By Bob Trask – Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis are literally walking a tightrope with the Montreal Canadiens. While there is no pressure on them to win anything, or even make the playoffs, this season, there are other pressures. The team needs to be successful enough to maintain the confidence of the younger players but not so good that they forego a high draft pick.
From a player management standpoint, Hughes also needs to try to maximize the return on any veteran he may trade before the March deadline. That means balancing ice time between young players who need to develop and veterans who need to show they can still contribute in order to enhance their trade value.
Trying to juggle these conflicting goals is the challenge facing Hughes and in order to be as successful as he can in achieving all of them, I believe he will take a careful approach. I expect Montreal to continue using veterans for the next month to provide a cushion for the young players on the squad. If the youth can demonstrate their ability to continue to compete through the dog days of January, Hughes and St-Louis will be more comfortable in giving them larger roles and cutting two or three veterans loose.
It may result in a slightly poorer record over the last third of the season but that wouldn’t be a horrible thing for a few reasons.
- The Canadiens would move up in the draft rankings; something that appears to be important to a lot of people.
- Youth currently on the team and a couple of prospects in the AHL could be given a long look to see what their potential might be.
- Any prospects acquired in pre-deadline trades could be evaluated against NHL competition in much the same way Justin Barron was last year.
- And the Canadiens could open up a ton of cap space that might allow them to become more active in the UFA market this summer, something that Hughes said he would use if he could.
It all adds up to the status quo for the next month but then look for the dominoes to begin to fall. We won’t know which ones they will be until they happen but big changes are coming and, perhaps Jake Allen excepted, there will be virtually no one left from the team that made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2021.
If Kent Hughes can successfully walk this tightrope, and I believe he can, the Montreal GM will be facing a new and bigger pressure – the pressure to win.