Earlier this week, the Habs made their selection for GM, hiring player agent Kent Hughes. Was he the right choice for the Canadiens? Our writers offer up their initial thoughts on this hire.
Terry Costaris: I’ll be upfront and say that I do not know all that much about Kent Hughes.
What I do know is that two very smart hockey minds, Jeff Gorton and Bob Gainey, plus a more seasoned President Geoff Molson (who now knows what red flags to watch out for when it comes to hiring), are fully capable of making smart decisions on these types of matters.
So, in faith, I trust that this less conventional choice for a General Manager was a good one.
From my outsider vantage point, it appears that Gorton is building the infrastructure of a true front office of smart hockey minds. I so hope that this is what the VP is doing.
Hughes immediately adds a business dimension to the management team. He will do what his job title says he should do: “general manage.” That is, he will delegate responsibilities and defer to his staff on key decisions.
It appears that Hughes will collaboratively oversee things with VP Gorton – perhaps like the Toronto Maple Leafs-style model where Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas work in tandem.
Hughes adds a unique dimension to player negotiations. He has worked with every NHL GM and knows how to deal with them. Hughes as an agent also knows what motivates and demotivates players. This should both make Montreal a better market to play in and help in the upgrading of its development department. In addition, Hughes should improve Montreal’s ability to land free agents.
My hope is that more astute hockey minds will be added to the mix – something along the lines of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ brain trust model consisting of former GMs along with acquired high-end scouting and player development personnel.
Hopefully, the yo-yo days of one good move followed by one head-scratcher are finally over. Hopefully as well, this franchise has learned that a proper business does not allow management to hire friends over more qualified candidates. This is a business and must be run accordingly. If not, then Montreal’s Cup drought will inch its way towards 40 years and counting.
Allan Katz: Geoff Molson has found himself forced to do the previously unthinkable; find an executive to partner with a GM to create a modern force to reckon with. The problem all along is that Molson wanted to be that man and when he finally realized he was not up to snuff for the job, he went and hired a strong executive to hire and partner with the next GM. Strangely, Geoff hired a Jeff, and MOL-SON hired a GOR-TON. If you’re thinking, “That’s meaningless,” that is my point.
The fact is that even though all the prognostications have veered positive, nobody really knows how this is going to work out. But there is one clue that says more than all the happy accolades; Gorton says he and Hughes are not best friends, but instead talk professionally a few times a week for years on end. I don’t know about you, but any man who talks to another man a few times a week for a decade or longer are obviously simpatico. And that is what is most important. Gorton needs to succeed on his terms and he wanted and got his man. These guys mean to be the Habs’ Dynamic Duo and from the looks of things, they might just be on their way.
Brian La Rose: When the interview list was leaked, Hughes was at the top of my wish list. Among a pool of people with no GM experience, he had plenty of relevant hockey experience in a decision-making capacity, an element that I don’t think got enough attention in this process. Hiring young up-and-comers is one thing but you also don’t necessarily want someone who has only provided secondary support to other people; the transition can be rough. As an agent who successfully merged a firm with Quartexx, became a partner, and helped grow the new firm, he has some experience calling the shots. Between that, his relationship with Gorton, and even his brief playing and coaching background, this hire makes a lot of sense.
I want to touch on the other two finalists for a quick second. Daniel Briere was my second preference if Hughes didn’t want to jump careers as his limited NHL front office resume was at least strengthened by getting a new ECHL team off the ground and he has been involved in a lot of the day-to-day stuff. That’s a pretty impressive feather in his cap from a big picture perspective. Mathieu Darche was a popular pick for some and I could see him being a GM one day. However, he’s not ready yet. He’s not even an assistant GM at this stage of his executive career and more experience is needed. Whenever Montreal’s next opening for this role comes up (hopefully not anytime soon but it will happen one day), he’d be a much more logical and viable choice at that time.
Kevin Leveille: I think Hughes is the right hire for Gorton. Hughes appears to have been Gorton’s man from the start. This means that Gorton identified Hughes as a guy he could work with and enters the partnership with an open mind meaning easier communication through every single decision made. They certainly appear to be complementary pieces as well, with Gorton being a savvy scout while Hughes will be relied upon for negotiations of all sorts. Mostly, Gorton did not have to go to a Plan B. What he sold Molson on is exactly what he’s now brought to the table, and that’s just overall great news.
Hughes represents a shift from the way the Habs have done business in the past. He’s not a repeat manager or a former player. I love this idea and think it can bring some interesting ideas to the table. We’ve already seen a shift as reported by Patrice Brisebois that former players are likely to get better access to the current players, and I believe this to be positive and important in how current players can deal with a pressure-filled market like Montreal.
Also consider what Hughes brings to the table. Returning to his important role as an agent who is used to negotiations, it’s easy to see how this can be a strength for the team, especially in a market where players are generally overpaid due to the market itself. It’s cold, it’s high-tax, and it’s pressure-filled. Having his negotiating power at the table will mean fewer situations where management alienates a player over contract disputes. Might mean more overpaid players, but I’m willing to deal with that if it means pissing off fewer players in the process of getting a contract done.
But his best attribute might actually be what he can bring to player development! I listened to a recent appearance Hughes had on a Boston podcast of nearly an hour and I came away thinking that Hughes will bring a completely 2022 approach to player development. Not only does he seem to get where players come from, but he seems to have a fantastic grasp of how to handle different markets to take pressure off the kids and let them play to their strengths to develop to their max potential. This doesn’t mean the team will suddenly bat 1.000. But there’s little denying that this was the Timmins’ era shortfall and the most glaring need of the organization moving forward and they seem to have two guys in Gorton and Hughes that will bring a contemporary approach to player development and that can only mean that the rate of success should improve; hopefully in a very noteworthy way.
Peter Longo: Well, certainly getting the management and leadership team in place is a positive thing for the team. The less uncertainty the better in these types of situations. Hughes is a bit of an unknown to me so rather than give an uninformed opinion, I’m going to do some pros and cons.
- As an agent with a lengthy career, Kent should have an extremely strong grasp of contract negotiation techniques and salary cap/CBA rules. This is a critical part of the management of NHL teams and something that Bergevin sometimes struggled with.
- Hughes was a highly successful agent and well respected. You don’t last long or become successful doing such unless you are a respectable, personable person who is trustworthy and honest. These types of qualities will be well received.
- Given his past, he will likely have established relationships with other NHL team personnel and many players. There won’t be any lost time required to establish relationships in time for the trade deadline.
- It’s a huge job stepping into a multi-billion-dollar organization under intense public scrutiny from fans, anti-hockey critics, government, etc. He has never been thrust into such a high-stress environment. Some people excel, others struggle from day one.
- Hughes will be leading an organization of thousands, including regular employees, business and hockey management personnel, head coaches, and players. From what I can tell, he has never been responsible for such a large organization. Some people are naturally talented at leading organizations and are able to find the balance of leadership attributes. Without any experience in such a large organization, I’m hopeful he is a natural.
- While he’s played hockey and been around the sport for decades, it’s uncertain if he’ll be able to provide any leadership on talent assessment or player development. This is one area the Habs are in desperate need of improvement. I don’t see Hughes moving the needle on this front.
- Reportedly, he’s a good friend of Gorton, who convinced him to take the job. Working for friends and family can be disastrous. Time will tell how these two work together. If one of them struggles, will the friendship get in the way of improving team performance?
Overall, Hughes definitely checks some of the boxes but leaves other boxes very empty. It’ll have to be a team effort and approach. At the very least, the uncertainty has ended and the management team can start to establish the new approach going forward with the organization.
Ken MacLeod: I like the choice of Hughes as the new GM. The boardroom side of the game has become increasingly more complex in recent years and candidates with non-traditional backgrounds for these positions are finally being taken seriously. It probably won’t be too long before the NHL sees its first female general manager.
And Hughes has played some hockey in his day. The Montreal native suited up for four seasons of NCAA Division III hockey with Middlebury College in Vermont from 1988 to 1992. He holds the school record for assists (140) and points (194) in a career and most assists (48 in 1992) and most points (63 in 1992) in a season.
It’s also interesting that he has a son playing at Northeastern who is expected to be taken in the first round this summer. The next time Hughes is visiting his son, he should have a chat with his teammate, Jordan Harris. If Harris, a modern-style, mobile defenceman, doesn’t sign with the Canadiens before he graduates this summer, the Habs lose their rights to a promising defence prospect. Go to it, Kent!
Paul MacLeod: There are many reasons why I like the Hughes hiring. He presents well in front of the media, he is highly intelligent and he is well connected in the NHL. Plus, Darren Ferris, known as one of the most difficult agents to negotiators in the game, calls him “a shark”.
If that was not enough, he believes in using analytics, wants to build a fast, offensive-minded puck possession team that will be set up to compete every season for years, and he wants to emphasize innovative player development strategies and create an organization that players want to join. From his press conference, I also learned that he knows how to go about transitioning into a new organization.
He said (as paraphrased from his introductory press conference):
- He couldn’t really say much or take action until he got to know the people in the organization (this was noted several times);
- There are a lot of interesting pieces in Montreal;
- The Canadiens aren’t where they hoped to be. Some of that is circumstance but there are problems and changes are coming;
- They will spend a lot of time evaluating and developing the vision.
In short, Hughes seems like a man committed to taking the time required to learn about his new organization and then working with Gorton to craft a vision for the team to guide the team’s direction for at least the next five years. Are there other people they could have hired? Yes. Are there other people they objectively should have hired? No. It seems that similarly to the hiring of Gorton and Chantal Machabee, Les Canadiens have gotten the right person for the job. Now, with the right people in place all that is left to do the simple task of re-building a capped-out, 32nd place team burdened with numerous difficult contracts.
Norm Szcyrek: I am in favour of the Hughes hiring for several reasons. It appeared that none of the candidates that were interviewed had NHL GM experience, so Gorton decided to augment his own skills in that department with someone he has worked with many times. Gorton had strong praise of Hughes, who had a significant corral of 22 NHL players he negotiated contracts for with various pro teams. From the details that came out of Wednesday’s press conference, Kent easily checks the bilingual box and grew up in the Montreal area so he knows what the expectations are for him to take over this job. We don’t know what he will need to learn, but he has a good mentor in Gorton. The team approach for the top of the hockey operations team is implemented in other successful NHL teams; it’s a shame Molson did not provide Bergevin with a VP overseer when he first started. That may have helped him better navigate out of bad situations Bergevin faced during his nine-plus seasons running the Montreal club.
Dave Woodward: It is difficult to assess this hire. Based on the articles I have reviewed, Hughes is very well respected in the hockey community but, as a player agent, he is unknown to most fans.
I would have preferred that the Canadiens hire a GM with a proven track record in player development. Of course, the Canadiens did ask Anaheim for permission to interview Martin Madden Jr. but that request was denied.
However, Gorton has a long-standing relationship with Hughes and the trust and confidence they have in one another likely was a key factor in Gorton’s decision.
As with all hires, time will tell but the subsequent hires by Hughes and Gorton should, in this pundit’s view, focus on the drafting and development of young prospects.