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In Hainsight: Hughes’ Three Best Moves

June 8, 2023, 1:21 PM ET [368 Comments]
Karine Hains
Montreal Canadiens Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow me @KarineHains for all updates about the Montreal Canadiens and women's hockey

Earlier this week, TSN asked fans what they thought was Kent Hughes’ three best moves so far and here’s how I would have answered that question. This is not an easy question to answer since the GM seems to have multiplied the good moves since his appointment on January 18, 2022, but after giving it much thought, here’s what I came up with.

First and foremost, what I consider to be his biggest accomplishment so far is establishing a healthy salary cap structure. True, he wasn’t the one who signed Nick Suzuki, but he saw what his captain was earning, and he decided that would be the top of the pay scale. Even if that contract was signed 2 years ago, he managed to work out a pact with his best sniper that came just under that number, which is an accomplishment in itself. This also sends a message to other players though: This is what our top players earn, don’t even dream about going above this number.

This approach makes me confident that Hughes won’t be willing to overpay Pierre-Luc Dubois if he does in fact end up in Montreal. The rumors about his potential arrival in Montreal are running wild again now that his agent Pat Brisson (who is also Caufield’s agent) has told the Jets that Dubois is not willing to sign another contract with Winnipeg. If this is Dubois’ way of pressuring the Jets into trading him now, it’s possible that the Manitoba franchise allow his agent to see if a deal could be struck with another team and then work on a sign and trade deal much like Matthew Tkachuk signed a deal with the Flames last off season. This allowed Calgary to maximize his value on the trade market.

Right now, Dubois is on an expiring deal and his market value is incredibly low since no team will give worthy assets for him without knowing if they’ll be able to sign him long-term. If he really wants to come to Montreal though, he’ll have to be willing to fit in Hughes’ salary structure and he can forget about a $10 M a year deal. At 24, his best offensive output is 63 points in a season, 3 below Suzuki’s best year and the 23-year-old also wears the C. We’ll see how much Dubois really wants to be a Hab.

Hughes second best move in my opinion was made at last year’s draft. After years of being told that trading for a big center was impossible by the previous regime, fans were pleasantly surprised when Hughes managed to swing a deal for one in his first year as a GM. What was most impressive was not only the fact that he managed to deal for one, but that he did so while only using surplus assets. Not that Alexander Romanov wasn’t a good young defenseman, but the fact is that Hughes was fully aware that the team’s cupboard was well stocked in blueliners while it was practically bare at center, and he addressed that need without creating another problem.

Some will say that Dach wasn’t exactly a top center when he was acquired, after all, he was struggling in Chicago and playing on the wing often, but Hughes thought that he had the right structure in place to unlock Dach’s potential and made him the center he projected to be when he was drafted. A year later, we’ve got to admit that he’s on his way there. Under Martin St-Louis’ tutelage, Dach has improved by leaps and bounds and both the team and the player are confident that he will keep doing so as evidenced by the 4-year deal the GM signed him to. This gives Dach the time to come into his own while insuring he remains under the team’s control since he’ll be an RFA with arbitration rights when the deal expires.

Rounding up the top-3 for me is how he handled the Jeff Petry situation. He had an unhappy player who really wanted out and that was known league wise, meaning that Hughes didn’t have the upper hand in negotiations. Everyone was aware that Petry wanted to move on and yet, the rookie executive still managed to trade him for a younger and arguably better blueliner in Mike Matheson. Furthermore, Matheson’s contract had a lower cap hit ($4,875,000 vs $6,250,000) and still had 4 years to it. Considering the impact he’s had on the Habs’ defense corps, it’s hardly a problem that he’s under contract for 3 more years.

Matheson plays the perfect game to fit into Martin St-Louis’ concepts and the way he wants his team to play. In other words, Kent Hughes took a situation in which he had to trade a player and turned it entirely to his advantage, getting an asset that fits right in with his team’s needs.

They say that there’s always a “honeymoon” period when there’s a new appointment, but Hughes’ is pulling all the right moves to have a very long honeymoon. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s unhappy with the moves made by the GM so far. There are those who would have loved to keep Tyler Toffoli around, but the fact is that he was a very valuable asset who best served the team by being moved. The 31-year-old will be long passed his prime when the Canadiens are ready to contend and he didn’t have the speed needed to fit into St-Louis’ game, so getting Emil Heineman and a draft pick which turned into Filip Mesar instead was a good move although it remains to be seen how both players will pan out.
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