HabsTracks – 2023 Year End Edition

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By JD LagrangeHabsTracks is a review, retracing the current hot topics. Today, we’re summing up the Canadiens’ exit interviews, the future of Jonathan Drouin, Sean Monahan, Paul Byron, and some potential acquisitions, amongst other things. Please feel free to comment and share with your friends.

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The Canadiens’ season is finally over and it couldn’t come soon enough. Their record sits at 31-45-6 for 68 points, last in the Atlantic Division. Only the San Jose Sharks (60 pts), Chicago Blackhawks (59 pts), Columbus Blue Jackets (59 pts) and Anaheim Ducks (58 pts) had a worse record than the Canadiens this season in the entire NHL. Montreal finished 28th overall in the standings, giving them the 5th best odds for the number one pick at this year’s NHL Draft.

2.77 (26th)3.72 (29th)16.1 (29th)72.7 (29th)27.3 (30th)33.6 (28th)
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President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton met with the media and addressed a couple of points. For one thing, he is pleased with the development of some of the team’s young players. He has made a correlation between this Habs’ team and the New York Rangers.

Asked about the rumour that circulated a few days ago to the effect that he was bored and wanted to land an General Manager’s position elsewhere, he laughed it off as bogus and made up. Gorton is happy and staying put with the Canadiens.

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Gorton also hinted strongly that the Canadiens will be looking at improving themselves to accelerate the rebuild process. If you take Gorton’s words and combine them to Elliotte Friedman’s statement, I don’t know how people can still deny that Pierre-Luc Dubois will be a target for the Canadiens this summer. And that promises to displease some people in the “tank nation” for sure…

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One of the young players who took full advantage of the Canadiens’ countless injuries this season is Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. He finished the season with only one fewer goal (14) than Flames forward Jonathan Huberdeau (15). Harvey-Pinard did it in 34 games, while Huberdeau needed 79 games. Let that sink in…

He has also been on fire since being sent back down to Laval to help the Rocket qualify for a playoffs’ spot. The future is bright for this young man.

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One of the pleasant surprises this season is, believe it or not, a player that the Canadiens picked off waivers early this season. Johnathan Kovacevic has played 77 games this season for the Canadiens. He leads the team amongst defensemen in games played this season. Next on the list of games played by defensemen is Jordan Harris with 65 GP.

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Nick Suzuki finished the season with a career high in goals (26) and points (66). He leads the Habs in both categories. Second is Kirby Dach, with… 38 points. The Canadiens must stay healthy and find secondary scoring for next season!

Slick Nick also won the 2022-23 Molson Cup. It is fair to say that the concerns that some people had about the added pressure placed upon him by making him the franchise’s youngest ever team captain has not affected him one bit. Suzuki stated being in regular contact with the Canadiens’ former captain, Shea Weber, from whom he has learned the ropes from.

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Kirby Dach had a career-high in goals (14) and points (38) this season. He did it in only… 58 games. He really took off when Martin St-Louis placed him on right-wing, on the Canadiens’ top line with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. And when Sean Monahan went down to injury, Dach returned to center with a new found confidence.

The beauty of it all is that he’s only 22 years old and has plenty of room to improve, something he acknowledges, according to Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes.

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There is a very strong indication that Jonathan Drouin has played his last game in a Montreal Canadiens’ uniform. Catalogued as Marc Bergevin’s worst trade, Drouin was never able to do his GM justice in six seasons with the team.

Many feel like Drouin was saying this to be politically correct, but he didn’t close the door to re-signing with the Canadiens. The pending UFA will be able to find work somewhere in the NHL, but it likely won’t be anywhere close to his current cap hit of $5.5 million.

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Paul Byron: “I’m 34 years old and there are times I can barely walk for 30 or 45 minutes…” Byron has had hip surgery and says being in pain when he attempts to skate. While he has not put a definite cross on his playing career, he figures that he will likely make a decision in the next few weeks.

Byron has stated that he would like to stay with the Canadiens in a different role. Stay tuned, as he is a very smart and well liked individual. He was an alternate captain to Weber prior to getting hurt.

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Sean Monahan says that in hindsight, he regrets playing on a broken foot and that compensating for that foot has led to the groin injury that required season-ending surgery. He states that he really wanted to play that game in Calgary against his former team but in retrospect, it wasn’t the right decision.

Surprisingly enough, Monahan states that he hasn’t played enough games at the Bell Centre and would like to return as he sees a bright future for this team. He acknowledges that he won’t be offered the type of money he had on his last contract, but he isn’t concerned about finding work in the NHL.

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Brendan Gallagher is a warrior, we all know it. No one puts his body through as much as this guy does during a game. And now, it’s starting to catch up to him. He broke an ankle blocking a shot early in the season. He came back too soon and broke the same ankle again.

The Canadiens must do a better job protecting their players against… themselves.

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Kent Hughes did address injuries. For a second season in a row, the Canadiens lead the NHL in man-games lost to injuries and illnesses. When it happens one season, you can claim bad luck. Two years in a row, you have to start re-evaluating why that is. And that’s exactly what Hughes is planning on doing. “We can have all the greatest plans in the world, but if we don’t find a way to improve what is going on from a medical standpoint, we will never build a winner here. It’s definitely frontline for us“, said Hughes.

The NHL has so much parity that missing a few key pieces can make the difference between winning or losing any given game. And as the cliché goes, every point is important in a season.

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Since the injury to Carey Price, the Canadiens don’t have a starting goaltender. Both goalies have performed like a backup goalies this season, with Samuel Montembeault having a slight edge over Jake Allen. Although it must be said that for the first part of the season, Allen was given the tougher matchups, as shown in this November article.


I did come up with 5 options for an upgrade in net for the Canadiens, a position that must be improved in the off-season if they want to contend. They cannot make the same mistake as the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Since acquired by the Canadiens, Josh Anderson has scored 57 goals in 190 games. That’s an average of 24.6 goals per 82 games. He finished the season with 21 goals in 69 games this season, so another 20-plus goals season for the Power Horse.

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David Savard won the Jacques Beauchamp Trophy as the Canadiens’ unsung hero this season. Viewed by many of the team’s young players as a leader, he has played a role of number one right-handed defenseman that is really not his, with the departure of Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. Kaiden Guhle has spoke all year how Savard is helping him out both on and off the ice.

Also, Alex Belzile is the Canadiens’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Award. The 31 year-old not only scored his first ever NHL goal, but he finished the season with six goals and 14 points in 31 games this season. Perseverance has sure paid off for Belzile.

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With the season over, we can finally stop hearing about tanking, at least for this year. With the Canadiens finishing 28th overall, they find themselves with the fifth best odds of getting the first overall pick, Connor Bedard.

We can see here how flawed the NHL system is though. The Habs have zero chance of getting the third or fourth overall pick. Their reward for not fully tanking? They get better odds at picking sixth overall than they do at their current ranking… Who thinks those odds in the NHL offices? A trained monkey would do better!

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The Laval Rocket went on a crazy run at the end of their regular season, winning nine of their last 10 games, to qualify for the last playoffs’ spot in their division. They were led by Cayden Primeau in goal, while newcomers Emil Heineman and Jayden Struble made their AHL debuts. After a long stint in the NHL, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylönen were sent back down to Laval and were key contributors as well.

Hughes and Bergevin – Differences and Similarities

By JD Lagrange – Reading social media, there is no doubt that many fans had grown tired of Marc Bergevin, for multiple reasons. Most of it started back on June 29, 2016, when the former Canadiens’ GM showed more guts than an antilope being devoured by a pride of lions in Africa, daring trading fan favourite P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. And the disgruntled grew from there, to the point that after just over nine years, they finally got their wish and he was let go.

The goal here is not to determine Bergevin’s legacy as we’ve touched on that in the past, and in more than one occasion. No, today, I want to talk about the man who replaced him, in one of his duties at least, the GM position. That’s right, let’s talk about some comparatives between the former GM and the new one. And before jumping to the conclusion that there are no similarities between Bergevin and Kent Hughes, let’s look at what we’ve learned from the former players’ agent first.

But before we get into the meat and potatoes, let’s just remember one important thing. We saw two versions of Bergevin over the years. We saw the inexperienced GM who inherited a team and tried to “win now”. Then, since the summer of 2018, we saw a GM who followed a “reset” plan, accumulating draft picks and trading for young assets. Also, it is a fact that Hughes is starting with a huge advantage over Bergevin, if only by looking at the depth chart of the team today in comparison to what Bergevin inherited.


For the differences, we might have to include the implication of VP of Hockey Operations, Jeff Gorton, as that was also part of Bergevin’s job. It’s difficult to draw the line between what is a Hockey Ops or GM decision at times.

Media relationship

There is no doubt that the biggest difference sits in the hiring of Chantal MaChabée as the new VP of Communications. Although the finger should be pointed to the other Geoff (Molson) for that hiring, it is a stunning difference. Bergevin was a no nonsense type of guy and the members of the media on a witch hunt were put in their place in a hurry. Personally, I loved that but obviously, the media didn’t and Chantal coming from that side of the business is making sure that even the bad ones are treated like the good ones.

But her role goes beyond that. She is making players, coaches, even the GM available and fans like that. She is also preparing the players, coaching them a bit about the media, encouraging a more positive relationship. That’s a plus.

Player development

The second biggest difference is in the player development. Although from reading social media, the honeymoon stage seems to be fading out with the controversy raised by the decision of keeping Juraj Slafkovsky in Montreal, which fans claim resembles decisions made in the Bergevin era. We’ve read the words “ruining first round picks” more than a few times since then.

But the Canadiens are definitely committed to focus on better developing their own. The hiring of Adam Nicholas and Marie-Phillip Poulin are only two examples of that. Even head coach Martin St-Louis is taking a patient approach with the young players on the ice. Older folks like yours truly, who have seen others before, will warn you that this is easily done when there is no pressure to win, and that will definitely change when the expectations change too. But so far, so good.

Focus on skills

Well, yes and no. I truly feel this is a misconception, as every team, every GM, is looking for skills. But I’m putting it here because it seems like many fans think that it’s a difference between the two management styles. Those who hated Bergevin’s gut will point out to the focus on size and grit, or character as Bergevin pointed out in the past, to claim that he was putting that ahead of skills. It wasn’t the case and we will touch on that further in the similarities.

Some will even point out to the selection of 5-foot 8-inches defenseman Lane Hutson to support their claim, but conveniently forget that Bergevin (and Timmins) selected Cole Caufield (how can anyone forget?). And there are other examples, such as Xavier Simoneau (5’6”), Rhett Pitlick (5’9”), Rafaël Harvey-Pinard (5’9”), Sean Farrell (5’9”)…


If we remain unbiased, we will notice a lot more similarities between the two regimes than some may want to admit.

Size matters
Juraj Slafkovsky

The first thing we noticed with Bergevin is that he didn’t like to see his players being pushed around, or intimidated. He attempted bringing grittier, bigger players throughout the years. Many didn’t pan out, but others like Weber, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson certainly did.

Hughes drafted Juraj Slafkovsky first overall and you have seen the behind the scene videos, it became clear that his size was one of the determining factors. But it goes beyond that. If you look at the size of the players he has brought in through trades so far, most have size. Hughes has admitted that while he has nothing against smaller skilled players, he wouldn’t want “a small team”. That’s Bergevin-like.

Trades for youth

Admittedly, Hughes has had it easy so far in that department. Any GM will tell you that it’s much easier to blow things up for picks and prospects than it is to trade for established, proven players and adding to a roster to win. That will come soon enough for the new GM.

But since 2018, that’s what Bergevin has been doing, although while trying to remain competitive. In what perhaps was his worse big trade, he did get a young Jonathan Drouin. He also manage to get a young Max Domi, then a somewhat young Josh Anderson. Hughes got Kirby Dach and Justin Barron so far, in the same line of thinking.

Accumulating picks

Much like his predecessor (since 2018), Hughes understands the importance of building through the draft and he has been trading for more picks, or assets like Sean Monahan and Evgenii Dadonov, which could bring more picks at trade deadline. As mentioned above though, he has yet to go through the cycle, where the team is in a playoffs’ position or in a position to compete for the Cup. We shall see how that goes.

Bergevin somewhat managed to replenish the prospects and picks cupboards while building a team made for playoffs, with a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals where they ran out of gas against a team $18 million over the cap. Pundits will point to last season’s misery but the toll and devastation that playoffs’ run took on the Habs was unmeasurable.

Key waivers pick up

Bergevin picked up a few players on waivers, none more important than Paul Byron. Prior to Hughes being hired, Jeff Gorton picked up what appears to be a similarly important players off waivers in Rem Pitlick. We shall see how the claim of Johnathan Kovacevic will turn out to be.

Remains to be seen

There are a few traits that still remain to be determine, things that will come over time, when it comes to compare similarities or differences between Hughes and Bergevin.

Nick Suzuki and Shea Weber

Hughes will have his work cut out to match his predecessor’s success when it comes to getting the most out of his trades, particularly the big trades. While pundits will be quick to point to the Drouin trade, other GMs were starting to fear trading with the Canadiens because of Bergevin’s knack for winning those. The Subban, Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Domi, Weise and Fleischmann, and the list goes on and on…

As mentioned above, Hughes has done well so far with a team that’s nowhere close to contention, trading away assets at trade deadline. That’s the easy part of the trades’ job. He’s a smart man and he has displayed some patience, a good quality for a GM when it comes to trading. We can be optimistic. If he comes anywhere close to Bergevin’s track record, it would be amazing.

Contract extensions

Many are feeling that due to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher’s contract extensions, Bergevin wasn’t good at negotiating contracts, or that he was “too attached to his players”. Yet, every single GM is close to his core of players and those who aren’t don’t last long. Bergevin also had negotiated the previous contract extensions of the team’s last two 30-goals scorers, Max Pacioretty ($4.5 million, 6 years) and Gallagher ($3.6 million, 6 years). He also re-signed Jake Allen, in his prime, to take a pay cut from $4.35 million to $2.875 million. But that’s easily forgotten.

Being a former players’ agent, having his clients’ backs trying to get them the most money possible, it will be interesting to watch Hughes negotiate contracts from the other side of the fence now. So far, he has re-signed Allen, giving him a million dollars more per season than Bergevin had given the goaltender. Not bad.


As you can see, there are a lot more similarities than differences so far between the two management styles. Only time will tell how effective this current management will be but the emphasis on player development, in particular, has the potential to yield some great results.

Bergevin’s was nominated for GM of the Year, finishing in the top-3, three times. He won three division titles and his team made the playoffs in six of the nine seasons he’s been the GM. They have won a total of seven playoffs’ rounds. To put that into perspective, it is the most amongst Canadian teams. In the same time span, the powerhouse Leafs have won… 0. 

Still, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic and hopeful if you’re a Habs’ fan. But remember… many of the prospects we’ve been drooling all over so far at camp, and many of those coming in the next couple of seasons, were picks by the Bergevin and Trevor Timmins combo. It seems like the duo of Gorton and Hughes are simply continuing in a similar path, which is good.

More reading…