A day before the draft, Montreal made a notable move, sending picks 31 and 37 along with defenceman Gianni Fairbrother to Colorado in exchange for pending restricted free agent forward Alex Newhook. Now that Montreal’s summer activity has slowed down, our writers have mixed opinions on the swap.
Terry Costaris: There are so many ways to look at this trade. Right now, the waters are far too muddy to fully understand why Montreal would pay such a steep price for Newhook. We won’t fully know for a few years, how good, bad, or win-win this deal turned out to be.
Right now, I can say that Newhook, when he is able to find space, has one laser of a shot. He is also a hard-working, fast player who needs to improve on his consistency. Hopefully, Montreal’s first-rate development team will help iron out his kinks.
You can look at this transaction from a rosy perspective in which Montreal traded away Ben Chiarot, a second-round pick, and an expendable Fairbrother for Newhook.
Conversely, you look at this deal from a less rosy perspective in which the Habs traded a potentially better Owen Beck and Lane Hutson from this year’s deep draft.
Not so nice.
I realize that there’s only a 25% chance that a second-rounder will pan out as someone who is significant. But remember when Montreal traded two second-round draft picks for Andrew Shaw and one of them turned out to be Alex DeBrincat?
Again, not so nice.
Here are some other takeaways from this deal.
– General Manager Kent Hughes is fearless. He does what he thinks is right in order to make the Canadiens a better team.
– Hughes sure likes his former clients from Quartexx. And,
– He is pushing the accelerator on Montreal’s rebuild so that this franchise will be in contention 2-3 years earlier than what typically takes place
On point number two though, I see a potential red flag. Yes, Hughes knows these players better than any GM but this could become a major problem. Does he have the necessary cut throatiness to trade his former clients if need be?
A great GM can’t get too close to his players. This is professional hockey where personnel are coldly considered “pieces.” Hughes could be painting himself into a very unpleasant emotional corner by having so many of his former clients on the Canadiens’ roster.
So, how do I rate this deal? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. How’s that for decisiveness?
Allan Katz: Last year the Habs needed a star centre. This was not a problem because the Habs had the first pick in the draft and Shane Wright was there waiting for the team to grab the budding superstar. The problem was the Habs (and a fair number of other teams) suspected Wright was not quite what EVERYONE expected him to become. So, they went for a mammoth of a young man named Slafkovsky and acquired their centre by trading for Dach. The results of these mechanics are not all in, but there are hints that Wright and Slafkovsky might land up only being very good players. Meanwhile, Dach, still very young, showed defensive gifts that are invaluable and flashes of offensive skills that potentially match both prospects.
This year the team needed a scoring star, preferably a centre. The problem was they had the fifth pick in the draft and the four players Montreal wanted to grab were bound to be gone. This was not a surprise to the management team and so before the draft, they went out looking for a Dachian-type prospect and they found their man. Newhook, before last season, was ranked as the number four talent under twenty-five years old on the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado. Like Dach, Newhook’s rise seemed to hit a speed bump, but like Dach, Newhook’s talents were/are very obvious. They got their centre but they did not get their surefire superstar scorer. Newhook has unexploited offensive talents that Montreal can nurture especially because they are not Cup contenders. He is not a potential 50-goal scorer, but he is a well-rounded prospect and has a ceiling in the 30+ range.
So Newhook’s acquirement allowed the Habs to fill another position of need, right defence. This is not a small get but there is a vast range of fans and media who disagree. So, here’s the bottom line: Newhook, a well-rounded talent, was acquired so the Habs can pass on a little Russian Hockey Savant. They drafted a top-ranked prospect with top-two upside that could be a defensive rock and still has budding offensive talents in David Reinbacher. They passed on a Russian youngster that management felt they just did not have enough info to overcome their concerns about him. Just like Dach begat Slafkovsky, Newhook begat Reinbacher. It’s all a big puzzle and the pieces are not quite in place but the reactions have been swift and the fact is more shall be revealed. For what it’s worth, I think the Habs took a solid step forward toward their goals. Anything more is speculation that I feel positive about but not others.
Brian La Rose: At first, I was hung up on the ‘sticker shock’ of the two fairly high draft picks. But one of those alone wasn’t going to land Newhook, a player not far removed from being a mid-first-round pick. Then I thought of it this way, if the Habs were able to combine those picks and trade up on draft night (a big if considering zero moves were made), it probably would have gotten them into the 25 range. Does Newhook for 25 sound like as steep of a payment? Not really.
Yes, a couple of pretty good prospects went at those slots but those players are three or more years away from contributing. It’s clear that Hughes expects this team to be back in contention before that time and opted to make a move for someone that better fits that timeline. The Canadiens now have five forwards between the ages of 19 and 23 on their roster who have first-round pedigree. I doubt that’s a coincidence. Instead, they’re banking on that group continuing to develop and then in a year or two from now when they have more cap flexibility, adding a piece or two to augment it.
Should Newhook really be part of that young core group? I wouldn’t necessarily say so. I think he has the potential to produce a bit more than he has with Colorado but I’m not sure he can really be a true top-six forward. Middle-six guy that moves around a bit, sure, and those players still have a lot of usefulness to a team. I just hope they’re not placing overly high expectations on him that he can be another Dach; I think Newhook is squarely a tier below his level.
All in all, it’s not a bad trade for Montreal in the sense that they’re getting a young player who can contribute and who is going to be around for a while. But it’s certainly not a bargain price tag and with the players that went at those two spots, I think there’s a good chance at least one of them becomes a quality NHL player down the road. In the end, this could wind up being a fairly even swap. (I also wouldn’t write off Fairbrother either; while injuries and a deep depth chart hurt him with Montreal, there’s still some upside.)
Kevin Leveille: I like this trade for many reasons, the first of which is because of the trade they didn’t make in its place; the Pierre-Luc Dubois deal. Now, let’s all be honest and say that the player himself in Dubois would have been awesome to see in a Habs jersey. I will also admit that I don’t mind his $8.5M price tag. But there’s no way that giving up what the Kings did to get him makes no sense for the Habs at this point in the rebuild. The comparable is what? Dach or Kaiden Guhle, with pick 37, Josh Anderson, and Logan Mailloux? That’s not a price that makes sense for a team in a rebuild. It’s a move to contend and the Canadiens weren’t contending by adding Dubois, so I’m satisfied to see Hughes pass on this player.
Back to the trade they did make. With picks 31 and 37, the Habs gave up two good picks in a draft recognized as a very deep one. So, while on the surface the price seems higher than what they paid last year to acquire Dach, I would argue it’s very similar. I think the most important factor here is that they didn’t include their own 5th overall selection. The idea is that at 31 and 37, the Habs would have ended up looking for players with Newhook’s potential that would be realized or not a few years down the road. They get that potential now in Newhook in a timeframe that matches the current youth on the roster and avoids falling into the trap of the never-ending rebuild.
So, what about the player acquired? Well, Newhook was stuck in Colorado, and when he finally got his shot at the start of the 2022-2023 campaign, he struggled and didn’t deliver. His inconsistent play got him off the power play as 26 of his 30 points were at 5-on-5 last season. He’s a smaller player who also gets knocked off the puck easily, so anyone with the idea that we’ll see him with Caufield should forget that pretty much immediately. Newhook is said to be defensively responsible, so that helps if his final role ends up being a bit further down the depth chart. However, he’s described as a shoot-first player who was asked to carry the puck more in his attempt at fulfilling the 2C role in Colorado.
My opinion is that the Habs’ vision here is to play him with playmaking Dach on the second line as the triggerman. Suzuki-Caufield on the top line, Dach-Newhook on the second, then find the matches as they come, whether Anderson, Monahan, Slafkovsky, or Harvey-Pinard are the ones that fit on said line.
Considering this acquisition as the deal to make other than Dubois, considering this deal as a gamble that didn’t cost too much, and considering the player’s very probable role here, it is clear that due diligence appears to have been done quite extensively here and that this makes sense. Another Dach-type gamble that has the potential to pay off big time for the Habs. I like it!
Peter Longo: Well, if I’m Hughes I’m pretty embarrassed right now, as Chris MacFarland just made a fool out of him. MacFarland took just one of the two picks that he got from Montreal (in the trade for Newhook) and traded that to Tampa Bay for Ross Colton. While Colton is 3-4 years older than Newhook and a little bit bigger, he has almost the exact same production as Newhook over their careers. They are both RFAs, both have two years of scoring between 30-40 points, and both played in the 12-13 minutes per game range. So MacFarland effectively replaced Newhook with a player of similar performance, used the other pick in the draft, and still has Fairbrother as a developing prospect. Not too shabby.
I’m not saying that the trade Hughes made was terrible. According to www.dobberprospects.com, statistically both Habs’ draft picks (31st and 37th picks) have about a 35% chance of turning into an NHL player who plays over 99 games. In exchange for that, the Habs get the certainty of a young NHL player, who’s put up consecutive +30-point seasons and who they hope has more upside given the depth in Colorado and lack of playing time. It feels like the Canadiens paid a premium but overall, it’s not the worst trade I’ve seen. If Newhook can elevate his game (as the Habs hope) then I think it becomes more palatable. But it’s hard to ignore the move MacFarland made with the 37th pick and wonder why Hughes couldn’t do something similar. Is the upside of Newhook worth that additional first-round pick and Fairbrother?
Maybe Hughes overpaid or maybe MacFarland is just a really good GM. Perhaps a little bit of both? Either way, the winner of this trade is Colorado hands down.
Paul MacLeod: The Newhook trade seems like an overpay especially in the days following when the Avalanche turned the picks into Colton and Mikhail Gulyayev who some pundits are calling the “Russian Makar”. However, it is the opportunity cost of giving up the possibility of getting Michael Hrabal in the second round or drafting David Enstrom with the 31st pick that really stings from my perspective.
It might seem that from that perspective that I don’t like the trade. That is not true. Last year, I initially hated the Dach trade so this year, I’m hoping that the Habs are able to work similar magic with Newhook’s game and after being so wrong, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt especially since there is probably no one in the NHL who knows Alex Newhook better than Kent Hughes. Verdict: I’m cautiously optimistic and looking forward to seeing what Newhook can do in an expanded role.
Norm Szcyrek: I have a lot of mixed feelings about this trade. On the one hand, Newhook has excellent speed and acceleration, with top-notch defensive abilities. As a junior and college player he produced offensively, so he must have some skills in that area that have not yet been fully developed in the NHL. Montreal’s head coach believes he could be a top-six forward, but their current depth at centre has Suzuki, Dach, and Monahan at the top. That indicates he sees him as a winger. As a 5’10” forward, he is smaller but stockily built. After the trade was announced, information came out that Newhook was Hughes’s client before Kent joined the Canadiens organization, which makes more sense that he was keen to trade for him.
A friend of mine who is an Avalanche fan told me he believes Newhook has second-line centre potential. Obviously, he was behind Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado, and two seasons ago, Nazem Kadri was also blocking Newhook. However last season when Newhook had the opportunity as their second-line centre; for some reason his coach gave J.T. Compher more opportunities in that slot. When former Hab Lars Eller was acquired before the trade deadline, he appeared to get second-line ice time when Montreal played Colorado on March 13; Newhook appeared to be the fourth-line centre in that game.
So, to me, there is some risk in expecting Newhook to be a top-six player for the Canadiens. Montreal is counting on Martin St. Louis and their development staff to unlock his potential, in the same way Dach improved his play. If that does not happen, then the late first-round pick and high second-round pick in a very deep draft is too high a price to pay for Newhook who may end up with a ceiling as an excellent defensive centre or winger. Bergevin’s acquisition of Shaw for two high second-round picks (with one being DeBrincat), makes me hope that history is not going to repeat itself.
Dave Woodward: I am pleased that the Canadiens did not outbid the Kings for Dubois but that does not mean they had to make this deal. I do not like this deal at all. This is a very deep draft and the Canadiens gave up two relatively high picks and a decent prospect (whose stock has fallen due to a season-ending injury last season) for a player that has, at this early phase, struggled to find his way at the NHL level. Newhook will get more ice time in Montreal and that may (or may not) help him develop into a key forward for the team. He will certainly get every opportunity to become a regular forward for the Habs. Perhaps it was the Dach effect or Hughes’ relationship with Newhook (as his former agent) that compelled the Habs’ GM to complete this trade. However, in a draft this deep, the Canadiens gave up far too much. Sometimes, the best deals are the ones you don’t make. That’s true of the Dubois non-trade. I hope it’s not the case with this deal but I suspect it is.