Since the Montreal Canadiens hired NHL player agent Kent Hughes as the 18th general manager in team history, there has been a growing narrative that executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton, ‘hired his best friend’ rather than the best candidate for the job. Some media and fans have even speculated that Gorton knew all along he was going to hire Hughes as GM and that the interview process of eleven candidates was a charade.
During Hughes’s introductory press conference, which also included Gorton and Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, Gorton was repeatedly asked about the speculation that he basically just hired his buddy. Despite Gorton twice deflecting it with humor and stressing that he and Hughes are not ‘best friends’ but have a strong professional relationship, the inquiries continued until Hughes himself stepped in to shut the speculation down.
“I can assure you I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t confident in my ability to be the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens,” said Hughes, who answered more questions in French than English. “The second part is I am happy and glad that they went through a process and I fully expect that if I weren’t the best candidate for the job I wouldn’t be here today.”
Gorton acknowledged, like anyone in his position would, that he wanted someone he could form a strong chemistry with and he wanted a strong hockey person.
“I think when we set out, ultimately I wanted somebody … our committee wanted somebody that was a really good hockey person that would complement my skills or my skill set as well as we could and I think that’s what we’ve done,” Gorton said. I’m really confident in that. I know that he was an agent, but I think of Kent as a hockey person first. I’ve spent a lot of time with him in the last two weeks here talking hockey and team-building and I like his outside-the-box thinking. But, ultimately, it just came down to a good feel with Kent and I just liked his overall philosophies on where this team needs to go, what we have to do and I look forward to the next several weeks to lay out the plan as far as where we need to go.”
Hughes agreed with Gorton’s assessment of himself.
“I would describe myself as a hockey junkie,” Hughes said. “I always have been. I’ve worked in this sport. I’ve coached in this sport. I’ve coached without my own children as part of it and my wife will tell you that if I’m not coaching or working in hockey, I’m talking about hockey. For me, the public part of it is what it is, the excitement is the hockey piece.”
With the Canadiens having one of their worst seasons ever and currently sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings, Hughes knows the job ahead of him will be challenging but he’s ready to, along with Gorton, tackle those challenges starting tomorrow when they join the team in Las Vegas for their game against the Golden Knights.
“We have challenges, there’s no question. The team’s not where we hoped it would be, or the Canadiens hoped it would be at this point in time,” Hughes said. “My opinion is some of that is the circumstance, but there’s no question that there need to change and I’ve got to get familiar with Jeff. We’re going to spend a lot of time together here over the next five to seven days and start to discuss what steps need to be taken.”