Hughes Early List of Things to Do

By JD Lagrange – Due to mostly factors out of his hands, Canadiens’ General Manager Kent Hughes was unable to accomplish what he would have liked to do at trade deadline. And for that reason, it simply added to his workload for the upcoming off-season. Of course, he won’t have to worry about Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin and Sean Monahan, who are all set to become UFAs on July 1st. But there are plenty of other items on his agenda.

In a recent interview with NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun, Hughes was realistic about the work ahead of him and the timeline for his team to become a constant threat in his division, or in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s hard to pinpoint in certain ways because it’s not just what we do but what others do. There’s obviously a group of teams in our division and in our conference that are going through the same processes us, be it a Buffalo, Ottawa or Detroit; and then you’ve got a group of teams that have been there, the Tampas of the world, the Bruins of the world, that all the teams that are coming up are going to have to push out. So I kind of look at it less from “when will we be there?” but more what we need to do before we feel that we have that kind of team. Listen, I think it’s going to be another two, three years… but again, we’re hopeful we have opportunities to trade for good, young players like a Kirby Dach, instead of using a draft pick for it. We’ll try to do that, and that’s kind of a way to expedite the timeline. But we won’t go sign a 28 year-old or 29 year old to a long term deal at this point in time to be that much better next season.” ~ Kent Hughes

I have decided to rank what I consider to be his top-5 issues to address after this awful season is over. As always, this is only one man’s opinion and others will disagree, or have the items in a different order… and that’s okay.

1- Medical staff and PROCEDURES

One unlucky season with multiple players out with long term injuries, an organization gets a pass. But the Canadiens shattered the record with over 700 man-games lost due to injuries and illness last season, and will be at the top of the NHL again this season.

Worse, is how many players have been either mis-diagnosed or have missed A LOT more time than originally planned. Again, if it’s a one-off, it’s one thing. But it started in 2015 when Carey Price played 12 games and was originally supposed to be out a few weeks. They kept pushing it back week to week, month to month, until they shut him down. It was followed by Shea Weber was allowed to keep playing on a broken foot, which he broke the very first game of the season, only to create permanent damage and was shut down after 26 games. It ultimately contributed to his early retirement.

And do I need to get into the past two seasons? Joel Edmundson’s back… Paul Byron’s hip… Sean Monahan’s mystery injury(ies)… Kirby Dach’s virus which turned into an injury… and it goes on… A deep look into the staffing, diagnosis and creating new policies is crucial to not only the success of the team going forward, but avoiding risking the Canadiens’ players’ careers.

2- Goaltending

The Canadiens cannot move forward with two backup goaltenders in Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault. They are building something very nice at every position so far, with tons of good young players coming onto the team and top-end prospects who will be joining in the next few years. Kent Hughes must be pro-active and avoid the mistake being made by the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, in having a team ready to contend, but unable to take the next step in big part because of their inability to find suitable goaltending.

I’m personally not ready to give up on Cayden Primeau just yet and right now, he’s one of the main reasons why the Laval Rocket is making a strong push for a playoffs’ spot. He needs a bit more developing and time before making a decision. But as a 7th round pick, he remains a project. In fact, all of the Canadiens goaltending prospects are projects at this point. All are later rounds draft picks.

It appears like Carey Hart could become available and if I’m Kent Hughes, I’m all over the Flyers on this one. There are many reasons why Hart could be the solution in net for the Canadiens for years to come. But if not Hart, the Canadiens must trade for one. They cannot wait to develop another goaltender as that would take years to do.

3- Pierre-Luc Dubois

Of course, as long as he’s not signed long term elsewhere, you cannot downplay the possibility or the interest the Canadiens might have towards acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois. We have already demystified his so-called “attitude” myth. We have also gone into much details as to why the Canadiens should NOT wait for him to become a UFA.

So if the Canadiens are going to acquire him, this upcoming summer will be the time to do it. A 6-foot 2-inches, 214 lbs gritty center, who puts up about a point per game at 24 years of age, no one can claim that the Canadiens “don’t need him” and be taken seriously. Imagine a center line of Suzuki, Dubois, Dach… All young, all entering the prime years of their career.

4- Crucial NHL Draft

One cannot talk about the upcoming off-season without talking about the NHL Draft, at least not when the team is currently sitting 28th overall in the standings. Stating that this year’s Draft is crucial to the future of this team would be an understatement for sure. Whether or not the Canadiens are lucky enough to win the Lottery Draft two years in a row remains to be seen. Of course, Connor Bedard, along with the prospects drafted and traded for since the 2018 Reset, would turn this franchise around immediately.

But there are other names out there of players who could step in and help. I will leave those names to my colleague Bob Trask, who follows prospects a lot more than I do. But my understanding is that this is a very deep draft both on talent and numbers. As it stands right now, the Canadiens are set to speak 11 times at this year’s Draft.

5- UFA market

There are people out there who strongly believe that this rebuild will last a couple more seasons after this one. That always makes me chuckle as those people are basing this on what THEY would like to see and not on what KENT HUGHES is actually saying. Every time Habs’ management is asked, they don’t use “rebuild”. They talk about progression. And every time, they talk about getting players who are closer to making an impact at the NHL level, ahead of getting more draft picks.

Hughes even mentioned, last year, that he was wanting to improve the right side of his defense through free agency. He was said to be after John Klingberg back then. There is another very good pending UFA who fits the bill this upcoming summer in New Jersey Devils’ Damon Severson. He would be a huge improvement over David Savard whom, bless his heart, has played all season in a chair that’s not his, as the top right-handed defenseman on the team.

Whether it’s Severson or someone else, rest assured that Hughes will be looking at the free agents’ pool, or at teams looking at shedding salary as he did with Monahan last summer.

BONUS: Caufield’s contract

I didn’t put this one in the top-5 simply because it’s not a need, but rather a want. But obviously, extending Cole Caufield, who will be entering the final year of his Entry Level Contract next season, will have to be a must. Personally, I have no concern about this being done. Cole loves Montreal and Montreal loves him.

The Myth of Accepting Defeat

By JD Lagrange – Perception or reality? Each individual has his or her own perception of reality. The implication is that because each of us perceives the world through our own eyes, reality itself changes from person to person. While it’s true that everyone perceives reality differently, reality couldn’t care less about our perceptions.

According to José Théodore (and a few other people), the Canadiens’ players and coaching staff are too comfortable and too accepting of their team losing. They see the coaches and players smiling and having fun so to them, that behaviour means that the organization accepts defeat with a smile instead of getting upset about it.

Based on that, the question is to know if the perception matches the reality. In order to do that, let’s look at a few factors:

  • Montreal finished dead last overall less than a year ago. What were the expectations of winning coming into this season?
  • For the second season in a row, the Canadiens will finish with the most man-games lost to injuries (including to key players) in the entire NHL.
  • The Habs started the season with four rookies on the blue line, and for a big portion of the season, five of their six starters on defense were rookies.
  • Jake Allen was acquired from the St. Louis Blues to be Carey Price’s backup. Due to Carey’s injury, he has been forced into a starter role that is really not his.
  • The past two seasons, the Canadiens have lost their best two right-handed defensemen in Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. David Savard has played all season in the wrong chair as the team’s number one RD. We can all admit that he’s not a top pairing guy.
  • Samuel Montembeault was a waiver pick-up, so he was sent to the AHL. He’s done better than expected, but he is not a consistent, proven NHL goaltender. Certainly not a starter.
  • Pending UFAs Jonathan Drouin and Evgenii Dadonov didn’t play like guys playing for a contract next year.
  • Brendan Gallagher (injuries) and Mike Hoffman did not have a good season.

So let me ask you this… Considering all of the factors above-mentioned, what should be the expectations of winning for this team? I think that even José Théodore and company will be smart enough to acknowledge that they are slim to none.

Admittedly, that’s not what they’re debating however. They don’t like to see players smile and feel like the team takes losing lightly. I get that. I do feel that it’s a choice that they are making, by remaining positive.

With such a young team, trying to develop young players on the fly, Martin St-Louis and Kent Hughes have decided to not panic and instead of snapping at a team that’s not supposed to win, they remain positive. You see, the people in charge have chosen to focus on progress, and they’ve said so in many occasions.

Sitting players, benching them after mistakes, focussing on the negative, the mistakes – which come with young players – and by punishing them, they would remove the fun in the game. That would create a negative energy in the dressing room, which wouldn’t be conducive to learning and playing together as a team.

Now if the team was supposed to be a contender, I would fully agree with Théo and those who don’t like players accepting defeat. Force is to admit that not only isn’t it the case, but by keeping a positive environment to develop and build on is, in fact, the best strategy… for the time being, under the current circumstances.

People can rest assured that when the pressure of winning is turned on, we will see a slightly different approach from all involved. The mistake right now is to mistake their behaviour with “not caring” or “being complacent in defeat”. It’s truly not the case. Most of these guys have learned under Shea Weber and Carey Price and no one hated losing more than these two.