The Myth of The Rebuilding Habs

By JD Lagrange – It is amazing to read the amount of misinformation circulating on the internet. If we believed everything we read, COVID is an hoax, police forces have no training, and NHL General Managers are all liars. Why? Because WE know better. Because WE have done our little bit of research in a quest to find even just a little something that supports our beliefs, ignoring the facts, or downplaying them as insignificant, just because they go against what WE think.

Here’s the deal about the Montreal Canadiens. Recently appointed GM Kent Hughes has said numerous times that he doesn’t believe in having to go through a rebuild with the team he’s inherited from Marc Bergevin. He told reporters to call it what they want but he doesn’t like the word “rebuild” because it comes with pre-conceived ideas.

What’s a rebuild?

We need to clarify, for the sake of too many people, what an actual rebuild truly is. A rebuild is not much different that in the construction industry. It’s stripping a building down to the frame and structure, and build it again from the ground up, from some framing, electrical to plumbing, roofing, drywalling, etc. In terms of sports (in this case hockey), it’s doing what the Ottawa Senators have done and the Detroit Red Wings have been doing. It’s doing what the Buffalo Sabres have (unsuccessfully) been trying to do. What the Pittsburgh Penguins did from 2002 to 2006 when they selected first overall twice, second twice and fifth once during that time span. What the Toronto Maple Leafs did from 2012 to 2016. Those were rebuilding teams.

So as Hughes said, call it whatever you want. Bergevin called it a reset back in the summer of 2018. It’s trying to remain competitive while piling up draft picks, developing your own young players (which takes time), surrounding them with quality veterans but the goal is to be competitive and even make the playoffs in the meantime. That’s what Hughes wants. At least, if we listen to his words, that’s what he says he’s trying to do. You want to compare to another organization? Look no further than Jeff Gorton’s old team, the New York Rangers. They didn’t rebuild.

Some people feel like because they have traded veterans like Ben Chiarot, Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen, it serves as undeniable proof that the Canadiens are indeed rebuilding in spite of what Hughes claims. That is simply not true, in my humble opinion. They get confused because the only similarity between a rebuild and a retool is the emphasis on drafting and developing. Take Hughes’ words for what he says but put them all together this time. You’ll see.

Faster team

What do I mean? Hughes – and Jeff Gorton before him – have also said wanting to have a faster team, a more skillful team. A team that plays at a faster pace. Of the players that were traded, while not necessarily slow, none of them are known for their speed.

Hughes also said wanting a more modern defense, with good skaters. Chiarot is not a bad skater… for his size. But he’s also not a speedster either. And he was a pending UFA on line for a big raise, on a team that doesn’t have cap space. Plus he fetched an excellent return. Those moves are to change the style of players, not necessarily because they were “old”.

Yeah but Jeff Petry…

Jeff Petry

Jeff Petry is a whole different story. The reason why they are trying to trade him is at his own demand. He’s the type of player, of defenseman, that the Canadiens’ brass wants. It’s for family reasons that Hughes is willing to accommodate Petry. They would keep him if he wanted to stay.

Further, in his post-season press conference, Hughes has clearly said that if or when he trades Petry, he wants to replace him with an equal quality right-handed veteran defenseman. If the Canadiens’ GM was rebuilding, he wouldn’t do that, particularly not when trying to shed some major cap space… or if he wanted to finish last again. Would he?

UFA market

Another thing to add to what Hughes has been saying is that he is planning on being aggressive on the free agents’ market. Whatever it looks like remains to be seen, but a GM in a rebuilding phase wouldn’t be suggesting that. Let’s be real here. The Habs’ involvement in the UFA market will obviously depend on how much cap space Hughes will be able to shed in the off-season, prior to free agency. But the intent is the same regardless: improve the on-ice results immediately.

Goaltending situation

Last but not least, another point to add to dismantle the “rebuild” narrative is what Hughes has said about the goaltending situation just recently. Faced with uncertainty regarding the future of Carey Price, Hughes has hinted that this off-season, he might have to find an alternative, an insurance policy in case Price can’t go next season. Wouldn’t a rebuilding team be happy to have Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault or Cayden Primeau in net?

Conclusion

So folks, put it all together here:

  1. While they had a God awful season with tons of bad luck on the injury front, the Canadiens clearly aren’t trying to tank. Not this year, not next season, according to the speeches from the team’s GM and Vice-President of Hockey Operations.
  2. They are clearly not doing what Ottawa, Detroit and Buffalo are doing, or what Pittsburgh and Toronto did before them, by trying to string a series of bad seasons to get higher picks.
  3. The veterans traded at trade deadline were to shed salary, get assets in return and didn’t quite fit the style of play they are trying to change to.
  4. Jeff Petry being the exception as while if does fit the style, he’s the one wanting out. Hughes is planning on replacing him with a similar player.
  5. The Canadiens are planning on being players on the UFA market, far from a rebuilding team’s mindset.
  6. Hughes is planning on getting help, insurance in the event Carey Price can’t play next season.

Hughes and Gorton aren’t rebuilding, no more than Bergevin was rebuilding either. All of those moves are to get better next season. The new duo is simply continuing what their predecessor started, a reset through the Draft while trying to get back to the playoffs. So let’s stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes. things into narratives and take Hughes’ words for what they are: transparency and him wanting to return to being a competitive team, while changing the style of play and making room under the salary cap.

They preach transparency, something fans and media have been praising them for. Well, they’re either transparent, telling the truth, or they’re not by so-called “lying”. You can’t have it both ways!

More reading…

The R-Word Not In Hughes’ Vocabulary

Rebuild, reset, retool… The need for today’s society to come up with names and theories seems to be higher than ever. Gone are the days when you looked at a hockey teams and saw them and their moves for what they are. Trades, call-ups, draft picks, prospects, contenders, pretenders, suspenders… okay I made that last one up but someone will attach a hockey definition to it soon enough.

Even in his press conference a few weeks ago, Assistant General Manager John Sedgwick refused to jump into the boat of what many call “Analytics” and referred to it as information instead. Kent Hughes, a couple of days ago, used the same description for what many people desperately want to qualify as crucial in the game of hockey.

The “R” words

For years, people referred to teams losing several key veterans and going through the growing pains of waiting for their prospects to mature as rebuilding. It’s a term that is still popular today. Back then, the Pittsburgh Penguins did it when Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso moved on. The Oilers did it after Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Grant Fuhr did the same. Recently, the Ottawa Senators traded all of their costly players and rebuilt from the ground up, something the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have been doing unsuccessfully for a few years now.

But then, feeling the need to categorize some more, people started referring to teams that had come just a bit short and making some changes as “retooling”, or “reloading”. It basically meant trading away a few pieces here and there to replace them with immediate help in order to remain competitive. San Jose did it for years, as do Dallas, Washington, Colorado and St. Louis, amongst others.

Someone, somewhere, found that his team no longer fit either “R” word. So they started calling what they were doing a “Reset”. They weren’t doing a full rebuild, nor were they just retooling. They were keeping some veterans to be competitive, but focussing more on draft and development, getting younger in the process. That’s what Marc Bergevin started doing in the summer of 2018.

Kent Hughes

Since he’s been hired, and as recently as a few days ago in an interview with Eric Engels of Sportsnet – which I encourage you to read – Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes specifically insisted that he wasn’t doing a rebuild.

“I think I said this before, that in the course of rebui…not rebuilding but whatever term you’d like to give it… I just don’t believe in the term”, Hughes said. “People can associate a certain thing with a rebuild versus a reset or a retool; I think Doug Wilson was the first guy to use a different term. Reset is what I think he was using. My objective is to try to build a roster that’s going to include players who are here and it’s going to include new players coming in. But hopefully we’re going to put a team on the ice that can win on a sustainable basis. So, if a rebuild means we’re stripping everything down and trading everybody away, then no, I don’t believe we’re doing that.”

So Habs’ fans may want to call it a rebuild, it is clearly not what Hughes is planning to do. What Hughes says people associate with a rebuild is trading away just about every veteran to focus solely on youth. That’s not what he intends to do.

Continuing the reset

What Hughes is doing is continuing the reset Bergevin had started. He inherited of a team that had drafted 45 players since 2017 and 11 at the upcoming draft. He has since picked up a couple more. The only difference with Bergevin is in the composition of the team. He wants a team that plays fast. He and Jeff Gorton want a team that can skate and wants more skills in the line-up. So they’re unloading the slower players and are going from toughness to more finesse.

Hughes also has a huge challenge in front of him. He must clear some serious cap space. And that’s why you’re seeing many veterans traded or rumoured to be on the trade block. It’s not to rebuild. It’s because with the exception of Nick Suzuki, the players with the bigger contracts are all veterans. And that’s why fans get confused. Don’t fall in the trap. Hughes is wanting a competitive team starting next year. He’s focussing on already drafted young players as returns for trades.

More reading…

Petry Could Be Traded Post Trade Deadline

What Hughes Said And Didn’t Say Speaks Volume

Podcast Episode 1: Ben Chiarot Trade, Rumours and more…