Rebuild, reset, retool… The need for today’s society to come up with names and theories seems to be higher than ever. Gone are the days when you looked at a hockey teams and saw them and their moves for what they are. Trades, call-ups, draft picks, prospects, contenders, pretenders, suspenders… okay I made that last one up but someone will attach a hockey definition to it soon enough.
Even in his press conference a few weeks ago, Assistant General Manager John Sedgwick refused to jump into the boat of what many call “Analytics” and referred to it as information instead. Kent Hughes, a couple of days ago, used the same description for what many people desperately want to qualify as crucial in the game of hockey.
The “R” words
For years, people referred to teams losing several key veterans and going through the growing pains of waiting for their prospects to mature as rebuilding. It’s a term that is still popular today. Back then, the Pittsburgh Penguins did it when Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso moved on. The Oilers did it after Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Grant Fuhr did the same. Recently, the Ottawa Senators traded all of their costly players and rebuilt from the ground up, something the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have been doing unsuccessfully for a few years now.
But then, feeling the need to categorize some more, people started referring to teams that had come just a bit short and making some changes as “retooling”, or “reloading”. It basically meant trading away a few pieces here and there to replace them with immediate help in order to remain competitive. San Jose did it for years, as do Dallas, Washington, Colorado and St. Louis, amongst others.
Someone, somewhere, found that his team no longer fit either “R” word. So they started calling what they were doing a “Reset”. They weren’t doing a full rebuild, nor were they just retooling. They were keeping some veterans to be competitive, but focussing more on draft and development, getting younger in the process. That’s what Marc Bergevin started doing in the summer of 2018.
Since he’s been hired, and as recently as a few days ago in an interview with Eric Engels of Sportsnet – which I encourage you to read – Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes specifically insisted that he wasn’t doing a rebuild.
“I think I said this before, that in the course of rebui…not rebuilding but whatever term you’d like to give it… I just don’t believe in the term”, Hughes said. “People can associate a certain thing with a rebuild versus a reset or a retool; I think Doug Wilson was the first guy to use a different term. Reset is what I think he was using. My objective is to try to build a roster that’s going to include players who are here and it’s going to include new players coming in. But hopefully we’re going to put a team on the ice that can win on a sustainable basis. So, if a rebuild means we’re stripping everything down and trading everybody away, then no, I don’t believe we’re doing that.”
So Habs’ fans may want to call it a rebuild, it is clearly not what Hughes is planning to do. What Hughes says people associate with a rebuild is trading away just about every veteran to focus solely on youth. That’s not what he intends to do.
Continuing the reset
What Hughes is doing is continuing the reset Bergevin had started. He inherited of a team that had drafted 45 players since 2017 and 11 at the upcoming draft. He has since picked up a couple more. The only difference with Bergevin is in the composition of the team. He wants a team that plays fast. He and Jeff Gorton want a team that can skate and wants more skills in the line-up. So they’re unloading the slower players and are going from toughness to more finesse.
Hughes also has a huge challenge in front of him. He must clear some serious cap space. And that’s why you’re seeing many veterans traded or rumoured to be on the trade block. It’s not to rebuild. It’s because with the exception of Nick Suzuki, the players with the bigger contracts are all veterans. And that’s why fans get confused. Don’t fall in the trap. Hughes is wanting a competitive team starting next year. He’s focussing on already drafted young players as returns for trades.