General manager Kent Hughes met with the media on Wednesday afternoon, providing clarity on potential Canadiens trades, Cole Caufield’s extension, as well as his strategy moving forward.
The first topic was Juraj Slafkovsky’s injury, which will likely put an end to the rookie’s frustrating rookie season.
There’s concern regarding Slafkovsky’s development, given he was used sparingly and struggled to produce with a never-ending carousel of linemates, but Hughes pointed to the value of the experience gained while playing limited minutes.
“I don’t think there’s any one path for development. Every player is different. It’s a very reactive instinctive game. In Juraj’s case, we’re trying to help him understand how he can be most successful in North America, and that’s not necessarily natural to him. We believe his development happens in stages.
“But we’re not worried about the production side of it. We’re really worried about seeing the areas we want him to improve on. Do we see progress in those areas? We believe long term if he makes those changes, it will allow him to adapt to the North American style and allow him to be the best player he can be.”
It’s a familiar refrain from the Canadiens, who have repeatedly mentioned they were not drafting the best player at the Draft, but rather a player who could become a dominant presence.
But there’s no denying Slafkovsky’s first season was tumultuous, leaving much ground to be covered if the Canadiens hope he evolves into a great NHL player.
“Slafkovsky has to learn to define his game,” said Hughes. “He has natural talent. But for him, it’s about learning the aspects of the game in which he can improve to become the best player possible.”
The Canadiens revealed they had frequent conversations about sending Slafkovsky to the AHL but decided he’d be best off learning in the NHL, a decision that can be considered questionable with the benefit of hindsight.
The worry for Hughes and Co. was regarding Slafkovsky’s production in the AHL. If he failed to score, it could have ended up being a counterproductive assignment, which would have put even more pressure on the young winger, a fair argument.
But it’s also fair to say his usage and production in the NHL were counterproductive in that respect.
Hughes also provided an update on the Cole Caufield contract negotiations, which could lead to one of the biggest contracts in franchise history seeing as Caufield has emerged as one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL.
But the Canadiens’ general manager remained coy about the process, a reasonable strategy.
“One thing is certain, we want Caufield to be with us long-term, and we think Caufield wants to be here long-term,” said Hughes. “We need to maintain flexibility. And I know I’m talking a lot about transparency. But when it comes to contracts, I won’t be transparent about negotiations.”
Hughes hit on potential Canadiens trades, which should come into play as the NHL Trade Deadline quickly approaches.
“The salary cap is still an issue for most teams, not just this year, but in the future. The closer we get to the trade deadline, the more I expect the market to be active,” said Hughes. “The market hasn’t changed much. I stay in constant communication with all GMs since the start of the year. It’s a matter of how many teams are sellers, how many players are available, and the talent level of the available players.”
One of the players expected to move is forward Sean Monahan, and though Hughes claimed he has not decided whether he’ll move the talented centre, the sparse availability of talented players on the trade market indicates there’s little chance he remains with the Canadiens.
Interestingly, even though Monahan is one of the most likely players to move at the trade deadline, Hughes mentioned the surplus of left-handed defenceman, as well as the strong play from several rookie blueliners, will give him much more leniency when it comes to trading a veteran defenceman.
A player like Joel Edmundson fits the bill in this case and may be involved in one of the Canadiens trades, although the team will have to be careful about stripping the defensive group of players that can act as mentors for their younger defencemen.
As for Samuel Montembeault, Hughes confirmed he is not interested in trading his young goaltender, a safe, yet wise decision given Montembeault’s recent play.