MONTREAL – While his players are thinking about everything but hockey, Kent Hughes is juggling full time with how to improve the Montreal Canadiens.
Improving it in the long run, of course!
Because in the short term, three things really matter to the general manager of the Habs:
- That players likely to be traded by March 3 recover quickly from injuries that keep them sidelined;
- May those who are currently healthy remain so;
- That his team and the Florida Panthers lose more often than they win in order to boost the odds of improving Connor Bedard’s lottery results heading into the next draft.
While many Canadiens fans will celebrate the last of eight games played in the retro blue uniform – a tribute to the Expos – next Saturday when the New York Islanders visit, Hughes would undoubtedly be in favor of prolong the ordeal associated with this jersey with which the Habs have gone to seven consecutive losses, including six conceded in regulation time…
It would take more than the curse of the retro jersey to allow the Canadian to slip in the standings and join the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets who are fighting for 32nd and last place.
But with two first-round picks and nine other selections under his belt – so far – the Canadiens are already assured of a generous draft in terms of numbers. It remains to make it generous in terms of the quality of the hopes claimed.
It is precisely to maximize the quality of the next draft that Hughes spent the last week in the Boston area. A stay whose culmination will take place on Monday with the semi-finals of the “Bean Pot” which will oppose Harvard and Boston College at 5 p.m. before Boston University and Northeastern meet at 8 p.m. All this at TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins.
Plans B, C and even D
After this stay in Boston, it is possible that the general manager of the Habs will go to Florida to imitate his players and enjoy the sun and the beach for a bit or two. But whether he has his feet in the sand or the snow, Hughes will have his head in hockey.
In terms of transactions, a few players from the Canadiens are arousing interest: from Sean Monahan to Joel Edmundson, via Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov and to a lesser extent Jake Allen or Joel Armia.
Attention! There is no question here of pretending that general managers are inundating Hughes with fabulous offers for available players.
Moreover, none of the players likely to leave the Canadian to find themselves within a club aiming to confirm their place in the playoffs and improve their chances of going as far as possible, next spring does not represent a plan ” A” for training in purchasing mode.
They represent at best plans B, but more seriously plans C, even D.
Which means that the general manager of the Canadian will be far from being in a position of strength as he was last year with Ben Chiarot against whom he obtained an unprotected first-round choice from the Panthers.
In fact, if he wants to take advantage of the transaction offers that will parade before him by March 3, Hughes will have to settle for little. Even very little.
Monahan and Edmundson healthy?
Fit and healthy, Monahan and Edmundson are the most attractive Canadiens players. The trouble, and it’s a big one, is that they’re far from healthy; even further from being in top form.
Unless the bye week is hugely beneficial, Monahan is likely to miss Saturday’s game against the Islanders. An absence that would extend to 27 the number of consecutive meetings – he played his last match on December 5 in Vancouver – missed by the veteran center player due to a foot injury and another, more pernicious, to wool.
Monahan’s reputation is known, recognized and enviable around the NHL. If he misses the next game, as expected, he will only have nine games left to regain his form, find his touch and convince a club that it is worth acquiring him.
The small number of available centers — Ryan O’Reilly and Jonathan Toews have become prime targets since Bo Horvat moved from the Vancouver Canucks to the New York Islanders — could help Hughes’ cause in the Monahan case.
But it would be surprising if he got more than a second-round pick for the veteran who will become a free agent on July 1.
Edmundson’s case is similar to Monahan’s.
The veteran defenseman has a good reputation around the NHL. The clubs that are interested in him know what they can expect from this robust fullback who is more versed in protecting his goalkeeper than in the option of going to put the opposing goalkeeper to the test.
The back pain that has plagued Edmundson for two years is as well known and recognized as its reputation.
Without these recurring ailments, the Canadian could hope for a first-round pick in return for Edmundson. If he can get back to his job, play quality games and some form of one-upmanship should occur – the Edmonton Oilers are not the only ones looking for defensemen and injuries around the league could increase the requests – Edmundson could perhaps allow the CH to obtain a first round choice.
The key word here is maybe!
If the offers are less generous, the Canadian could always decide to keep Edmundson instead of giving it away. Still under contract for a year at an honest salary of $3.5 million, the veteran left-handed defender could sponsor the organization’s young fullbacks again next year and be traded during the season.
The big question is whether his back will allow him to fill this role next year. The specter that he is precisely not able to help the team in one way or another next season could encourage the Canadian to let him go even if the compensation obtained is lower than the objectives.
Hoffman and Dadonov will play a lot
Much less prominent than Monahan and Edmundson, Hoffman and Dadonov could also switch sides.
No club will risk its future to acquire either of these players. It’s clear. But if the Canadian managed to get rid of the last year of Hoffman’s contract, it would already be a victory.
To boost the chances of a club deciding to take a chance on one or the other, we can expect them to get plenty of quality power-play time by March 3.
Hoffman is blessed with a fearsome shot. The kind of shot a club would want to rely on as a massive second attacking unit or more simply as an insurance policy for injury.
Dadonov is also capable of scoring.
Good! Hoffman and Dadonov are far from filling the opposing nets since the start of the season. Their lack of intensity, synchronism and opportunism justify that any supporter of the Habs cannot believe for a second the chances that they will be traded.
But if either were to score more consistently by March 3 and one or more teams were to lose an important player – like the Vegas Golden Knights who just lost Mark Stone for the rest of the season – Hugues could receive a call and even a transaction proposal.
If that happens, the Canadian and his general manager will of course still have to settle for little in compensation. But little is always better than nothing!
Armia and Allen are likely to leave the Canadiens one day. However, it is more likely that a trade involving them will occur around the draft, later next summer, or during the next season.
Jonathan Drouin? Whether or not he returns to play this season, it now seems definitive that it is with the Canadiens that he will finish the last year of his contract.
Anderson generates the most interest
In addition to Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach as well as the young defenders who settle on the blue line of the Canadian, Josh Anderson is the one who, for the moment, arouses the most interest around the NHL.
Hughes certainly won’t be trading either of his young forwards or young fullbacks.
At least for now. In a year or two, if the Habs really find themselves with too many quality young defensemen, perhaps such a decision will become necessary. But for now, that is far from the case.
The same strategy applies in the Anderson file.
Under contract until 2027 at an annual salary of $ 5.5 million on the mass of the Habs, Anderson should offer better results than the 14 goals and 19 points he claims this year. He is far, very far, from the 27 goals scored in 2018-2019 with the Blue Jackets.
A harvest that made it possible to bet big on the fast, solid right winger with a very good shot. What the Canadian did by offering him a seven-year contract worth $ 38.5 million two days after his acquisition – Max Domi took over as manager of Columbus – in October 2020.
Anderson has yet to give the Canadian the production that the team and its supporters have come to expect from him.
Trading him too soon unless he gets the moon — at least a first-round pick and a top prospect — could be a mistake.
From one: Anderson could hatch late and make a staff that has been impatient with him look bad.
Two: Anderson will become easier to trade, if that’s still the Canadiens’ desire, when the salary cap actually climbs as his salary becomes easier to squeeze into an already hefty payroll. Which should happen in two years.
For the moment, the Canadian should simply bet on the offensive awakening of Anderson. This will help fans deal with the tough end to the season ahead of Caufield’s absence and also deal with another transitional season next year.
Not to mention that such an awakening will only cause Anderson’s value to fluctuate upwards 12 months from now. Because yes! The Canadian will still be a seller at this time next year.
Unless he wins the Connor Bedard lottery. And even…