs permission to talk to him. Hughes came second in my books, with Mathieu Darche third. Gorton knows Hughes and they already have a relationship, a mutual understanding of each other. As he didn’t go through the first round of interviews, it is clear that Hughes was Gorton’s man and he had some convincing to do to get him to accept considering the job. When the Canadiens’ VP of Hockey Operations talked about someone complementing him, he mentioned that it could be a players’ agent. He knew who he wanted.

And no folks, because it’s not Patrick Roy doesn’t mean that Hughes is going in there as Gorton’s “puppet”, as some claim. He would have never accepted the job. So let’s give the guy a chance to prove what he can do. The nice thing about him is that he knows the league, the other GMs and certainly knows how to negotiate contracts, one of a GM’s duties.

Language debate

For those who believe politics is more important than qualification, you’ll be happy to learn that in spite of his anglophone name, Hughes is from Montreal and speaks French very well, according to VP of Communications, Chantal Machabée.

Also, some of us are old enough to remember when the Montreal Canadiens hired an anglophone from Montreal, for whom French was his second language, to coach the team. His name: Scotty Bowman. I dare say he wasn’t too bad. Let’s give the runner a chance here. Let’s cut the new management some slack and see what they do with the rope. They could hang themselves with it, but something tells me that they’ll do something good with it.

More reading…

The Road to Respectability and Success by Bob Trask

GM Announcement Coming Soon, But Narrative Won’t Die

Youth Development in Montreal by Marc-André Breault