By JD Lagrange – I went back and watched Kent Hughes’ press conference of July 14th and one thing that I find fun about watching and listening to him is something he shares with his predecessor, Marc Bergevin. He will say what he can say, sometimes a big more than Bergevin, but both men were/are experts at dropping hints. Whether it’d be on the way they provide the answer, or with a wink or a smile.
So here’s what I’ve deducted from the press conference. For one thing, he spoke mostly about Jeff Petry and the trade situation. For that reason, that’s what we’ll focus on today.
Still working or is he done?
It is clear that Hughes has irons in the fire but he’s playing chicken with his counterparts. From what he’s saying, the Canadiens’ GM fully intends on keeping his veteran defenseman if teams don’t come up with a fair offer.
“We’re still working”, answered Hughes. “We’re talking to certain teams about Jeff Petry. It was a priority for us to trade him if it made sense for us too. If we’re going to trade him, we need to gain some cap flexibility which is something important for us, and get players or prospects to help us get better in the future. We’re not ready to keep salary in a trade for Jeff Petry at the moment. We don’t want to take a bad contract back and we don’t want to have to give up prospects or picks to take Jeff Petry.”
When asked about the trade market these days, with players like Max Pacioretty, Ryan McDonagh, Brent Burns bringing very little to those teams, what makes him think that he can make a better trade for Petry than those teams? It was a simple and clear answer.
“Because we believe that our interests are better served by keeping Jeff Petry than by making that kind of trade. Either the trade is there or we keep him in Montreal and we’re happy to keep him.”
In other words, Vegas, Tampa Bay and San Jose had to clear some cap space. The Canadiens don’t feel like they must do so or if they do need to, they have other options available other than by giving one of their best assets with little or nothing to show for.
But how is the market for him?
It was interesting to note that if the Canadiens really wanted Petry gone, or if they absolutely had to, he would be gone by now. So either Hughes is genuinely okay with bringing him back or he’s trying to wait as long as possible, hoping to maximize the return… or both.
“We can accomplish a trade”, said Hughes. “We had trades available to us yesterday. I guess at the end of the day, it’s about finding that trade that makes sense for the Montreal Canadiens. If we’re able to find it we’ll do it. If not, Jeff is going to have to return to Montreal and play here. We love him as a player. I think that he loves everything about Montreal other than the complications from the family perspective. So we’ll continue to try, it’s not something that has to happen today or tomorrow. It can happen in a week, it can happy in a month and we’ll continue to work in that regard.”
Type of return expected
The Canadiens’ GM was asked a few times about what it would take to make him pull the trigger in a trade and aside from the old cliché of being willing to keep him, Hughes got more specific.
“There is more than one way for us to accomplish what we need to accomplish in that trade”, he said. As I’ve stated all the way along, we’re not gonna do that trade until it works for us as well.”
“If we’re trading Jeff Petry it will created another hole in the back end that needs to be replaced in terms of a right shot defenseman”, added Hughes. “We’re pretty inexperienced group as it is. I’ve said all along that the decisions that we make, we also want to be able to protect our young prospects. We want to put them in situations where they can be successful and if that includes having to spend time in Laval, we want that opportunity for all of that. So doing a Jeff Petry trade is also looking at what’s still available in this market that we’re comfortable with. If we can’t find it then it becomes part of the trade.”
This must be creating some frustration for the rookie GM, right? After all, he has other things to work on aside from trading that one player.
“I don’t want to say that it’s frustrating because I understand the situation. Listen, I have three kids of my own and I would like to put them in the right situation for them as well so I can certainly respect what Jeff wants. Absent from his family situation, we’re not trying to trade Jeff Petry. We think we have a pretty good defenseman here who helps our team be more competitive and who will help our young players learn and grow into a point where they’re able to take Jeff Petry’s minutes and take that role away from him when Jeff moves on. It’s probably putting us in a situation where we’re spending time trying to do something because of the circumstances that otherwise we wouldn’t be working on at all. Having said that, it is what it is. We’ll try to accommodate but we’ll only do that where it works for everybody.”
The Klingberg effect
Arpon Basu had a very good question and I’m glad someone asked it. He put Hughes on the spot when asking if the Jeff Petry situation is being held up by John Klingberg in any way? Basu was looking for a simple yes or no answer and it certainly got Hughes thinking as he took a long pause before simply saying:
“Hummm… Not necessarily.” Then he chuckled.
It seems like there is a tie between Klingberg still out there not having signed and Petry being traded. My question, based on recent rumours, is wondering if both are related to Montreal… He was asked about Pierre-Luc Dubois and smiled when asked as well. Could he be negotiating with Klingberg, and working on something with the Jets? Nah… probably not, right? He’s not that sneaky. Wait… he did pick Juraj Slafkovsky at the Bell Centre in spite of the overwhelming support for Shane Wright. And he did complete two trades the night before and waited after the first pick was made to announce it. Can’t be, right?
One thing is for sure, is when you truly stop and listen to Hughes, he’s not a GM trying to tank, or thinking of winning in three or four or five years. I wants to improve his team and if he has a chance to accelerate that process, rest assured that he will do it. And he sees Jeff Petry as an asset to help him do just that. Last but not least, it goes hand in hand with what Jeff Gorton has done with the New York Rangers.