The Best Laid Plans

By Bob Trask – Late last season, Kent Hughes, then new general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, embarked on his journey of rebuilding the team. While there were a lot of changes behind the scenes, it was his forays into the trade market that caught everyone’s attention. Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen and Brett Kulak were all moved in trades that brought a return to the Canadiens beyond most of our expectations. The assignment of Carey Price to the LTIR also opened the door for the Sean Monahan trade that not only brought the big center to Montreal, it brought a first round draft pick. Similarly, Shea Weber was dispatched to Vegas for Evgenii Dadonov.

Straw into Gold

Everything Hughes touched seemed to work out well for the Canadiens. Fans were expecting more of the same at this trade deadline. Joel Edmundson, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Evgenii Dadonov and maybe a couple of other veterans were candidates to be moved at the deadline or earlier as teams scrambled for playoff spots. The crown jewel was expected to be Monahan. If he could bounce back, another first round pick could be in the cards.

The Wrath of the Hockey Gods

But the hockey gods did not want to make it easy for Hughes. The health status of two prime trade candidates, Edmundson and Monahan, remains unknown, making their value at the trade deadline almost nil. Hoffman and Dadonov have not played to their capabilities and those kinds of results will not appeal to playoff bound teams. Neither will the performance and health of Joel Armia and Drouin

It has to be disappointing to Hughes to see almost nothing work out in his favour this year. His expectations, and those of the fanbase, were not unrealistic. Give a few veterans a chance to show their worth and then given them an opportunity to participate in a Cup run by trading them to a contender. The expected returns ranged from late first round picks, to second round or later picks and to some reasonable prospects. It looks like none of that is going to happen. Santa dropped a chunk of coal in Kent Hughes’ Christmas stocking this year.

The best laid plans of the Montreal Canadiens seem to have gone awry.

What’s Next

We are left to wonder what the next move will be, if there is a next move. Josh Anderson seems to be in demand and perhaps there is some interest in Christian Dvorak but it remains to be seen whether Hughes wants to part with either of these players. Beyond that, most of the players are either young and part of the future or completely unwanted by other teams because they bring little to the table or have contracts that no one wants.

Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes

It is not out of the realm of possibility for the Canadiens to watch the trade deadline pass without making a single trade. We should brace ourselves for that and the subsequent firestorm on Twitter. Experts and critics would come out the woodwork but if the shoe was on the other foot, what would they give up to acquire injured and/or underperforming veterans. It’s harsh reality that circumstances have not unfolded the way Kent Hughes or anyone else expected.

The consolation is that the Canadiens have eleven picks in the upcoming draft and with some high priced contracts due to expire, they will have more cap room than last year to pursue free agents. Changes to the roster are still coming but they will take a little longer than most of us hoped for.

Status of Veterans

The big elephant in the room is Sean Monahan. Will he return to health? Would he re-sign with the Canadiens on a “show me” contract? If he did, would the Canadiens be tempted to move Christian Dvorak over the summer? If he isn’t back with the Canadiens, do the Canadiens hang on to Dvorak for at least one more year?

Hoffman and Armia are two more names on which decisions have to be made. Will they be back on the roster next year in the hope that one or both will rebound and have some value on the trade market a year from now, will either or both be traded over the summer or will either or both be bought out? At this point it is impossible to predict which way the Canadiens will go because every move made has some influence on what the next move will be.

The situation with Edmundson is very similar to the of Hoffman and Armia. We’ll probably have to wait until the summer or even training camp next September before we know what the plans for the big defenseman are.

The manner in which Kent Hughes deals with these veterans has an impact throughout the organization. The more of them who return for another kick at the can, means fewer opportunities for young prospects to break into the league. If fact, it could mean that some very good prospects may have to begin the year in Laval until some players issues are resolved at the NHL level. Juraj Slafkovsky and Sean Farrell are two names that immediately come to mind.

The Ultimate Wildcard

The final wildcard is the outcome of the draft lottery. If the Canadiens hit a home run (Bedard) or even a triple (Fantilli) it could change the entire dynamic of how Kent Hughes proceeds over the summer. While it is highly unlikely, stranger things have happened in the NHL this year.

Patience Required

As frustrated as fans are, Kent Hughes has to be even more frustrated but it is certain that he continues to work on every possible avenue to improve the Canadiens. It may push back the desired results by a year but practicing patience is a better approach than trying to rush the process. After all, the goal is to build for long term, sustainable success rather than to pursue short term fixes at the expense of the future.

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3 thoughts on “The Best Laid Plans

  1. You have the whole nut in a thingshell with this article Bob. All we can do is pray for a miracle Bedard pick, wait for Hughes to pull a rabbit out of his hard hat and accept both the circumstances and the final outcome. This team will improve, it’s just a question of how much.

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