Now that the Montreal Canadiens have finished their first complete season of the rebuild, we have a perfect opportunity to take a look back at the trades involving general manager Kent Hughes last season.
From the start of the season to late August, the Canadiens only participated in eight total trades, a significant downtick from the 13 trades that took place between the time Hughes joined the team in the middle of the 2021-22 season to the start of the following year.
It was to be expected, seeing as the bulk of the important rebuild-related trades took place shortly after Hughes was handed the reins in late January 2022.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the trades that took place last season, as well as the grades given for each individual transaction based on asset management.
The Montreal Canadiens traded Cam Hillis to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenceman Nicolas Beaudin
This was not a significant trade, though it should be considered a win for the Habs. Beaudin was a very useful defenceman for the Laval Rocket, and has since been extended for another year of AHL action with a slight possibility that he may earn an NHL audition.
Hillis was stuck behind a long list of more talented prospects and was looking for a fresh start. Hughes obliged, which also scores some public relations points for the franchise. For the record, Hillis spent the majority of his season in the ECHL following the trade. He is currently an unrestricted free agent without a contract.
Trade Grade: B+
Evgenii Dadonov sent to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Dennis Gurianov
This is an interesting trade because as we’ve seen, Dadonov quickly found his form in Dallas, as evidenced by his relatively impressive scoring pace in the regular season and the playoffs.
The Stars have since signed Dadonov to a two-year contract extension that carries a $2.5 million annual average value.
Given that Gurianov quickly cooled off after arriving in Montreal and was not qualified by the team, we can safely say this trade was a win for the Stars.
But I am hesitant to call it a significant loss for the Habs. Dadonov’s underlying numbers suggested he was dealing with incredibly bad luck during his time with the Canadiens, and that was due, in part, to not fitting into Martin St-Louis’ system.
Such is life in a rebuild.
Regardless, Hughes found some semblance of value for a player he was going to lose at the deadline without any sort of return, which was a wise decision from an asset-management standpoint.
Trade Grade: C
Frederic Allard acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for Nate Schnarr
In the grand scheme of things, this was a nothingburger of a trade. Neither Schnarr nor Allard made an impact with their respective AHL clubs. Allard signed a contract in Europe to play with Lulea next season, whereas Schnarr did not receive a qualifying offer from the Kings and is currently without a contract.
Trade Grade: N/A
The Canadiens use their cap space to get facilitate the Nick Bonino trade
In exchange for using a little over $1 million of salary cap space, the Canadiens received the rights to 28-year-old defenceman Tony Sund, as well as a 5th-round pick in 2024 (San Jose).
Sund is Montreal Canadiens prospect Adam Engstrom’s teammate in Rogle. He has shown a decent amount of offensive prowess, but given that he’s far removed from being a prospect, the team did not tender a qualifying offer, thus losing his rights.
The real return in this case was the draft pick, which was essentially acquired for free given that the Habs were not going to use their remaining cap space between the trade deadline and the end of the season.
We often discuss the value of cap space in the NHL, but as Marc Bergevin showed us all those years ago, there’s very little value to cap space if it isn’t weaponized, since it’s an expiring asset.
Simply put, use it or lose it.
In this case, Hughes turned nothing into something, which is always a win.
Trade Grade: B+
Alex Newhook was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Gianni Fairbrother, a 2023 first-round pick (No.31, Mikhail Gulyayev) and a 2023 second-round pick (No.37, Ethan Gauthier)
I’m going to do my best to avoid bias in this trade review, but I have to be honest.
Both Gulyayev and Gauthier were players I had identified as smart targets for the Habs with the 31st and 37th overall picks, which makes the trade a little harder to swallow from an asset-management standpoint.
Gulyayev is an undersized defenceman that was at times discussed in the same vein as Lane Hutson prior to the Draft, whereas Gauthier is the type of player that can drive you up a wall during a game while also providing secondary scoring.
Colorado Avalanche, a team that won the cup last year and will likely win it again multiple times over the next decade, just got Mikhail Gulyayev with the 31st pick.
Love this pick for the Avs. pic.twitter.com/A3awqR3uvf
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) June 29, 2023
Both would have been great additions to the team’s prospect pool, though neither projects as a game-changing prospect just yet.
That being said, Hughes certainly did not receive a discount when acquiring Newhook. He paid a premium while betting on his pro scouting team and his development squad.
He’s hoping Newhook, who scored at roughly the same rate as Kirby Dach did in Chicago, will be able to turn the page on a frustrating entry into the NHL.
And though the situations are similar, it’s fair to say that Dach and Newhook have very different skill sets.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) June 27, 2023
For now, the Canadiens have a tangible asset, whereas the players selected with those picks are not guaranteed to play a single game in the NHL.
This is definitely a ‘wait and see’ type of trade. It could end up being a fantastic move for the Canadiens, but there’s also a possibility it could backfire in a big way.
I should also note that I was hesitant to give the Dach trade a good grade right off the bat, and if I had to reconsider with the benefit of hindsight, I would now give it a solid B+ or an A-, with the possibility of improving down the line.
Trade Grade: *C+ (*grade subject to change once more information becomes available)
The Montreal Canadiens sent Joel Edmundson to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a 2024 third-round pick, and a 2024 seventh-round pick
The Habs retained 50 percent of Edmundson’s salary in this trade, which explains why they received a third-round pick for a player that has had terrible underlying numbers, not to mention chronic back injuries.
Many applauded Hughes for holding onto Edmundson at the trade deadline, suggesting that he would eventually garner a very solid draft pick due to his status as a reliable ‘defensive defenceman’.
That was clearly not the case, and the fact that Hughes managed to squeeze any value at all out of the deal is rather impressive.
Simply removing Edmundson from the lineup was easily the best change the Canadiens made from a performance standpoint this offseason.
Trade Grade: A
If I were Joel Edmundson I might have tried to manage expectations a little more. pic.twitter.com/Q8dGwUclJP
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) September 12, 2022
The Montreal Canadiens acquire Jeff Petry, Casey DeSmith, Nathan Legare, 2025 second-round pick (Pittsburgh), in exchange for Rem Pitlick and Mike Hoffman
The mere fact that the Canadiens did not have to retain any money while moving Hoffman’s contract should be considered a major win. Receiving a second-round pick on top of it was also a significant return.
Petry, 35, is still a decent defender, and at the time of the trade, the concept of retaining 50 percent of his salary led to some, including myself, believing he had value in the NHL’s trade market.
The trade also opened up more ice time and opportunities for young forwards, such as Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Jesse Ylonen, and Juraj Slafkovsky.
In a vacuum, this was probably the best trade the Canadiens pulled off all year, though, we also need to consider it lead to another deal which wasn’t particularly great.
Trade Grade: A
Jeff Petry was quickly flipped to the Detroit Red Wings (50 percent retained salary) in exchange for Gustav Lindstrom and a fourth-round pick
The deal that brought Petry back to the Habs was great, but we definitely cannot say the same about the trade that sent him to the Red Wings.
In terms of asset management, it was an awful trade.
Arguably Hughes’ the worst-value deal since taking over as general manager of the team. Lindstrom is unlikely to make an impact in the rebuild, and the fourth-round pick is somehow conditional. The Habs will receive the later of Detroit or Boston’s picks. I’m genuinely not sure how the Red Wings managed to sneak that condition onto a deal that was already significantly in their favour.
Not only did Hughes retain 50 percent of Petry’s salary, giving the Red Wings a significant discount on a defenceman whose downfall has been greatly exaggerated, but the retention slot will also be used next year as well.
It also left the team with just one of their precious retention spots left this year, given that they’re also retaining a portion of Edmundson’s salary.
I understand why Hughes made the trade. He essentially honoured Petry’s request to be sent to the Red Wings, and that will score big points around the league from a public-relations point of view.
“We hope that over time players will take note and want to play for us,” said Hughes.
But in this article, we’re zeroing in on asset management, and there’s no denying that the Habs did not maximize the value of Petry as an asset.
Hughes said so himself.
“I promised [Jeff] that we would not drag it out (…), without trying to maximize every little value in the deal,” explained Hughes.
It was a gift, both to the Red Wings and Petry, which, again, does not help the franchise increase any semblance of value when it comes to the on-ice product.
Trade Grade: D-
Montreal Canadiens Trade Brass Tacks
After trading players like Tyler Toffoli, Artturi Lehkonen, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot, and Brett Kulak for healthy returns in 2021-22, we must admit that Hughes was left with the trading-chip dregs heading into last season.
That’s par for the course when it comes to a rebuild. You have to re-stock the draft pick cupboard while also removing expensive, underwhelming players from the roster once all the best trade assets have been moved, which is much easier said than done.
We also must consider that the Montreal Canadiens are expected to make another Sean Monahan-type trade in the future, and we’ll have to readjust our analysis if they do manage to swing another fantastic trade by using their available salary cap space.
I believe we can safely say that Hughes did a decent job considering the context of the trade negotiations, though given the team used up precious salary cap space and a retention spot for two seasons when handing Petry over to the Red Wings for pennies on the dollar, you’d be hard-pressed to argue he pulled off the best trade possible when discussing asset value.
I’m not convinced that holding onto Petry until the trade deadline would have necessarily paid off in spades, but there are decent odds the return would have improved, and there’s also a possibility the Canadiens would not have had to use a retention slot.
Granted, those types of trades can be difficult trades to pull off, and we have the advantage of not having to worry about the locker room chemistry, or how various players around the league perceive the Montreal Canadiens as a franchise.
Overall, I’d suggest Hughes had a decent showing in trades this season.
In other words, for the most part, they were good, but not great.