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The Montreal Canadiens’ rebuild is off to a great start

Kent Hughes’s first trade deadline as general manager was eventful and sets up the future.

New York Rangers v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Heading into the NHL Trade Deadline, Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes was clear. He would only trade some of his players on expiring contracts if people met his price.

He wanted a first-round pick for Ben Chiarot. He wanted a first-round pick for Artturi Lehkonen. He wanted a second-round pick for Brett Kulak.

As the final trades trickle in from the NHL, we can clearly state that this was mission accomplished.

The full trade season for Hughes started on February 14 when he traded Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames for a 2022 first-round pick, Emil Heineman, a 2023 fifth-round pick, and Tyler Pitlick. It set the tone for the next five weeks. Hughes was thinking about the team’s future.

Trading Chiarot for a 2023 first-round pick, a 2022 fourth-round pick, and Ty Smilanic set the market for defence and was very good value for an expiring contract that the Canadiens had no intention in extending.

Justin Barron was a first-round pick in 2020 and the 20-year-old still has a lot of growth to do. By getting an older prospect, the Canadiens not only get a player closer to the NHL, but someone who is currently available to help the Laval Rocket on their playoff push. It was something we mentioned earlier this month.

Barron is the prospect with the most upside who was acquired by Hughes. He is known to be a very good skater, with a very good first pass, and has impressed in his first professional season.

Adding the second-round pick in 2024 replaces the one the team traded to Arizona in the Christian Dvorak trade.

Getting William Lagesson and a second-round pick for Brett Kulak was one of those moves in which Hughes was able to get his asking price for an expiring contract. Another good bit of business, and very good value given the rest of the market.

What this all means for the Canadiens is that the stage is set for even more moves in the summer. Jeff Petry should be expected to be moved. Perhaps some other contracts with term like Joel Armia will as well, not to mention Shea Weber’s contract. Those are much easier to move in the summer when teams have more cap flexibility.

They also managed to turn Brandon Baddock into Andrew Hammond, who then turned into Nate Schnarr, another piece that will help the Rocket’s playoff push. Hammond did his job very well for the Canadiens, bridging the gap to Jake Allen’s return and giving Samuel Montembeault a break, while allowing Cayden Primeau to return to the American Hockey League.

For right now, while it hurts to lose players like Toffoli, Lehkonen, Chiarot, and Kulak, every return Hughes received in the trades makes their departures palatable, and encouraging for the future. The most impressive part of this is that the Canadiens’ GM seems unwavering in his plan.

It’s not often that general managers are upfront about things, especially heading into the deadline, but everything that Hughes said he would do or consider, he has done, and even received more than had been initially reported.

It’s not easy to see key members of the NHL team get traded, especially only months from one of the biggest moments in recent team history, but the Montreal Canadiens are a stronger organization right now than they were on Monday morning.

Jared and Patrik Bexell discuss the Canadiens’ trade deadline moves in a new episode of Habsent Minded.