The Montreal Canadiens were one of the most active organizations in 2022; making a flurry of trades that could pay some big dividends in the future.
When General Manager Kent Hughes was brought in in mid-January to help restructure the Canadiens, fans expected him to be active in flipping some assets for youngsters and picks.
Hughes had quite the puzzle to work with, as it pertained to the club’s impossible cap situation, Carey Price and Shea Weber’s LTIR, and the glut of extra veterans on the team.
Methodically, Hughes began to sell off what he could and build toward the future in a direct and coherent way, leading to some massive trades.
Here are the five biggest moves the Montreal Canadiens pulled off in 2022:
5) Disgruntled No More
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.
Mike Matheson, when healthy, is easily the best offensive defenceman on the Canadiens and looked very good on the transition for the club when he was able to suit up. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong for Matheson, has gone wrong.
His injury at the beginning of the season kept him out for weeks, and another lower-body injury is currently hampering him now.
But make no mistake, Matheson is a bonafide top-4 defenceman, and the fact that Montreal was able to get that kind of value, despite the entire NHL knowing of Petry’s desire to move on, was some good work from Hughes and co.
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) November 20, 2022
4) Arturri Lehkonen Trade
This was a pretty shocking trade for Canadiens fans.
With just an hour before the NHL Trade Deadline, the Canadiens made a splash by trading Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche for 20-year-old defenceman Justin Barron and a 2024 2nd-round pick.
Any trade involving Lehkonen was likely to return maximum value for their two-way winger, as Hughes had said in the past that he was in the business of selling high and buying low. Justin Barron was 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 Kent Hughes.
Artturi Lehkonen was one of Montreal’s most consistent two-way players for years now, and teams like the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, and Colorado Avalanche have taken a significant interest in his services. Colorado won their bet, as the Avalanche went on to win a Stanley Cup; a feat that had Lehkonen’s clutch scoring stamped all over it.
Justin Barron is developing nicely with the Laval Rocket at the moment and is likely going to be with the Canadiens full-time by the end of the year. He still projects to be a top-4, offensive defenceman, and the 21-year-old is far from done in growing his game.
This was truly a deal that would work out quite nicely for both clubs.
3) Brett Kulak Trade
Hours before the NHL Trade Deadline, the Montreal Canadiens 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.
The Montreal Canadiens blueliner was a coveted piece on the NHL trade front. Brett Kulak, who was in the last year of his three-year deal valued at $1.85M annually, soared up the rental market lists with his inspired play of late and his ability to play solid, physical hockey.
Kulak was a serviceable defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens since being acquired from the Calgary Flames back in 2018 and became 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.
It was already good value on paper, until you factor in that the Oilers’ 2nd round pick was used to draft Lane Hutson, who looks to be one of the most impressive players of the 2022 NHL Draft class so far this season.
It was a perfect example of Hughes selling high on Kulak, who returned almost as much as other bonafide top-4 defencemen on the market. The Canadiens had drummed up Kulak’s value to the very last minute, and eventually Oilers’ General Manager Ken Holland had to pay up.
As Hutson continues to grow, this trade could rise further up in the ranks in retrospect.
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
4) Three-Way Blockbuster
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, they were considered as one move in total; and what an exciting moment it was for Canadiens fans at the Bell Centre on Day 1 of the 2022 NHL Draft.
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.
Dach has gone one to be one of the most important players on the team and is already close to reaching career-highs in points with less than half the season gone by.
He’s become an irreplaceable part of the Canadiens’ top line, and is penciled as a big part of the Montreal Canadiens’ moving forward; effectively looking like a slum dunk move by Hughes.
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
2) Monahan, Part 1
Hughes was looking to weaponize his cap space after getting news that Carey Price would not return for the 2022-2023 season.
He had many conversations with rival GMs, including the Philadelphia Flyers regarding James van Riemsdyk, and absolutely wanted to get a 1st-roundpick in return for taking on a big contract, since he didn’t want to use that space to improve his team this season.
After having had initial dicussions with the Calgary Flames at the Draft in Montreal about taking on the contract of Sean Monahan, Montreal was able to capitalize on Calgary’s desperation.
Having traded Matrthew Tkachuk and lost Johnny Gaudreau to free agency, the Flames were desperate to bring in a difference maker and had a contract in place for Stanley Cup winner, Nazem Kadri.
Hughes finally got his 1st round pick, albeit with 67 conditions, to come with Monahan in exchange for Future Considerations;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.
1) Winning the Lottery
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.
As it stands, the Panthers are 8 points out of a playoff spot and the Eastern Conference is closing in on them; meaning the Canadiens could have two shots at the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery at this current pace.
This could go down as one of the best trades in recent Canadiens history.