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Kent Hughes’ five priorities for 2024
Since his debut in Montreal, how would you rate Kent Hughes? Without being perfect, he has made some good transactions and timely signings.

In 2023, he had to make some tough decisions. And in general, he’s done well.

Now, what does he have to do in preparation for the (important) year 2024?

1. Goalie rotation

The three-man goalie rotation will continue to be the talk of the town. It’s been a priority since September 2023, but in 2024, it’s THE priority for Kent Hughes.

But will this issue only be settled after the season? My colleague Marc-Olivier Cook discussed the possibility recently.

The three goalkeepers are doing relatively well and have each had their chances to shine.

Samuel Montembeault is clearly the number one in this lineup, having signed a nice contract a few weeks ago.

As for Cayden Primeau, he made back-to-back starts for the season opener in Chicago and Carolina.

And as for Jake Allen, as a veteran, he’s the most likely to leave. The same teams have been in the mix from the start, but no deals seem to be in the offing.

To be continued, but rotation is the Habs’ CEO’s top priority.

2. Sell at the trade deadline

Right now, Montreal is in no-man’s-land. It’s a shame, because the team is rebuilding, and if we’re not going to make the playoffs, we might as well finish at the bottom of the standings to get the best possible pick…

Unfortunately, it’s not up to the coaches and players to tank. The GM has to sell players, and that’s exactly what he has to do ahead of the next trade deadline.

Guys like David Savard, Sean Monahan and Jake Allen could move on. In any case, without them, the team should have a tougher time.

But if the playoffs are even remotely attainable, will the boss decide to keep his players and try to make the spring tournament?

To be seen.

3. Draft a forward with the top first-round pick

This point is related to my last one in that the Habs will have to draft a forward. Obviously, the best forwards available (of which there are many) are of better quality earlier in the draft.

Guys like Macklin Celebrini, Cole Eiserman, Ivan Demidov, Konsta Helenius and Cayden Lindstrom will be snapped up early, and Montreal will have to take advantage.

Last year, management decided to go for a top-5 defenseman in David Reinbacher, but in 2024, offense will have to be prioritized. I think the future on the blue line is bright.

The team really needs a talented forward.

Let’s hope the Habs don’t end up a few points out of the playoffs.

4. Sign a big free agent

In Montreal, it’s always been difficult to sign big free agents on the independent player market.

But come July 1, there will be some big ones available, and Kent Hughes will have to capitalize on this golden opportunity.

At some point, the rebuild won’t last forever and a major player will have to be acquired.

William Nylander, Jake Guentzel and Sam Reinhart are all players I’d personally target.

I don’t think a destination like Montreal is necessarily attractive for these forwards, but I’d like to see Hughes be active on the files. A bit like Ross Atkins (Blue Jays) in the cases of Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto.

Jeff Gorton is no stranger to big signings during rebuilding periods. It was he who signed Artemi Panarin to a huge contract. At the time, New York was in a period of reconstruction.

5. Free up money

To free up money, forget the contracts of Josh Anderson and Brendan Gallagher; they’re too imposing.

No team would want them. And forget a contract buyout. Hughes isn’t going to handcuff himself for several more years.

The way to free up money is to send the contracts of Joel Armia, Christian Dvorak and Jake Allen elsewhere. All three will become free agents at the end of the 2024-2025 season.

You’re going to tell me that nobody wants Armia and Dvorak, but I’ll tell you this: if a team has taken Mike Hoffman’s contract, I don’t see why the Habs’ GM couldn’t pass on the contracts of his two forwards.

Armia ($3.4 million) and Dvo ($4.45 million) have big contracts, but for one year, Hughes could withhold salary.

A GM can only hold back three contracts at a time. In the case of the Tricolore, he is holding back the pacts of Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson, but in the case of Edmundson, his contract expires at the end of the current season.

Extension

Over the next two years, here are the Canadiens’ expiring contracts.

2024 UFA: Sean Monahan, Chris Wideman, Tanner Pearson and Mitchell Stephens.

2024 RFA: Jesse Ylönen, Gustav Lindstrom and Justin Barron

2025 UFA: Christian Dvorak, Joel Armia, Jake Evans, David Savard, Michael Pezzetta, Johnathan Kovacevic and Jake Allen.

2025 RFA: Juraj Slafkovsky, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Kaiden Guhle, Cayden Primeau and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard.

Names in bold are players who will be eligible for refereeing.

In addition to the points listed above, Kent Hughes will have his work cut out for him internally. Many of the organization’s young players will need contracts. Long live the salary cap increase!

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