Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes expected a quiet day when the free agent market opened on Saturday.
He nevertheless made one of the first trades of the day, trading defenseman Joel Edmundson to the Washington Capitals for a draft pick.
For the rest, Hughes has hired two players who should mainly play with the Laval Rocket next winter in Philippe Maillet and Brady Keeper.
The fact that Hughes attended a press conference about two hours after the market opened spoke volumes about his plans for the day.
“Our biggest concern is not to block our young players, he explained by videoconference. That is to say, to go and get a player aged 32 or 33 who could help us for a year or two, but that hurts the chances of a young player to progress and develop in our line-up. so that he will be with us for years to come. »
Hughes cleared some space for youngsters in the defensive squad by trading Edmundson to the Capitals.
In return, the Canadiens receive third- and seventh-round picks in 2024. The third-round pick originally belonged to the Minnesota Wild.
The Habs are also withholding half of the 30-year-old defender’s salary. Edmundson has one more season to go on a contract worth US$3.5 million a year.
“Joel didn’t ask for a trade. He loves Montreal. He had mentioned in the past that he was stressed about being traded, Hughes said. When I met him last year, I told him he had nothing to worry about, but that he was probably going to be traded before the end of his contract. »
Edmundson played three seasons with the Canadiens and helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2021.
He has, however, been hampered by a lower back injury in the last two campaigns and has been limited to 24 and 61 games respectively in 2021-22 and 2022-23.
Edmundson won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019.
“Joel had a big presence in our locker room,” Hughes said. He had a leadership role. I told him that I hoped he left a part of him in our locker room, that young people learned lessons from him. »
There is also some congestion on the attacking side, especially if youngsters are to rise in rank and have more important roles than last season.
Hughes therefore did not close the door to a scenario in which one or two forwards were traded for picks by the start of camp in September.
Drouin joins MacKinnon
The association between Jonathan Drouin and the Canadiens has officially come to an end.
Drouin took advantage of the freelance to sign a one-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche. According to various media, Drouin will receive $825,000 next season.
The Quebec forward scored 48 goals and 138 assists in 321 games during his six seasons with the Habs. He will never have met the expectations of fans and team management, as well as those he had in mind for himself, he admitted in April during the end-of-season review.
Troubled by injuries and mental health problems during the second half of his stay with the Canadiens, Drouin will have the opportunity to relaunch his career with the Avalanche.
He will find a familiar face in the locker room, he who rubbed shoulders with Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon for two seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They won the Memorial Cup together in 2013.
“If you saw them play in the junior, their cohesion was undeniable, underlined the general manager of the Avalanche, Chris MacFarland, in videoconference. Of course, we consulted Nathan. He knows him better than anyone as a hockey player and as a person. He supported our approach.
“It’s a low risk situation with a potentially high reward, both for the team and the player,” he added.
MacFarland also said he believed Drouin would have a chance to establish himself alongside MacKinnon or Ryan Johansen, recently acquired from the Nashville Predators.
The Carousel of the Deep
The Canadian lost a few depth players when the free agent market opened. Alex Belzile accepted a two-year offer from the New York Rangers, Anthony Richard signed a one-year deal with the Boston Bruins, while Corey Schueneman also signed a one-year deal with the Avalanche.
Belzile, who is a native of Saint-Éloi and who is 31 years old, had six goals and eight assists in 31 games last season with the Canadiens.
Richard, from Trois-Rivières and 26 years old, registered three goals and two assists in 13 games with the Habs.
Schueneman, a 27-year-old American defenseman, played 31 games with the Canadiens during his time with the organization, including seven last winter.
Hughes secured reinforcements for the Rocket by adding Maillet on forward and Keeper on defense.
Maillet, 30, has spent the past two seasons with the Metallurg of Magnitogorsk in the KHL, totaling 92 points, including 37 goals, in 113 games. The Lachenaie native played two games with the Capitals during the 2020-21 season.
For his part, Keeper, 27, played for the Abbotsford Canucks last season, amassing a goal and five assists in 35 games. Keeper also played two National Hockey League games with the Florida Panthers.
Hughes preaches patience
David Reinbacher has been the target of negative comments on social media after the Canadiens selected him fifth in the draft on Wednesday night in Nashville.
Some fans attacked him, when they would have preferred to see the Canadian choose an attacker like the Russian Matvei Michkov.
Hughes came to the defense of the 18-year-old Austrian full-back on Saturday.
“I don’t know what to tell them (the frustrated fans) except that we trust the player we drafted,” he said. I hope they will give him time to prove himself on the ice. We believe we got a very good player, who will play for us for a long time.
“We know our fans are passionate about the draft because we were picking early,” he added. They were passionate last year with Shane Wright. I can’t say I’m surprised. We understand that there was a lot of discussion on social media about Michkov. We can only ask them to be patient. »
Fans were quickly charmed by Juraj Slafkovsky last year, after the Habs preferred him to Wright. Reinbacher’s charm mission will begin this week at development camp, which will continue until Tuesday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.