Here’s the thing about changing GMs: He still has to deal with the decisions the fired executive left behind. So, of course, Marc Bergevin is no longer the general manager of the Canadiens, but Kent Hughes isn’t just tasked with putting his own mark on the Habs. He must also take care of Bergevin’s luggage.
And, frankly, you might need Bergevin’s biceps to be able to carry these bags. Maybe that’s why, at the highest management level, leading the Canadiens is a two-man job between Hughes and Jeff Gorton?
Let’s break down the many questions plaguing the Canadiens, dig into the rubble of the Bergevin regime, and try to guess at some early milestones (2022 NHL trade deadline?) for Hughes, Gorton and the rest of the Canadiens staff.
Bergevin leaves Hughes, Gorton, Canadiens with very few boxes checked
Think about the elements of a successful NHL team. While it is possible that things could be better for Canadians right now, down the line, they are inundated with questions and running out of answers.
Dominique Ducharme is far from a safe bet as NHL head coach
Jeff Gorton said Ducharme will remain the Canadiens’ head coach for the remainder of the season. But that’s about all. And, while some would say Ducharme was behind the bench for (most of) the Canadiens’ 2020 Stanley Cup Final, this season’s failures loom large.
Situation unclear for Carey Price, goaltender of the Canadiens
After a deeply redemptive playoff run, Carey Price hasn’t played a single game this season. At the start of the season, Price entered the player assistance program and may or may not be recovering from a knee injury on what could be a long road to getting back to playing again.
Even if you assume Carey Price can come back – maybe late this season, next season, etc. – he is 34 years old and has mostly wrestled in recent years. His $10.5 million salary cap hit throughout the 2025-26 season.
Jake Allen, 31, looks like a good squad option, but is unlikely to be part of a long-term solution.
While Montreal may have a significant pool of goalie prospects, there’s no guarantee that quality goes hand in hand with quantity. This all turns into a very blurry (but not exactly cheap) situation on the net.
Few reasons to be optimistic in defense
Although Price has been out all season so far, the Canadiens have indicated Shea Weber may never play again. Unfortunately, the main questions may revolve around whether his contract lands on LTIR or on Montreal ships that deal with Nashville (as the Predators may fear recovery penalties if they retire).
Either way, you can more or less tag 36-year-old Shea Weber.
Looking at the rest of the Canadiens’ defence, the picture is not pretty.
- If you trace Marc Bergevin’s peak moments as the Canadiens’ general manager, it won’t take long to trade Jeff Petry and sign him to a contract extension in 2015. At 34, Petry is likely worth his current cap of $6.25 million. But will he be worth that much through 2024-25, and how long will it take for the Habs to get back on track? If there is a trade deal for Jeff Petry and the Canadiens can accept his no-trade clause, then it might be best to move him before the rest of the league comes down on him.
- Really, that goes for just about any Canadiens defenseman. This is an aging group, with terms in pretty much all the wrong places. If you can trade Petry, Ben Chiarot (30), Joel Edmundson (28) and if you’re really lucky David Savard (31), then you do. Few things are sacred with this group. More savvy teams may experience results similar to this Evolving Hockey XGAR chart, especially over time.
Areas where Hughes, Gorton and the Canadiens have more hope of improving
So if you’re Hughes, Gorton and the Canadians, what do you do next? Plus maybe cry for a minute?
A question of emphasis in development, coaching?
During his introductory press conference, Hughes explained that he would like to focus on offense as the Canadiens’ general manager.
Hughes: ‘In a perfect world, we’d be an offensive-minded hockey club…that plays fast with the puck’
—Dan Robertson (@DanRTSN) January 19, 2022
Anecdotally, critics believed the Canadiens focused too much on what prospects couldn’t do, rather than developing by focusing on strengths. This is an area where the new management of the Habs can change things.
This can go for a head coach level approach, all the way through the different chains of development. Amid tough seasons, maybe players like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield need less ‘tough love’ and more confidence? Do they need a Bruce Boudreau-style boost?
boudreau really cares about pettersson 🥺 he will be fine!!! pic.twitter.com/RVIXAOfNBr
– Clarisse! (@quinnsedgework) January 11, 2022
This may be one of the areas where Montreal hopes Hughes can be for the Canadiens what Bill Zito’s regime was for the Panthers.
Look how coaches like John Tortorella focused on the bad instead of the good with a player like Anthony Duclair. Duclair bounced back a lot with the Senators, but then really took off with the Panthers. At some point, you stop having the chance to unearth unloved players and instead highlight the difference between optimizing and minimizing.
Right now, the outlook is less optimistic for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Still, both players have the kind of tools and are young enough to solve this problem. Having a positive coach and supporting organization could increase their chances of success. (And the same goes for other prospects.)
With that in mind, determining whether Dominique Ducharme is the right head coach for this approach, and so on, is key.
Canadiens set to sell aggressively at 2022 NHL trade deadline
Another key phase for the Canadiens in the near future is the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. Maybe that’s where Hughes, Gorton and the rest of the Habs can flex their muscles (maybe it’ll be awesome figuratively where it is literally impressive with Bergevin?).
- First, there are the easy things. Lease options like Ben Chiarot could yield decent returns.
- What about getting rid of other investments? Teams might be more interested in Petry and the others eventually in the offseason, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Or to dangle the possibility of some salary withholding.
- Truly, no stone should be turned over. Tyler Toffoli is still valuable at 29, and his contract is a pretty hilarious affair. But would these strengths yield a commercial return that would make more sense to Canadians? Probably, especially if they’re considering at least a semi-rebuild.
Hard work, but fortunes can change quickly in the NHL and in sports in general
Honestly, right now the Canadiens look like a mess. Hence the title.
However, over the years, the teams have surprised. The Ducks appear to be a year or even two ahead of schedule. Instead of rebuilding, the Wild have seized on Kirill Kaprizov’s arrival and look legit (although that could change if they don’t handle things well after buyouts). A steadfast approach to rebuilding can look promising (Red Wings) or a bit grim (Senators).
Truly, Canadians can attest to the great shrug of hockey results. Last season, they were three wins short of winning the Stanley Cup after firing their coach and finishing with the last playoff spot in the North Division. This season they have fired their general manager and look adrift.
It won’t be easy for Hughes to steer the Canadiens in the right direction as general manager. Maybe that will be part of the fun for the former player agent?