Monahan trade further arms Canadiens GM Hughes to deliver elite talent to Montreal

Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes spoke about his decision to trade forward Sean Monahan nearly a month away from the NHL trade deadline, saying that he didn't see a significant upside in making the move then vs. now.

If you’re looking for a masterclass in asset management, just call Kent Hughes.

The Montreal Canadiens general manager delivered yet another lesson Friday, trading Sean Monahan when his value was at its highest, acquiring a 2024 first-round pick and a 2027 conditional third-round pick from the Winnipeg Jets. This after originally obtaining a first-round pick from the Calgary Flames just to take on Monahan’s expiring $6.375-million salary when his value was at its lowest back in 2022.

In between, the Canadiens benefited from Monahan’s experience, and from his versatile play and leadership, and those were gifts he continued to offer for just $1.985 million against the cap this season.

But Monahan’s greatest donation to the team is what he brought Hughes on Friday.

The player’s compensation is a chance to play for a contender and build up his value in more meaningful games than he’d have played in for the Canadiens ahead of the biggest contract negotiation of his career. Monahan will fit well with the Jets, he’ll bring depth and flexibility, and plug in seamlessly to their impressive structure under coach Rick Bowness. And he’ll be happy to do it back in the conference in which he both began and cemented his career.

But the Canadiens are really getting the best end of this deal, especially when you consider the flexibility it offers Hughes to now make them considerably better.

Oh, there will be some fans who will argue on that one. Plenty of them wanted the 29-year-old Monahan locked up for term just based on his production of 35 points in 49 games, thinking the wise decision would’ve been to just turn away from the trade market to give Monahan what he might eventually earn in free agency if he remains healthy through 82 games and continues to produce at a reasonable level.

Of course, that completely ignores that Monahan’s last three seasons were cut short by surgeries, and that it was questionable at best he could stay healthy enough to provide greater value to the Canadiens over the coming years than he would on the trade market over the coming weeks.

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Canadiens fans can’t be upset with Hughes for pouncing after the Vancouver Canucks greased the market for Monahan on Thursday — making him the best centre available by trading multiple assets to the Flames for Elias Lindholm. And since most of them have been begging for the Canadiens to acquire some elite forward talent for years, they have to realize Hughes would’ve been further handicapped to deliver on that front had he copped to signing Monahan instead of taking what he got from the Jets.

They should be happy he did what he did. And they should be excited about he’ll do in short order.

Hughes has traded first-round picks in each of the last two drafts to build up Montreal’s forward arsenal, bringing in former first-rounders Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook while each were still on the upswing of their development, and he is now re-armed to do more of the same.

Winnipeg’s first choice this year gives Hughes two first-round picks in 2024. He has the Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2025 in addition to Calgary’s for initially taking on Monahan, and he has one more in 2026. He has four more picks in the second round and five more in the third through 2026, and that signifies just how great his opportunity is to improve his team in multiple ways.

It wasn’t too long ago that Hughes talked about transitioning the Canadiens from the future asset-collection phase of their rebuild to the next phase — of turning some of those assets around through trade to improve the team — and Friday’s move only propels the GM forward on that path.

Good history isn’t necessarily a precursor to future success, but it should be seen as an indicator of how smoothly Hughes’ next step on that path might be. If you think about the trades Hughes has made to date — the hauls brought in for Ben Chiarot, Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen, what he gave up to acquire Dach and Newhook, and the Monahan deals — there’s more than enough reason to suggest Friday’s move is going to pay dividends for the Canadiens.

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That Hughes can pick from his stockpile of young, already-established NHL defencemen and a deep prospect pool to enrich any future trade proposal only strengthens his hand.

And the GM has the opportunity to make that hand even stronger before March 8.

Perhaps Hughes will serve up another asset-management lesson between now and then.

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