Canadiens GM Hughes Delivers 2022 Trade Deadline Master Class

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes largely unloaded talent in line with expectations at the 2022 trade deadline. What he got in exchange largely exceeded them though, and that was no small feat, facing a rabid fanbase probably chomping at the bit for a fast turnaround in the standings.

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

There are no guarantees in that regard, but the Canadiens are a decent 9-6-3 are interim head coach Martin St. Louis. Hughes certainly helped his cause further for the future, despite trading away two underrated Canadiens contributors.

Canadiens Trade Kulak and Lehkonen

In Brett Kulak, the Canadiens lost a serviceable defenseman who had formed a formidable pairing with Jeff Petry for parts of 2018-20. With the acquisition of Joel Edmundson, he fell down the depth chart and seemingly out of favor with Habs management at the time.

Montreal Canadiens Brett Kulak Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Brett Kulak and Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Even though Kulak had seemingly regained a lot of the trust he had at one time justifiably earned, under St. Louis, the Canadiens were nevertheless at risk of losing the pending unrestricted free agent for nothing. He had to go.

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The same admittedly can’t be said for Artturi Lehkonen, a restricted free agent, though. One of ex-GM Marc Bergevin’s most successful draft picks, Lehkonen had been enjoying something of an offensive renaissance, on pace to shatter his 31-point career high this season with 29 so far (58 games).

Known as a player capable of playing up and down the lineup, Lehkonen is deceptively valuable as someone who may not always find the net, but does the scoresheet much more often than people realize. Lehkonen also contributes all the over the ice in other ways, making him a worthwhile addition to any team, but especially a contender, like the Colorado Avalanche, his new team.

Canadiens Bolster Blue Line with Barron

So, the only way Hughes could justify trading was by getting a lot back in return. He did. Even though it wasn’t technically the first-round pick he had reportedly sought, defenseman Justin Barron, a 2020 NHL Entry Draft first-rounder counts. As a prospect a few years into his development, he’s also arguably better than just a pick, especially for the Canadiens’ purposes.

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A 20-year-old with two NHL games under his belt, Barron may not be a blue-chip prospect per se (having been picked at No. 25 overall), but he has significant upside. And as a right-handed shot he helps fills a hole left by Shea Weber’s “retirement” and the potentially impending departure of Jeff Petry. If Barron pans out, Hughes will have addressed one of the Canadiens’ weaker position at the expense of one in which they have a great deal of depth, on the wing. Add in the 2024 second-round pick the Canadiens also got in the deal, and Hughes did well, to say the least.

Justin Barron Halifax Mooseheads
Montreal Canadiens prospect Justin Barron – (Photo: Halifax Mooseheads)

That’s true of the day as a whole, with Kulak fetching another second-round pick, a separate seventh-round pick and restricted-free-agent (in theory) William Lagesson from the Edmonton Oilers. A fellow left-handed defenseman, Lagesson at the very least replaces Kulak in the lineup. At only 26 (two years younger than Kulak), Lagesson could still find another gear in his game, with the second-round pick undeniably still being the centerpiece of the deal.

Hammond Gets Another Shot at NHL Job

As a reminder, Kulak, a Calgary Flames 2012 fourth-round pick, initially cost the Habs Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev, neither of whom have had lasting NHL success. So, the second-round pick, which moves from 2022 to 2023 if the Oilers reach this year’s Stanley Cup Final, is an upgrade in many ways. Ditto for forward Nate Schnarr, whom the Habs got in exchange for goalie Andrew Hammond from the New Jersey Devils.

Hammond, a career fringe NHLer, who admirably helped the Habs solidify the net, which had been hemorrhaging bodies and goals at the time of his acquisition, cost the Habs minor-league-forward Brandon Baddock. Schnarr’s ceiling is unknown at this point. An Arizona Coyotes third-round pick in 2017, he’s only 23 and could conceivably carve out a niche role in the NHL.

Andrew Hammond, Iowa Wild
Ex-Montreal Canadiens goalie Andrew Hammond – (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

With Jake Allen (and Carey Price potentially) returning, Hammond simply didn’t have a future in the NHL with the Habs. Hughes spoke to that fact, talking to the media after the deadline, saying the deal with the Devils was primarily to give him another chance at an NHL job. So, even getting as much as Schnarr is a positive.

Hughes Impresses in First Trade Deadline

In some ways, any moves made after the Ben Chiarot trade have been gravy. Chiarot absolutely had to go based on his projected value on the trade market and the fact he was an unrestricted free agent. Hughes confirmed as much at the press conference.

“We knew we were going to trade Ben Chiarot…  The other two we didn’t actively call teams,” he said, with his priorities relatively in check. “Any time we can advance the timeline to put a contending playoff team on the ice, we’ll do it.”

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With that in mind, Petry remains a player who could potentially be moved later, with Hughes citing the difficulty in trying to deal a player with term left on the deal. The Habs retained salary in the Chiarot trade with the Florida Panthers. To facilitate a Petry trade, they would have had to do similar for each of his three remaining seasons under contract. So, Hughes deserves some slack for not getting anything done there. At least not yet.

There are admittedly other names who ideally would have been traded, but just weren’t realistic options to be moved. The players who did get moved were expected to though, so there were no surprises in that regard. The only real surprise, if you can call it that, is how hard it is to be disappointed with the respective returns if you’re a Habs fan.

Related: Projecting Canadiens Lineup After 2022 Trade Deadline

No, the Canadiens didn’t land the big fish on the trade market en route to a long playoff run. That’s not how this season is going to turn out, but they’re a lot closer now to that being the case in the not-too-distant future than a few weeks ago. That’s a big win, during a season in which there literally haven’t been many. Technically, three separate wins the day of. They’re well on their way, especially if Hughes can keep it going.