A Four Point Off Season Plan for Canadiens


The Montreal Canadiens are about to enter the second offseason under general manager (GM) Kent Hughes and executive vice-president (EVP) Jeff Gorton. They have much to do with the franchise that finished 28th in the NHL.

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The Canadiens are projected to have $9.66 million under the cap with 20 players on the roster. Carey Price’s $10.5 million contract is in that calculation, and with his return to the long-term injured reserve (LTIR), that leaves Montreal $20.16 million under the cap. With that space, the first order of business will have to be to sign Cole Caufield to an extension. His term and annual average value (AAV) will determine how much salary cap space they have left to work with, not only for next season but further on as this contract will help set the salary cap structure.

The good news is that the Canadiens will be going into the 2023-24 season with a young roster with some experience, salary cap space and some veterans to support the young core. However, Hughes and Gorton have a long to-do list to tackle before the Habs return for the 2023-24 season training camp.

1 -Canadiens Need to Manage Expectations

Canadiens fans have been surprisingly understanding of the decision to rebuild. A big reason for their embracing this plan had a lot to do with the management team being transparent in their approach, explaining why they chose this path and what the end goal is. But after two seasons that saw the franchise finish in the bottom five of the NHL, the task of managing expectations can buy them the time they need to complete their view, but also in protecting the players. But at some point, they will need to see the progression from basement dwellers to a more competitive team.

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens general manager (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

“We got a lot of young hockey players; we want them to start to take ownership not only for their own but for the collective here – but it is a balance. If we push too far in one direction, we run the risk of compromising development,” explained Hughes. “I don’t know if we’re going to make the playoffs but we’re not coming into the season saying it’s a foregone conclusion. We want to push to try to make the playoffs & if we don’t make the playoffs, that’s fine, it is what it is just as long as along the way we’ve seen a great effort, we’ve seen individuals progress & we see our team moving in that direction – we’re not going into the season saying we’re out of the playoffs.”

2 – Canadiens Need to Improve Off-Ice Departments

There is still a need to improve the amateur and pro drafting departments by adding more scouts. The same goes for the analytics and player development departments, which could also benefit from having more staff. Yet improvements in the Medical department would have the biggest immediate impact.

For the second straight season, the Canadiens led the NHL with 751 man-games lost to injury. Only captain Nick Suzuki has played all 82 games in either of the last two years. Meanwhile, the Habs finished the season with 14 regular players on the injured list. Every other player on an NHL contract had to deal with an injury of some sort during the past season.

Hughes and Gorton were firm that they would evaluate every department, but their priority was to get to the root of the injury problems and find solutions. While they did attribute some of the injuries to bad luck, Hughes indicated that without improving their medical approach, they won’t be able to build a contending team.

3- Entry Draft is the Main Priority

To take that next step, the NHL Entry Draft will play the biggest role in any future success. Going into the Draft lottery, the Canadiens have an 8.5% chance of winning the first overall pick and an 8.8% chance of winning the second overall pick. That means there is a very slim chance at Connor Bedard.

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The Canadiens have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. Their system is filled with A- and B+ prospects who should become complementary or depth players on an NHL roster, but they don’t have an up-and-coming star prospect who is projected to be a franchise cornerstone. The good news is that this draft will have several high-end skills available in the top 10, one player projected to be available to Montreal is Will Smith.

4 – Canadiens Need to Improve On-Ice Departments

One of the largest improvements in on-ice performance will be how head coach Martin St. Louis addresses two significant aspects, special teams and his defensive scheme. Defensively there wasn’t a discernable approach to defense, this may have had to do with the massive turnover in personnel over the season, as 38 different players wore a Habs sweater this past season. On special teams, the power play showed signs of improvement as the season wore on, but the penalty kill – 72.7% for 29th in the NHL – will need to be addressed.

Martin St. Louis Montreal Canadiens
Martin St. Louis, Head Coach of the Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Yet the Canadiens management team doesn’t want to rush the process by cutting any corners only to gain some short-term success. If they had a motto for their plan, “sustainability” would be it.

“We’re trying to build this thing the right way. If we just take shortcuts, just to be a little better, I don’t think that’s going about it the right way. Building, developing and letting it happen organically is the way to go. We’re going to look into signing a player or making a trade to improve this team, without sacrificing the long-term success of this team, if it’s just a move for this season, it’s not in the cards.”

Kent Hughes

Additionally, some decisions must be made on players who are 28 years old or older that are in the medium-term plans. Josh Anderson is signed for four more seasons and has value as a veteran leader, as well as his play as a power forward is a rare asset in the NHL. While the Canadiens aren’t actively shopping him, his age means he is not a long-term fit, so Hughes would move him, but only if a rival GM meets his very high demand, which will include a first-round pick and likely a top prospect.

Despite Joel Edmundson re-affirming his desire to stay in Montreal for the final year of his contract paying him $3.5 million, his name will be in trade talks. The Canadiens have quite a bit of depth in left-handed defensemen, and Hughes will want to clear more cap space to address other needs while also allowing the rookie blueliners such as Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj more ice time.

Improving on-ice can be done by subtraction, this is why players 25 years of age or older are highly unlikely to be added, if anything, Hughes is still trying to shed veterans such as Mike Hoffman or Joel Armia to open cap space, but also roster spots to give a path to the NHL for some of their prospects who are knocking at the door.

During the NHL playoffs, Montreal’s front office will be quiet. Beneath the surface, they will be doing all the preparation, draft plans, trade plans, and more. Once Hughes and his staff have their plans set, fans will watch as he systematically attacks his to-do list to take the next step in the rebuild.

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