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.
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.