Recapping Kent Hughes’s First 3 Deadlines as Canadiens GM

The Montreal Canadiens had a quiet 2024 NHL Trade Deadline, but a successful one. They were able to fix their three-goalie issue, and general manager (GM) Kent Hughes proved he sticks to his guns and won’t make a trade unless he feels it will improve the team. After three trade deadlines, Hughes is becoming a hard negotiator and improving as a GM every season. Here is a look back at his deadline history and how they are helping to shape the Canadiens’ future.

Hughes’ First Deadline During a Turbulent Season

The 2021-22 season was very odd and disappointing for the Canadiens. They had just come off a high of being the Cinderella team of the 2021 playoffs, coming from behind three games to one to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and continuing to win until they hit a wall in the Stanley Cup Finals against the favoured Tampa Bay Lightning. Then-GM Marc Bergevin was entering the final season of his contract, and rookie coach Dominique Ducharme hoped to have continued success from the Cup run momentum. The season started in October, but the wheels fell off by November’s end, and the heads began to roll. The first to be relieved of his duties was Bergevin; He was replaced by Jeff Gorton, who assumed the role of Vice President of Hockey Operations (VPHO) on Nov. 28. On Jan. 19, 2022, Gorton hired Kent Hughes to be the new GM, and on Feb. 9, Ducharme was replaced by Martin St. Louis after winning only eight of the Habs’ first 45 games.

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

Hughes was hired just one month before the 2022 Trade Deadline on March 22. With the team at the bottom of the standings and the entire front office being replaced, there was little time to figure out the immediate future. All Hughes knew was the team would be sellers but didn’t waste time in his effort to improve the team’s future. On Feb. 14, he traded the fan favourite Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames for Ty Pitlick, Emil Heineman, a 2022 1st-round pick (Filip Mesar), a 2023 5th round pick (Yevgeni Volokhin) and a 2024 4th-round pick. His next move was a minor deal where he sent Michael McNiven to the Flames for future considerations. Hughes’ next big move was a week before the deadline when he traded defenceman Ben Chiarot to the Florida Panthers for Ty Smilanic, a first-round pick in 2023, and a fourth-round pick in 2022.

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Hughes had already made two significant moves before the deadline and wasn’t finished. On deadline day, he traded Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche for Justin Barron and a 2024 second-round pick. He then made another minor deal, swapping goaltender Andrew Hammond for minor-leaguer Nathan Schnarr from the New Jersey Devils. In his final move, he traded defenceman Brett Kulak to the Edmonton Oilers for defenceman William Lagesson, a 2022 second-round pick (Lane Hutson) and a 2024 seventh-round pick.

Final Results for 2022 deadline:

In: Ty Pitlick, Emil Hieneman, Ty Smilanic, William Lagesson, Nathan Schnarr, Justin Barron, two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and one fourth, fifth, and seventh-round pick.

Out: Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot, Andrew Hammond, Artturi Lehkonen, Brett Kulak

Cap Space Created: $5.2 million

Hughes Handcuffed in 2023 Trade Deadline

After the eventful 2022 Trade Deadline, many fans thought the same thing could happen at the 2023 Trade Deadline. The Canadiens had acquired Sean Monahan from the Flames along with a first-round pick for virtually nothing, and the hopes were that the team would acquire another. They had also acquired Evgenii Dadonov from the Vegas Golden Knights for Shea Weber’s contact in the offseason, giving them two more expiring contracts, along with Jonathan Drouin’s, that could be moved for assets at the deadline. There was also lots of talk about the Canadiens moving defenceman Joel Edmundson, even though he still had a year left on his contract. Many moving parts could have made the 2023 deadline as exciting and busy as in 2022, but that did not come to pass.

Related: Canadiens Address Need to Move Allen at Successful 2024 Trade Deadline

Monahan started very hot for the Canadiens, and it looked like that extra first-round pick would be inevitable, but after only 25 games, he suffered a leg injury and missed the rest of the season. Edmundson also missed most of the season due to back injuries, and Drouin’s injuries and inconsistent play plagued him all season. It didn’t look hopeful that Hughes would be very busy by the March 3 deadline. He did move Dadonov a week before for Denis Gurianov of the Dallas Stars, but deadline day was quiet. Hughes made a minor deal trading Schnarr for Frederic Allard, and then he was a third-team broker for a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins as they acquired Nick Bonino, Tony Sund and a 2024 fifth-round pick from the San Jose Sharks. The Habs retained 50% of Bonino’s salary and then moved him to the Penguins. The Canadiens only gave up Arvid Henrikson to the Sharks in the deal.

Final Results for 2023 deadline:

IN: Gurianov, Bonino, Allard, Sund, fifth-round pick

Out: Dadonov, Bonino, Henrikson

Cap Space Created: – $600,000

Hughes Has a Quietly Successful 2024 Trade Deadline

If you thought last season’s deadline was quiet, this season wasn’t much louder in terms of movement, but it did help improve the team. In the offseason, Hughes was able to re-sign Monahan on a one-year “show-me” contract in hopes Monahan could redeem himself, and Montreal could once again try to get a first-round pick for his service. Hughes also acquired Tanner Pearson, another player on a one-year contract, hoping to gain assets with him at the deadline. The Canadiens also found themselves in a three-goalie situation: Hughes was worried that Cayden Primeau would be claimed on waivers if sent to the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket, so he kept him on the Habs roster. This system created issues for the goalies, especially veteran goalie Jake Allen, who struggled to find his rhythm for Montreal.

Jake Allen Montreal Canadiens
Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hughes once again pulled the trigger early on a trade and moved Monahan to the Winnipeg Jets in early February for both a first and a conditional third-round pick. The day before the deadline, he made a minor move by trading Jan Mysak to the Anaheim Ducks for Jacob Perreault. With thirty minutes left until the end of the deadline, Hughes made his most significant move by trading Allen to the New Jersey Devils for a third-round pick. Hughes didn’t do much at this deadline but fixed the goalie issue and got another first-round pick for Monahan. He couldn’t move Pearson, who was injured for most of the season, and he stood pat on defenseman David Savard, who teams were interested in but not enough to pay the asking price, which was rumoured to be at least a first-rounder.

Final Results for 2024 deadline:

In: Perreault, first-round pick, and third-round pick

Out: Monahan, Allen, and Mysak

Cap Space Created: $4 million

Hughes Using Trade Deadlines to Help Build Future

Hughes knows he needs to rebuild the Canadiens properly by acquiring prospects and draft picks while not panicking to make a move. He calculates every move he makes to ensure that it helps improve the team for the future. In his three deadlines, Hughes acquired eleven players and traded eleven away. Only Heineman, Barron, and Perreault remain among the eleven acquired, and all are prominent prospects. Hughes also ended up with nine draft picks: three first-round picks, two second-round picks, a third and a fourth-round pick, and two picks that were in the fifth round or higher. Only one of those nine picks was traded, and that was Florida’s first-round pick, used to acquire Alex Newhook from Colorado.

Related: Canadiens Giving Jacob Perreault a Second Chance

Hughes has managed to gain assets for expiring contracts, help build his prospect pool, and lower the age of his current roster to better align with the team’s rebuild. He also drafted two highly-touted prospects with picks he acquired in Hutson and Mesar. With five of the nine picks left to use, Hughes has valuable assets:24 picks draft over the next two seasons, half of them within the first 90 picks of both two drafts. Hughes made a huge splash in his first deadline but slowed down for the next two. In the second one, he had no choice due to injuries and the play of available players. This season, he was more cerebral in his approach, knowing what he wanted in return for his players and not budging until he got what he wanted. Hughes knows more now about the value in keeping or moving a player, especially one with term; he was quicker to move Monahan and got what he wanted before the market went cold.

Hughes is becoming increasingly educated and confident in his trades; in a short time, he went from making moves to cleaning up a mess to ensuring he gets the proper return that will benefit the Canadiens in the future. Montreal is soon approaching the edge of being a team that’s buying at the deadline. After next season, they will have lots of dead weight off the books and be able to fill holes with better players. Hughes is proving he can be the GM the team needs to get the right players at the right time for a Stanley Cup run in the future.

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