There’s no rest for the weary in the NHL, and that certainly applies to Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes.
Including Tuesday’s deal that sent Cam Hillis to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Nicolas Beaudin, the Beaconsfield native has made 15 trades, resulting in 20 players and 16 draft picks exchanging hands.
While he’s been reluctant to paint the Canadiens’ situation as a rebuild, Hughes’ moves tell another story, especially when you consider he’s acquired 4 first-round picks, three of which are still under the ownership of the Canadiens.
With Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield already in the fold, the Canadiens have their foundation in place, but if no one is willing to officially call it a rebuild, it’s only fair to say they’re in the process of tearing everything else down to the studs.
Getting The Ball Rolling
Hughes’ first big trade involved sending Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Tyler Pitlick, prospect Emil Heineman, a 2023 fifth-round pick, and a 2022 first-round pick.
Acquiring a first-round pick almost always guarantees you’ll end up on the right side of a trade, but it’s worth noting Toffoli was coming off a very impressive playoff run and quickly endeared himself to fans in the process, practically becoming a fan favourite overnight.
The trade was met with cautious optimism, pending the outcome of the aforementioned first-round pick, which ended up being the 26th overall pick at the 2022 Draft.
When you also consider Toffoli’s contract expires next season, as well as Heineman’s impressive showing at training camp, the trade suddenly shifts from a decent gamble to having the potential to be a great deal for the Canadiens.
Trade Grade: B
The Florida Purchase
The deadline trade that saw veteran defenceman Ben Chiarot sent to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Ty Smilanic, a 2022 fourth-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick has the potential to be Hughes’ greatest move to date.
On paper, it was eerily similar to another trade that saw a rough-and-tumble defenceman sent to a team hoping to bolster their playoff roster, though it’s much too soon to judge whether the Chiarot trade will bear as much fruit as the deal that sent Craig Rivet to the San Jose Sharks at the 2007 deadline for a defenceman (Josh Gorges) and a first-round pick (Max Pacioretty).
Physical defencemen are known to receive a king’s ransom at the deadline, but considering Chiarot only played 30 games in total for the Panthers before signing a new contract with the Detroit Red Wings, the trade was the epitome of a high-risk, low-reward move from a Florida point of view.
Hughes, on the other hand, turned a defenceman who struggled to mitigate scoring chances and happened to be signed to an expiring contract, into an unprotected first-round pick, as well as a serviceable prospect.
It was the hockey equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase.
Trade Grade: A+
Second Round Efficiency
With the trade deadline establishing a seller’s market, hopes were rather high when it came to the potential returns on players such as Brett Kulak and Artturi Lehkonen, some of the most efficient players available in the league.
Lehkonen ended up fetching right-handed defenceman Justin Barron, the Colorado Avalanche’s 2020 first-round pick, a reasonable, if not somewhat underwhelming centrepiece for the Canadiens.
However, they also acquired Colorado’s second-round pick in 2024, once again stocking the pick cupboard for the foreseeable future.
A second-round pick is far from a guarantee, but every once in a while a very talented player drops below his projected draft range, and that’s when having additional picks comes in handy.
For example, when the Canadiens sent Kulak to the Edmonton Oilers on the very same day, they ended up acquiring another second-round pick. They used that pick on one of the most exciting players in the entire prospect pool: Lane Hutson.
Kulak provided the Canadiens with several seasons of consistent hockey and he will be missed, but Hutson has the potential to become a game-changing defenceman.
Montreal Canadiens… you got a real nice one at 62nd overall. Lane Hutson is exceptionally small but the production and projection is immense. Dmen that have this profile in the model turn into stars 3 out of 5 times. pic.twitter.com/YBNxBoIhe4
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) July 8, 2022
Trade(s) Grade: B+
Hughes made his most risky move at the Draft, sending Alexander Romanov and a fourth-round pick (Isiah George) to the New York Islanders in exchange for the 13th overall pick, and then flipping the pick along with a third-round pick (Gavin Hayes) for 21-year-old centre Kirby Dach.
Seeing as the trades were coordinated, we will grade them as one move, but there was a significant discrepancy in value when you break them down individually.
Trading Romanov for the 13th overall pick was a complete slam dunk by Hughes. Despite being a fan favourite, Romanov’s numbers were rockier than a Montreal roadway in the summer. Sending a fourth-round pick to complete the trade is essentially inconsequential when you consider the value of the pick they acquired.
But turning around and trading the first-round pick, which turned out to be talented prospect Frank Nazar, along with a third-round pick for Dach, was certainly a gamble.
Frank Nazar III goes at 13th. I had him ranked at 13th. It's meant to be. Great production in his pre-draft year and draft year. Another gem from the US development program that's churning them out left and right these days. pic.twitter.com/bbwZGS4zoj
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) July 8, 2022
Dach has shown he has the potential to become a valuable player for the Canadiens, in fact, he’s among their best players this season in several key statistical categories, but the fact remains he has struggled to produce at the NHL level.
If Nazar emerges as a standout player and Dach never finds his scoring touch, this could end up being a poor trade.
However, it’s only fair to point out Nazar, who sustained a season-ending injury this year, is far from a blue-chip prospect, and Dach has plenty of time to find his scoring rhythm before the reclamation project would be considered a flop.
Trade(s) Grade: C
Jeff Petry provided the Canadiens with almost a decade of excellent hockey, but it was a poorly kept secret that his time with the team was up.
It’s often difficult to receive fair value in trades that involve disgruntled players, but Hughes bucked the trend by acquiring defenceman Mike Matheson, who is six years younger than Petry, as well as a 2023 fourth-round pick.
Matheson never produced the same type of numbers as his counterpart, but the salary and age discrepancy between them is enough to understand why the Canadiens made the deal, especially seeing as Hughes was working with little to no leverage.
The Canadiens also sent Ryan Poehling to the Penguins alongside Petry, officially closing the book on an underwhelming tenure with the organization.
Trade Grade: B-
Red Hot Deal
The Chiarot trade was certainly a tidy bit of business, and it may end up being Hughes’ best move, but the trade that saw Sean Monahan and a first-round pick arrive in Montreal in exchange for Future Considerations should also be considered the epitome of a low-risk, high-reward deal.
Taking advantage of the Flames’ salary and roster concerns, Hughes absorbed the last year of Monahan’s deal, which, in a vacuum, should be considered a smart trade given Calgary baited the contract with a first-round pick.
But the trade gained even more potential for the Canadiens when it was revealed that Monahan’s recent injuries did not seem to impact his skating ability, nor his ability to drive the play.
Le jour de sa fête!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 13, 2022
If Monahan continues his strong play, not only will Hughes have been paid a handsome fee to acquire him in the first place, he may also end up turning the player he was paid to acquire into an asset at the deadline, which would officially qualify the deal as highway robbery.
Trade Grade: A