Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes worked hard in 2022, his first year as GM, to transform the Habs and prepare for rebuilding. However, he didn’t slow down in 2023, making several important signings and transactions for the team.
That’s why today I present Kent Hughes’ top five decisions of 2023.
5 – Draft David Reinbacher and Jacob Fowler
I fully understand that David Reinbacher’s selection was highly controversial at the last NHL draft, but he still has enormous potential. His selection surprised many, even Carey Price, who had great difficulty remembering the name of the Habs’ new player.
Here’s a reminder of the funny situation at the draft.
– Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights & News (@HockeyDaily365) June 28, 2023
Kent Hughes gets points for his sense of humor in this video. Saying “we planned it this way” lightened the mood and made a lot of people laugh.
But back to David Reinbacher. At 6’2″, he’s a player who can easily impose himself physically. Above all, he is excellent defensively and can make his mark offensively. Currently with EHC Kloten in Switzerland, the 19-year-old defender hasn’t broken any offensive records so far this season.
And let’s not forget that he’s a right-handed defenseman, which is a rarity in the Habs’ line-up at the moment. The Tricolore’s right-handed defensemen are David Savard, Justin Barron, Johnathan Kovacevic and Gustav Lindstrom. There was a need, despite the presence of Logan Mailloux as a prospect, and Kent Hughes solved the problem.
And that’s not all: he’s even earned a spot on the U.S. team for the World Junior Championship.
4 – Extending Sean Monahan’s contract
We all agree that the deal to bring Sean Monahan to Montreal turned out to be a very lucrative one for the Habs. Kent Hughes had already hit the jackpot by acquiring an excellent veteran, and he even received a first-round pick for… nothing!
But that wasn’t in 2023. What Kent Hughes did in 2023 was secure Monahan’s services with a one-season contract worth only $1.985 million on the Habs payroll.
We agree that the 29-year-old forward produces very well for a player who costs less than $2 million. He currently has nine goals and 11 assists in 33 games. He went through a slight slump towards the end of November, but he’s bounced back and is playing some good hockey in Montreal.
The fear of Kent Hughes and many fans was that Monahan would get injured. But he’s healthy as a horse and continues to do an excellent job for the Canadiens’ attack. If he continues to avoid injury, he could become an excellent bargaining chip at the trade deadline. That’s if Kent Hughes agrees to part with Monahan.
3 – Get rid of Mike Hoffman
It may seem unkind to Mike Hoffman, but it was time for him to leave Montreal. After two seasons in a Tricolore uniform, Hoffman was out of place because he lacked heart. If you play for Martin St-Louis without heart and determination, it won’t work, especially since the Habs are trying to have veterans who will set an example for the youngsters.
Martin Lemay, host of RDS’s On Jase , let his frustration be known last April, demanding that the Habs buy out Mike Hoffman’s contract at all costs.
Kent Hughes did even better on August 6, sending Mike Hoffman to San Jose in the three-team deal that sent Erik Karlsson to Pittsburgh. Hughes even added Rem Pitlick to the mix to acquire Nathan Légaré, Casey DeSmith, Jeff Petry and a second-round pick.
Based on statistics alone, you’d think Mike Hoffman was doing a good job in Montreal. He amassed 35 points in 67 games in 2021-22, then 34 points in as many games the following season.
The problem was that he wasn’t bringing anything to the table defensively, and looked very soft on the ice. Freeing up his position also gave young players more playing time to develop.
2 – Extend Samuel Montembeault’s contract
The Canadiens have been searching for their new number-one goaltender since Carey Price’s career-ending injury. No goalie has emerged as a future goalie for the franchise, but Quebecer Samuel Montembeault is currently acting as an excellent goalie until the right one is found.
Montreal spent the entire start of the season with a ménage à trois in front of the net. In the end, it was Montembeault who stood out enough to break the tie. And he hasn’t disappointed since that decision was made.
In 15 games, the 27-year-old netminder has a 7-4-3 record, a .907 save percentage and a 2.86 goals-against average. These are good statistics. We’re a long way from the elite, but he’ll be a stable goalie for Montreal.
His performance earned him this new contract offered by Kent Hughes. The agreement, good for three seasons, will take effect in 2024-25 and will add $3.15 million a year to the Habs’ payroll.
Montembeault is currently in the final season of a two-year contract, worth $1 million on the Habs payroll. His new contract represents his performance and will obviously be more lucrative, but it won’t break the bank for the Habs.
1 – Extend Cole Caufield’s contract
In December, it’s hard to be happy about this signing with his low points total, but we know what Cole Caufield is capable of. Montreal’s long-awaited goalscorer is sure to have a 40-goal season with the Habs, even if it’s not this season.
Kent Hughes waited a very long time before announcing Caufield’s contract, and fans were waiting with bated breath. When the contract figures were revealed, everyone seemed happy. $7.85 million per campaign for eight years on the payroll. Sounds like a big contract, but it could very well become a bargain in a few years’ time when the salary cap goes up.
And even if he’s struggling at the moment, you can’t blame Caufield all that much. He’s got a good crop for a 22-year-old. In 33 games, he found the back of the net eight times and collected 16 assists for a total of 24 points. We know he could produce at a rate of one point per game, and that should come in the next few seasons.
For now, we have to trust Kent Hughes’ plan, which looks good.