Selling Canadiens in position to add picks and prospects ahead of NHL trade deadline

MONTREAL — General Manager Kent Hughes has stayed in Montreal as his Canadiens begin a four-game road trip through the NHL's Western Conference.

Hughes has presumably stayed home to better make deals ahead of Friday's trade deadline as the Habs will likely once again be sellers. Defenceman Joel Edmundson, who missed 20 games this season with a lower-body injury, travelled with the Canadiens was scheduled to practice with his teammates on Monday in San Jose.

Centre Sean Monahan, another tradable asset for Hughes, remains on the long-term injury reserve. He has been out with a lower-body injury since Dec. 5 and was placed on LTIR on Jan. 17.

Hughes is in his second season as Montreal's GM and was very busy at last year's trade deadline, drastically remaking the Habs' lineup.

In the leadup to the 2021-22 deadline, Hughes sent forward Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames for forwards Tyler Pitlick and Emil Heineman, a 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2022 first-round pick used to draft forward Filip Mesar.

Hughes also shipped defenceman Ben Chiarot to the Florida Panthers for conditional first- and fourth-round picks in 2023 along with forward prospect Ty Slimanic.

He sent winger Arrturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche for defenceman Justin Barron and a 2024 second-round draft pick. Hughes also dealt blue liner Brett Kulak to the Edmonton Oilers for prospect forward William Lagesson and a 2022 second-round pick which they used to select defenceman Lane Hutson.

The Canadiens are 5-3-0 since the all-star break, putting Hughes in a better position to sell again.

Montreal already sent forward Evgenii Dadonov to the Dallas Stars in return for fellow Russian forward Denis Gurianov on Sunday. The Habs retained 50 per cent of Dadonov’s US$5 million salary.

Forwards Jonathan Drouin and Mike Hoffman have also been performing better through January and February, likely putting them on Hughes's trade block.

Drouin, from Ste-Agathe, Que., has yet to score this season but has put up 12 of his 18 total assists since Jan. 1. The winger — playing out the final season of a six-year, $33 million contract paying him $5.5 million annually — knows he could be moved to another team

"It’s up to me to show that if a team wants to get me on March 3 that I’m capable of playing well and go play for another team," Drouin said after a three-assist performance in Montreal’s 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 14. "But for now I have a job to do with the Canadiens and we’ll see what happens then."

Hoffman has another season left on his three-year deal paying him $4.5 million annually. However, the winger has been making the most of his additional minutes with nine points (one goal, nine assists) in his last 10 games, including a three assists in a 4-3 overtime win against the New York Islanders on Feb. 11.

Hughes could also turn the Canadiens into a third-party broker to facilitate deals for other teams leading up to Friday's deadline. A new trend this season, third-party brokers get compensated for accepting a percentage of a player’s salary in a blockbuster trade situation.

For example, Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin helped centre Ryan O’Reilly’s move from the St. Louis Blues to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 17. The Wild received a 2024 fourth round draft pick in exchange for retaining 25 per cent of O'Reilly's $7.5 million cap hit for the remainder of the season.

According to CapFriendly, Hughes and the Canadiens currently have almost $4.14 million to manoeuvre under the salary cap, putting them in an ideal position to help contending teams stay under the cap in return for valuable draft picks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2023.

Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press