Hughes Has Clear Plan for Canadiens at Trade Deadline

Canadiens general manager (GM) Kent Hughes held a presser after trading defencemen Ben Chiarot. He revealed some of his plans for the rest of the trade deadline period and what to expect moving forward. This is a breath of fresh air for some fans, with the new management’s transparency already at a level that the old regime never had. Here is what to expect going forward for the Canadiens.

Canadiens Have No Plan to Move Kulak

Hughes mentioned in his presser that he liked Brett Kulak’s game. He feels he is an excellent two-way defenseman with a good attitude in the dressing room. Kulak is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the season. Usually, UFAs are moved at trade deadlines, but Hughes has mentioned he is not making a trade to make trade no matter what the contract situation is. Kulak has 12 points in 55 games this season and is on pace to have the best offensive season of his career point-wise while playing just under 18 minutes a game.

Brett Kulak, Montreal Canadiens
Brett Kulak, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kulak would be an exciting pickup for any team as he can play up and down the lineup and is a solid third-pairing defenseman. The biggest issue with him is that he is inconsistent and can make critical mistakes. The other problem is that fans and media seem to only focus on his crucial errors and not give him the credit due for his overall play. Although Hughes has said he has no intention of moving Kulak, it’s still possible that he is moved for assets. But what type of return he will bring is the question.

Canadiens Will Move Petry but Probably Not at the Deadline

Canadiens Jeff Petry never officially asked for a trade but did chat with Hughes about a possible move to better his family life. Petry’s wife and children have been living in Michigan due to the restrictions imposed by the Quebec government because of COVID. Petry is very close to his family and is having a hard time being away from them for so long, which could be a factor in his abysmal season. Petry has scored over 40 points for four straight seasons, and this season, he was on pace for fewer than 20 points until new Habs coach Martin St-Louis took over; Petry now has 10 points in his last 16 games and 16 points overall.

Related: Canadiens’ Trade Destinations for Jeff Petry

Hughes is in no hurry to trade Petry and will only do so if the trade works for both the team and the player. He did reiterate in his presser that Petry would get traded because of his family situation but again, only if it works for both. Hughes doesn’t see any specific player on the team that needs to get moved right away, including Petry. If he does get traded, the odds are it won’t be until the offseason, probably around the draft, and that will also be a better time to get the highest value for him due to teams being in better cap situations. Petry has a $6.25 million cap hit for the next three seasons, which will hinder a trade at the deadline.

Hughes Will Move a Player for the Right Deal

Artturi Lehkonen has been in the rumor mill for months. The impending restricted free agent (RFA) is having a career year and is on pace to surpass his career goal and point totals of 18 and 31, respectively. He currently has 13 goals and 28 points and is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. With Chiarot traded for a B-level prospect Tyler Smilanic, a first-round pick in 2023 and a fourth-round pick in 2022, Hughes waited to get the best deal for Chiarot with multiple teams vying for his services. There is a ton of interest in Lehkonen right now, with the New York Rangers reportedly being the most interested. Hughes has all the control in any trade dealing with Lehkonen because he doesn’t have to trade him.

Artturi Lehkonen Montreal Canadiens
Artturi Lehkonen, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Lehkonen being an RFA, the Canadiens still have control over him for another year, and they can decide to sign him to an extended contract or settle with a one-year bridge offer. He makes $2.3 million now, and the Habs are handcuffed, with two players making $3.4 million already in the bottom-six. To have another bottom-six player making close to $4 million would be poor cap management. Depending on what Hughes wants to do with the team going forward, Lehkonen could be an excellent player to keep. But depending on the return they can get for him, it could be better to trade him. Hughes has already proven he won’t pull the trigger if he doesn’t get exactly what he wants in return.

Canadiens Will Not Trade for a Goaltender

With the return of Jake Allen to the lineup and Carey Price progressing in his rehab, Hughes doesn’t see a situation where he would be trading for a goaltender at the deadline. They also have Sam Montembault and Andrew Hammond on the team. Although Hammond is currently out with a lower-body injury (LBI), the team is in no rush to upgrade goaltending at this time. Hughes did say, however, he didn’t know the future of Price, but that doesn’t change his mind about goaltending for the time being.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This doesn’t mean the Canadiens will not make a move to get a goaltender in the offseason. If Price has another setback, then Hughes may make a move and try to acquire another NHL-level goaltender. Montembault has had some excellent games, but he doesn’t have the consistency to be a full-time NHL goalie. Hammond, in a small sample size, has played very well but has minimal NHL action, only playing seven games since 2016. Allen will be in the final year of his contract next season and is the best insurance if Price isn’t ready to go. But if Price has more setbacks, he may never be good to go, and the Habs will have to replace him – not with Allen.

The Canadiens Won’t Be as Busy at the Deadline as First Thought

When the Canadiens’ new management first took over, fans and media had an idea that there could be a complete overhaul of the team, with high and expiring contracts moving through the season and at the deadline. With the prolonged bad start and the team in a tailspin, it looked inevitable that that would be the case, and after the deadline, it would be a whole new look team. Although Hughes and Vice President of Hockey Operations (VPHO) Jeff Gorton never committed to a rebuild, all signs pointed to one happening.

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

Now that the Canadiens are somewhat winning and playing exciting hockey, Hughes’s tone has changed, and it seems that they are leaning more to a retool or restructure again. They have not come out and committed to a rebuild or retool. With this outlook, the Habs may not be very busy with the deadline; Hughes wants to make some room with the cap so Shea Weber’s contract could get moved at the deadline. Matthieu Perrault could also be on the move; he was placed on waivers and cleared but has not been assigned to the Laval Rocket.

What was expected to be a flurry of moves by the Canadiens could turn into a few activities to either create cap space or move a UFA, but Hughes did say he would make a move if the right offer came along. If anything, it will be an interesting few days for the Canadiens.

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