Did Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes maximize his asset value before the NHL Trade Deadline?
The short answer is an undoubted yes.
For a general manager that spoke openly about being in the business of ”selling high,” he did exactly that in the last few hours leading up to the 3 pm NHL Trade Deadline on Monday.
Having already moved out key veterans like Ben Chiarot and Tyler Toffoli earlier on in the season, all eyes were on Hughes to see if he could pull a rabbit out of his hat with the players he had left. The names of Artturi Lehkonen, Brett Kulak, Jeff Petry, and more were swirling for weeks, but the Canadiens were adamant that they weren’t trying to active shop any of these players. Ultimately, Hughes felt he received offers he couldn’t refuse for some of his key veterans and begrudgingly made moves he felt were going to help improve his team.
“I’m conscious of the room. They’re good players, good guys, and good teammates,” said Hughes during his post-NHL Trade Deadline press conference. “Calls came in, and we got to the point where we thought for one reason or another it was the right time.”
The Canadiens general manager received many calls on many players, but only settled on three trades on the last day of the NHL Trade Deadline. Let’s look at how Hughes maximized the value on his NHL Trade Deadline moves.
Brett Kulak to the Edmonton Oilers
The first Canadiens move came when they moved defenceman Brett Kulak to the Edmonton Oilers in return for a conditional 2022 2nd round pick, a 2024 7th round pick and 26-year-old defenceman William Lagesson.
Kulak has been a serviceable defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens since being acquired from the Calgary Flames back in 2018 and has become one of the more stabilizing presences on the backend. His fluid skating style and underrated physical play made him a unique player for the Canadiens, as they used him up and down the lineup on any given night.
Kulak’s playoff experience is also of note. The Canadiens defender suited up for 23 playoff games over the last two seasons, something the Edmonton Oilers likely coveted significantly leading up to the playoffs. Kulak will provide the leadership and defensive acumen that the Oilers sorely lack while playing in any given situation, on any given side. That kind of versatility is rare, and the Oilers filled a considerable need leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline.
Brett Kulak is taking souls and scoring goals! pic.twitter.com/aEHoTdKB3h
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 20, 2022
William Lagesson is an interesting piece to receive The 26-year-old rearguard is a bottom-pair, rugged defenseman, who’s in the last year of his $720,000 contract, could help the Canadiens finish up the year and prove he deserves another NHL contract next season. He’s set to be a restricted free agent and, much like Brett Kulak, likely needs a change of scenery to expand his game and become a more complete defenseman. The Canadiens also got a very valuable 2022 2nd round pick and a 7th round pick in 2024 from the Edmonton Oilers, which would have been, by itself, quite the return for the Canadiens. The Habs now own four picks in the top-64 of the 2022 NHL Draft and will have the flexibility to continue adding to their growing prospect pool or trade for key players.
Trade Grade: A+
Arturri Lehkonen To the Colorado Avalanche
The Montreal Canadiens made another splash before the NHL Trade Deadline by trading Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche for 20-year old defenceman Justin Barron and a 2024 2nd round pick. This is precisely the kind of deal that would have forced Hughes’ hand in trading Lehkonen, a player he was fully content in keeping.
“We looked into the value of his contract due to his upcoming arbitration. We weren’t in a hurry to negotiate with him, but we saw where it was going,’ said Hughes about the pros and cons of retaining Lehkonen. “Like we said in the past, if the offer wasn’t too good to refuse, we would have kept him.”
Any trade involving Lehkonen was likely the maximum value the Canadiens could ever hope to get for their two-way winger, and Hughes had said in the past that he was in the business of selling high and buying low. Justin Barron is precisely the type of prospect that could get the Montreal Canadiens to consider moving a player like Lehkonen, and the added bonus of a 2nd round pick was simply too good to pass up for general manager Hughes. Barron, the former 25th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, fits a real need for the Canadiens, who lack right-shot defenders with top-4 potential in their prospect pool. In his first, full season in the AHL for the Colorado Eagles, the youngster has 20 points in 43 games while playing a very sound game predicated on transition and puck movement, something Hughes liked quite a bit.
“He’s a big boy with great skating,” said Hughes of Justin Barron’s style. “If you look at the style of play we play now. I always said skating was going to be important. He’s not just a good prospect; he’s a good fit for us.”
*whistles* Justin Barron can skate. pic.twitter.com/B1guqw4rn9
— Nathan Rudolph (@Nathan__Rudolph) December 12, 2021
Barron plays a style that is also unique in the Canadiens’ prospect pool, as he isn’t the most physical, but can quarterback a powerplay and log significant minutes when called upon. He plays the puck aggressively and is all about the counter-attack on the rush. His first pass is excellent, and his reads inside the defensive zone have improved by leaps and bounds. It must have been tough to let a piece like Barron go for the Avalanche to let go, but Canadiens fans should be excited about this acquisition.
The 2nd round pick is a bonus for the Canadiens, who continue to stockpile picks leading into the summer. The last time the Canadiens acquired a 2nd round pick three drafts in advance, that pick was ultimately used to select Alexander Romanov in 2018. It never hurts to spread the wealth as they continue to try and add promising youngsters to their core. Who knows how good the Avalanche will be in two years from now, with big decisions on key veterans coming up over the next 24 months.
Trade Grade: A
Andrew Hammond to the New Jersey Devils
The final trade of the day was that of goaltender Andrew Hammond being moved to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for 23-year-old centre Nate Schnarr.
On the surface, this is a pretty straightforward deal. The Canadiens were soon to have four goaltenders on the main roster with Jake Allen, Samuel Montembeault, Andrew Hammond and a returning Carey Price and didn’t want to subject Hammond to waivers. Instead, they tried to place him with a team that needed the goaltending help at the NHL level, and Hughes succeeded in down just that by sending him to the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have been ravaged by injuries, with the likes of Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier on injured reserve. Having a Hammond there to weather the storm until the end of the season was a nice gesture by Hughes to give Hammond a chance to prove he deserves another NHL contract next summer.
As for Nate Schnarr, he was a former teammate of Nick Suzuki’s for the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League, where he put up over 100 points in his final year, en route to an OHL Cup victory. The 23-year-old has yet to establish himself in the NHL but could provide the Laval Rocket with the centre depth they so desperately need since the Canadiens poached Laurent Dauphin and Ryan Poehling from them this season. While being quite the effective shooter, Schnarr plays a strong game predicated on possession. In 43 games this season for the Utica Comets, Schnarr put up 26 points in 43 games. His offensive ability and versatility will help the Rocket continue their push to make the playoffs for the first time in their history.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) February 12, 2022
Trade Grade: B+
Overall Trade Deadline Score: A
Without a doubt, Kent Hughes has had the best NHL Trade Deadline of any Montreal Canadiens general manager over the last 15 years. The last deadline where one could remember the Canadiens walking away with this much value would likely have to be the 2007 NHL Trade Deadline where the Canadiens acquired a 1st round pick and Josh Gorges for Craig Rivet or the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline where the Canadiens swooped in and plucked Thomas Vanek for a 2nd round pick in 2014 and Sebastian Collberg.
This NHL Trade Deadline is different because Hughes didn’t just hit on one trade; he hit on all his trades and extracted maximum value for each of his assets, even going back to the Chiarot trade with the Panthers. The Canadiens have now paved the way for younger players like Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki to take the reins of the team while giving them much-needed help in their prospect pool and a very interesting refill of high-quality draft picks. For his first NHL Trade Deadline, Kent Hughes absolutely knocked it out of the park.