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The NHL trade deadline will be a balancing act for Kent Hughes

The decision to sell is easy. The rest will be more challenging.

NHL: FEB 10 Canadiens press conference Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes traded Tyler Toffoli, he signalled two things: one, he’s not going to shy away from tough decisions and two, he’s not going to waver from his focus on the team’s future.

During the press conference discussing the Toffoli trade, he said that the fact that the team is where it is in the standings the decision to sell is easy. That much is true. He mentioned Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry both by name and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they are potential trade pieces.

There will be others. The good news with the Canadiens recent run is that it becomes easier to evaluate players. Not only do you have the potential coach that will lead the team forward in Martin St. Louis, but he is getting a close look at what he would want to keep around in a better environment.

When it comes to players like players like Artturi Lehkonen, Mike Hoffman, and Josh Anderson, among others, decisions have to be made in order to identify who you want to remain a part of the organization.

Success at the trade deadline, however, is more than just identifying who to trade. Assets at the deadline are like managing the stock market. If you sell off a piece too early, you miss out on additional gains. You hold on too long, and you may end up getting less than you would have earlier.

That is part of the balancing act that Hughes will have to deal with. He traded Toffoli very early. He could have traded him months from now, and he obviously didn’t.

The right team may get just the right amount of desperate to give you exactly what you are looking for. They may also pull the trigger on another trade to fill their need first and leave you without a dance partner.

Hughes has let everyone — including the public — know that if you make him an offer he wants he won’t wait, but that takes us to the final balancing act.

Just because you expect a certain return it doesn’t mean that’s always going to materialize on the market. With such wide margins between potential playoff teams and lottery teams, there are a lot of buyers but also a lot of sellers.

I think back to when the Canadiens acquired Thomas Vanek. There were talks he would get a first-round pick and when the trade finally happened, the return was quite manageable. Taylor Hall last year was a similar story.

Even though Hughes may be expecting a certain package for certain players, come March 21, he may have to take the best package offered to him. Combine that with the other two factors above, and you can see why it’s not as simple as it appears.

That last one is especially frustrating for those on the outside. Whenever a trade happens for an underwhelming return, the reaction is to blame the GM. However, sometimes it’s not picking one package over another. Sometimes that package was simply as good as it got.

Canadiens executive Vice President of hockey operations Jeff Gorton has been down this road before. Hughes has had to balance negotiations throughout his career in hockey. They aren’t strangers to what is facing them, in what is an important few weeks for the organization.