Montreal Gazette


- JACK TODD Twitter: @jacktodd46

When Sean Monahan packed his bags and set off for Winnipeg a week ago, the praise for GM Kent Hughes was unanimous. (Well, almost unanimous. This is Montreal. Had Hughes bundled Monahan off to Edmonton in exchange for Connor Mcdavid, there would have been complaints.)

But for those among us who try to walk on the rational side of the street, Hughes had pulled off a masterful coup, getting two firstround picks for the same player in a span of 18 months.

When top draft pick Juraj Slafkovský pulled off the first two-goal game of his career four nights later, it set me to thinking: In just over two years, Hughes has arguably pulled off as many outstandin­g moves as Marc Bergevin did in more than nine years on the job.

Bergevin, to be fair, had his moments — more coming late in his career as GM than early on. The young core now maturing into veterans at the heart of this team was acquired by Bergevin through a trade, the draft and the waiver wire. They include captain Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kaiden Guhle and goalie Samuel Montembeau­lt. With Bergevin, however, every good move seemed to be matched by a blunder.

With an almost unblemishe­d record so far, Hughes has barely missed a step. But what are his best moves?

With the usual nod to Jeff Gorton's role in the decision-making process, here are Hughes' five best moves. His greatest hits, so far.

Feb. 9, 2022: Martin St. Louis was hired as interim head coach, replacing Dominique Ducharme. With the hiring of St. Louis, Hughes showed barely three weeks into his tenure that he would be absolutely fearless.

Bergevin had hired former Canadiens coaches not once but twice. Instead, Hughes hired a former superstar with zero experience behind the bench in profession­al hockey — and it paid off brilliantl­y.

St. Louis has proved to be not only an excellent communicat­or and teacher, but also has been an innovator, setting the Canadiens on the route to a brand of total hockey that represents a clear break with the past.

On June 1, 2022, Hughes named St. Louis the permanent head coach. No decision Hughes has made matters more than that one.

July 16, 2022: The Canadiens traded defenceman Jeff Petry (who wanted out of town) and Ryan Poehling to Pittsburgh for Mike Matheson and a fourthroun­d pick in 2023.

This was perhaps the first indication we had of the thorough way Hughes goes about his job. Hughes had known Matheson since he was a kid and had been his agent — but Hughes still took the extra step of calling another former client, star Penguins defenceman Kris Letang, to get his take on Matheson's abilities before pulling off the trade.

The smooth-skating Matheson has since become a minutes-eating mainstay on the Canadiens blue line.

July 7, 2022: This one was straight out of Headache Central — “He did what?” But it was unquestion­ably brilliant.

First Hughes dealt defenceman Alexander Romanov and the 98th overall pick in the 2022 draft to the Islanders for the 13th pick, then packaged that one with the 66th overall pick to acquire former third-overall pick Kirby Dach from the Blackhawks.

Dach's career had been hampered by a broken wrist suffered in an exhibition game ahead of the World Juniors in 2021, but he was a solid blue-chipper. If he can stay healthy, his impact going forward will be enormous.

July 7, 2022: The same day Hughes acquired Dach, he shook up the draft at the Bell Centre by acquiring strapping Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovský with the No. 1 overall pick.

Once again, the Canadiens were swimming against the tide. The convention­al choice would have been Shane Wright. Going outside the box earned Hughes and the Canadiens a death stare from the immature Wright — but Slafkovský's week-to-week improvemen­t this season has him leading his entire draft class in games played with 89, in goals with 13 and in points with 32.

Today Wright, who dropped to fourth in the draft, is tied for 43rd in the AHL in scoring with 32 points and tied for 12th in goals with 18.

There are others, from the 2022 draft like Logan Cooley, Cutter Gauthier (who has already blown up on the Flyers without playing in the NHL) and Conor Geekie. We'll take Slafkovský, thank you very much.

Aug. 18, 2022 and Feb. 2, 2024:

If we can collapse two moves into one, Hughes first acquired Monahan and a conditiona­l first-rounder in 2025 for future considerat­ions, allowing the Flames to shed Monahan's Us$6.375-million cap hit. In Phase 2, Monahan was dealt to the Jets for a first-rounder this year and a conditiona­l 2027 third-rounder.

So three picks, two of them in the first round, for a productive and versatile forward whose career was in jeopardy when he arrived in Montreal. And the Canadiens didn't retain salary, leaving a slot open ahead of the March 8 trade deadline.

With a bit of luck and some more moves, the next time we do this it will be the Kent Hughes Top 10.

 ?? DAVE SIDAWAY ?? Over little more than two years, writes Jack Todd, the wheeling and dealing of Canadiens GM Kent Hughes (above) has shown him to be both shrewd and fearless.
DAVE SIDAWAY Over little more than two years, writes Jack Todd, the wheeling and dealing of Canadiens GM Kent Hughes (above) has shown him to be both shrewd and fearless.
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