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Kent Hughes Unveils Change In Strategy For Free Agency

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Montreal Canadiens

After initial reports earlier this spring about the Montreal Canadiens looking to be big players in free agency this summer, general manager Kent Hughes painted a different picture for fans.

Taking to the airwaves of TSN690, Hughes indicated that it was unlikely that the Montreal Canadiens could be going big game hunting this summer, due in large part to their lack of space under the Salary Cap.

“Most people think of free agency as like ‘Kadri’s going to be available’ or ‘Malkin’s going to be available’, but I don’t anticipate the Montreal Canadiens being in that market for a five-star, free agent player,” said Hughes when asked to qualify how the club was planning to be active in free agency. “We’ll look at ways, and there may not be any, but we’ll look at situations where we can make moves to improve our team that we can afford to make, both financially and in line with our (short-term and long-term) interests.”

Kent Hughes elaborated on his financial limitations going into the offseason, pointing to the need to move out a player with a high Cap hit to gain some space to make moves.

“The other component for our standpoint that would need to change is that we would need to move players to be active,” said Hughes on what’s holding the Canadiens back from being as active as they’d like.

Hughes went into detail on his limitations this summer and how they’ll dictate how aggressive the club will be during the free agency period in July. He provided a few avenues he’s been thinking about to alleviate the Canadiens fiscal situation.

Moving Jeff Petry

It’s no secret that Jeff Petry would have welcomed a trade earlier this year, given the catastrophic state of his game and the ongoing family issues. Hughes had expressed a desire to move him near the deadline, even having a deal in place for the veteran that fell through in the final moments. Hughes reiterated that the plan was to move Petry, unless he showed in their follow-up conversations that he had a heart change.

“We haven’t spoken with Jeff since he returned home,” said Hughes on Petry. “That will come in the coming weeks. Post-trade deadline teams aren’T focused on trades that could happen over the summer. Coming out of the World’s, we will get focused back on those aspects. With Jeff and with teams in the league and see where they’re headed. Right now, there’s still 16 of them competing in the playoffs.”

Jeff Petry’s play under Martin St. Louis, which saw him rack up 21 points in just 29 games, is sure to increase the interest in the veteran defender this summer. With competitive clubs looking to improve their defence, Petry’s unique blend of speed and offence could be of great interest, as clubs enter the offseason with much more financial flexibility than they had during the Trade Deadline.

“When we talk about a Jeff Petry, if we moved him, I indicated that we would lose an experienced defenceman. We don’t want to put our young defencemen in a situation where we’re putting them in situations that they’re not necessarily ready for, and we don’t want to do anything to impede their development. So, if a player like Jeff Petry gets moved, with that will come Cap flexibility, but also a requirement on our part to bring somebody on with some level of experience.”

McLean's Pub

If Hughes can get Petry’s $6.25M Cap hit off the books, it will provide them with significant flexibility heading into the free agency period, but his contract isn’t the only impediment at the moment.

 

Will Carey Price Return to the Montreal Canadiens?

The Canadiens operated most of the season $18M over the limit due to Carey Price and Shea Weber being on LTIR. With Weber being unofficially retired, Hughes would operate with certainty that his contract with go to LTIR, but Price’s situation is far more complex.

“It’s complicated, to be perfectly frank. I wish there was a simple answer for that,” said Hughes on Carey Price’s health. “The timeline for his health and what it means for him to return to his form as a hockey player or even to make sure that there aren’t any lifetime restrictions in terms of what his knee does. These are answers he needs to get, and then we need to go from there. If there’s a procedure or procedures that could assist and get him back to being a regular goalie in the national hockey league, he’ll want to explore that. If he can’t, then we’re going to get to that point where medically he’s not capable of playing.”

The waiting game with Price is likely the most significant hold-up for the Montreal Canadiens heading into the summer, as a definitive answer from a medical perspective would give the Canadiens the needed assurances to spend. Given Price’s $10.5M Cap hit, which accounts for over 12% of the $82.5 Salary Cap for the 2022-2023 season, Hughes would like an answer sooner, rather than later, to better plan his summer strategy.

“I’d like to have it before we roll into free agency, but at this point in time, we don’t know,” said Hughes on where Price is in his evaluation right now.” and there’s not a heck of a lot we can do about it.”

Either way you slice it, the uncertainty of Price’s health, the high-priced contracts to veterans like Jeff Petry and a flat Salary Cap for another few seasons will make for an interesting summer. Hughes and the Montreal Canadiens will need to be creative if they wish to be as active as they’d like this summer.

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