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Hughes: ‘No question’ Habs want to add offence, Monahan situation remains open-ended

Montreal Canadiens Kent Hughes - The Canadian Press

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes spoke to the media on Monday at his annual mid-season availability and indicated that his team is looking to add some offensive punch to its lineup.

Just past the midway point in their schedule, the Habs are 17-18-7 and sit sixth in the Atlantic Division with 41 points in 42 games. The team has struggled to score, sitting 28th in the league with 116 goals and a minus-29 goal differential.

Captain Nick Suzuki again leads the team with 35 points after pacing the team in scoring in 2022 (61 points) and 2023 (66). The Canadiens have not had a player break 70 points since Max Domi (72) in 2018-19 and have not had a player break one point per game since Alexei Kovalev (84) in 2007-08.

With plenty of young players and draft picks at his disposal, Hughes says the team continues to look for ways to support Suzuki and Cole Caufield up front.

“We’re looking for players that can help us. Are we looking to add offence to this group? No question about it,” Hughes said Monday. “We were talking about our defence group and having a lot of depth. If we’re able to re-balance the ledger either using young players at a position where there is a logjam or draft picks.

“We have 22 picks over the next two years. Do I feel we’ll use all 22 picks? In a perfect world, no. In a perfect world, we’ll use some of the picks, as we’ve done in the past, to get a [Kirby] Dach or a [Alex] Newhook.  As we continue to move forward we’ll have more financial flexibility in the cap to evaluate things.”

The Canadiens have two significant trade pieces to potentially use in their quest to find offence or continue to add to their stock of draft selections, as goalie Jake Allen and forward Sean Monahan are ranked No. 3 and 4 on TSN’s Trade Bait board.

Hughes addressed the possibility of trading Monahan, who has 11 goals and 24 points this season after signing a one-year, $1.985 million contract with the Habs this past offseason, following a report from TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger, stating that the Canadiens and Monahan agreed when he re-signed that he would be dealt to a contender once the deadline drew closer. 

“When you talk about signing a player to a one-year deal and convincing a player to come to a team that’s in a phase of building, as a player you evaluate and look at what the opportunity is and to be able to reset and be able to play,” said Hughes. “It’s more of an open-ended situation with Sean: Come here, play and let’s where we are when we get to the deadline. And that’s still the case.”

Hughes also discussed the three-goaltender rotation the team has been running all season, splitting time among Allen, Samuel Montembeault, and Cayden Primeau. He stated he decided to start the season with three goalies, not wanting to lose Primeau on waivers, but it is not part of the plan to roll three goalies for the entire season. While the veteran Allen could be a useful acquisition for a contending team, Hughes said he can’t assure there will be a goaltender trade anytime soon.

One of the Canadiens’ biggest organizational strengths is their depth on defence. The Habs currently have four regular blueliners on the NHL roster (Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, and Justin Barron) under 24 years old. Last season’s surprising breakout, Arber Xhekaj, and AHL all-star Logan Mailloux continue to develop with the Laval Rocket, with blue-chip prospects Lane Hutson and David Reinbacher not far behind. 

Hughes says several factors will determine who stays and who goes as the team looks to reload on offence but the organization feels no rush as it waits to see how its young core develops.

“If we see that our players are progressing it provides a longer runway to figure out who stays and who goes. The other element is, obviously, waivers. At some point, waivers would force our hand. Would we explore where we have chances to re-balance the ledger so to speak? Yes, we’ll pursue them. Do I feel like we have a gun to our heads to do that right now? No not at all,” said Hughes.

“When we traded Romanov, we did it because we felt like we had a lot of defence on the left side that was coming and we had a chance to get a centre that we felt would be very good for our team. We’ll continue to look to do that but timing-wise we don't feel any urgency to do it. If the deal is there we’ll do it and if it’s not, we won’t.”