The Montreal Canadiens continue to surprise – on the ice and from the front office. The veil of secrecy around the team has been a complaint by many for several years. Now, under new general manager (GM) Kent Hughes, it has taken a 180-degree shift. The new regime provides information on a variety of subjects often. It has also been consistently and refreshingly honest. Obviously, there is a limit on what they provide the media, but there isn’t any doubt that what he does provide has been the truth, and if he is unable to answer, he has been clear that he can’t and why.
With the Canadiens on a mini-break, Hughes went back to Boston to visit family, but to also take in a couple of NCAA games where some Habs prospects (and likely also his own son) were playing. During that time, he met with Anthony Martineau of TVA Sports. In it, he provides some insights that confirm some aspects of the current rebuild underway in Montreal.
Canadiens’ Rebuild Timeframe
“Rebuild” is a word that Hughes has never used to identify his plans. But maybe he should, because the word construction is a word muttered with obscenities to anyone who drives through Montreal and its never-ending road construction. As the Canadiens’ season has gone on providing far more success than expected, there has been some concerns from sections of the fan base that want to draft as high as possible this season. They also question if perhaps management is rushing the process of the rebuild in a way that was last seen under Marc Bergevin in his first full season as the GM.
Hughes has never given a timeframe for this process towards building a contending team that could bring Montreal its 25th Stanley Cup. He also takes all of the online and media chatter in stride, and his comment makes it clear that even though the team is doing better than expected right now, he isn’t going to adjust his process quite yet.
“We want to do this (rebuild) the fastest way possible. But we want to remain patient and make well thought out decisions. We don’t want to make any moves that could negatively impact the future of the club”– Kent Hughes
His cool and calm approach in the media should give the fan base some reassurance in his ability to not panic under the pressure or rush his decisions.
Canadiens’ Surprise Season
The Canadiens holding a record above .500 (11-9-1 for 17th overall) at the quarter mark of the season is a surprise to everyone, even Hughes. But for those wanting a high draft pick can remain calm, there is still lots of hockey left this season as the Habs haven’t had to deal with a parade of injuries or a dip in the quality of their goaltending thus far this season. Both situations are highly possible to happen this season and make a direct impact on the final standings.
The good news is there are several solid prospects in the pipeline. Prospects such as Owen Beck, Justin Barron, and others are coming near to being NHL-ready and could fill essential roles. Hughes points out one fan may not think of, likely because he plays in Europe, Adam Engstrom. Selected in the 2022 third round, the 6-foot-2 left-handed defender is an offensive-style defender. He boasts a highly mobile game that is built on his offensive awareness but isn’t a slouch in his defensive game either.
He does look to be a long-term project, but the upside of a second-pair puck-moving defender is there. Engstrom and the other prospects named above point to the value of draft picks outside of the top 10. Keep in mind also that Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield were also selected outside of that range. All of that proves that the value of the pick isn’t always the value of the player. Hence the reason why development is a major focus of the current management team.
Canadiens Hunting for 1sts
Despite having a very large and deep prospect pool, the Canadiens are still looking to add more quality prospects. In the upcoming 2023 Entry Draft, the Habs hold 11 picks, two of which are in the first round. Despite that wealth of picks, Hughes and executive vice president Jeff Gorton are on the lookout to add another first-round pick this summer. Why? Because the 2023 draft class is expected to be elite, even rivaling the 2003 Draft as one of the best draft classes in NHL history.
Hughes’ comments confirm this point of view. He states “it’s a great draft. We have good young prospects in the organization but it’s important to add to that with more quality players who could play with them in the future”. This means he will have to sacrifice something worthwhile in a trade, and soon. Additioanlly, his trades will be more about adding a quality return than simply creating cap space. Therefore, veterans such as Joel Edmundson and Josh Anderson will not only be highly sought after by contending teams, but two names Hughes must make available to anyone willing to pay the high asking price it would take to land one.
Another name that is much more likely to move is Sean Monahan, who has had a bounce-back season so far, playing a second-line role and producing at that level. Having been paid a first-round pick by the Calgary Flames, just to take on his contract, if Hughes can add another in trading him out, this series of deals around him could become significant in the team eventually becoming a contender. Hughes admits openly that he is in contact with several teams, and is actively looking to make a deal, two comments that rarely were ever spoken before his arrival.
Having a management team willing to share honestly on their overall plans and if they’re actively trying to make deals is refreshing in Montreal. Hughes’ comments may not bring peace to those fans wanting the 2023 first-overall pick. Yet, he has been capable of gaining and keeping the fans’ trust. Mostly due to the knowledge that they are focused on adding quality throughout the draft, that they have identified the style of player that could succeed in this market, and the focus on development should bring them solace that they are following a proven process.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 29 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist with the goal to be a trusted source of information and entertainment.