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It’s a new dawn and a new day for the Montreal Canadiens, and it’s even got a little bit of a Boston accent.
Can you believe it?
Earlier this season, Les Habitants cleaned house in their management group by ousting longtime GM Marc Bergevin and his front office cohorts as Montreal languished in last place after pushing to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
As it turned out that was a last gasp from Montreal as Shea Weber’s body gave out, Carey Price needed a break from hockey to work on off-ice issues, Jesperi Kotkaniemi bolted to Carolina for an offer sheet and young Cole Caufield couldn’t build on last spring’s promise.
There were a number of reasons for the big time changes up top for the Habs, however. The results on the ice were among them, of course, but a lack of impact prospects in the organizational cupboard and very questionable decisions loomed like selecting troubled prospect Logan Mailloux in the first round of last summer’s NHL Draft.
It’s all in the rear view now, though, with Jeff Gorton installed as Executive Vice-President as of late November, and former player agent Kent Hughes installed as the bilingual general manager required by the Quebecois fan base. Hughes was introduced to the press this week while leaving behind a stable of high-paid clients including Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron and Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.
Instead, Hughes is intent on bringing the Original Six Montreal franchise back to prominence and his loyal clients are delighted for him.
“It’s very well-deserved. I’m super happy for him,” said Bergeron, when asked about his agent at Quartexx Management becoming head honcho in Montreal. “Obviously, it’s one of those things where he’s been with me since the beginning. So, sad to see him go as my agent, but he’s still going to be a friend, and I wish him all the best. [He’s a] super smart hockey mind, loves the game and I think he is excited for the challenge. Best of luck to him, I know he’s going to be great.”
It was an impressive debut for Hughes in front of a demanding, oft-contentious Montreal media corps as he seized control of the conversation and didn’t allow any narratives to run out of control as they sometimes do when it comes to the Canadiens in Montreal.
“I can assure you I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t confident in my ability to be the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens,” said Hughes, who was easily shifting between French and English while answering questions for over a half-hour. “The second part is I am happy and glad that they went through a process and I fully expect that if I weren’t the best candidate for the job I wouldn’t be here today.”
At the end of the day, though, it’s an eye-opening pair of hockey men with deep Boston roots now leading the Canadiens. One is a Massachusetts native in the highly qualified Gorton, and the other in Hughes is a Montreal native that’s lived in the Boston area for decades.
Who would have ever thought that a couple of Boston guys would lead a Montreal Canadiens franchise seeking their record 25th Stanley Cup? Gorton was a longtime resident of Reading, Mass. and a puck-stopping goalie attending Bridgewater State College long before he worked his way up the Black and Gold management ladder in the 1990’s.
Hughes’ brother Ryan even played three games for the Boston Bruins in 1995-96 and Hughes’ sons Riley, a seventh-round pick of the Rangers, and Jack both play hockey at Northeastern where the younger Hughes boy is expected to be high first round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Hughes has been a longtime coach in the Boston-based Junior Eagles club hockey program that’s produced its share of NHL talent over the years.
What in the name of Knuckles Nilan is going on here?
“I would describe myself as a hockey junkie,” said Hughes, who was one of 11 candidates, including Patrick Roy, that interviewed for the vacant Canadiens GM job. “I always have been. I’ve worked in the sport, I’ve coached in the sport. I’ve coached without my own children as part of it and my wife will tell you that if I’m not coaching or working in hockey I’m talking about hockey. So for me the public part of it is what it is. The excitement is the hockey piece.
"For a guy from here becoming general manager of the Canadiens is the opportunity of a lifetime. My work as an agent took me everywhere in the hockey world and Montreal remains to me the biggest hockey city. The passion of the fans here is unrivaled. It's Montreal, it's the city where I grew up, the most decorated franchise in hockey history. (Minnesota Wild GM) Bill Guerin is a friend [and another Massachusetts guy!]. He called me to talk about the decision. He told me, 'Kent, it's the New York Yankees, it's the Dallas Cowboys, it's the Montreal Canadiens. Come on, you don't have a decision to make.'
What exactly does Hughes envision for the Montreal Canadiens?
It’s the younger, faster and more explosive NHL that should excite Montreal fans pining for another Stanley Cup title, and their first since 1993, to add to their collection of a dynastic 24 Cups over the years.
“In a perfect world, we would be an offensive-minded hockey club. I don't think you can be successful in the National Hockey League today without being a defensively responsible team, but we see teams in the National Hockey League -- I think all of us can identify some -- where the focus is strictly defensive and others that are more creative,” said Hughes. “I envision a team that plays fast with the puck, that's a possession hockey team. But I also understand that you have to build a team around the players that you have, and that's going to be a process for us here as we move forward."
It’s going to be fascinating to see a Montreal fan base grudgingly embrace a couple of Massachusetts guys if Gorton and Hughes successful bring the Canadiens back to prominence. But it’s also further proof that the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge will do whatever it takes to once again taste the past Montreal glory that’s gone missing for almost 30 years now.