By Lori Bennett
Special to Wreckhouse Press
The Montreal Canadiens took centre stage in the NHL this week when they named the 18th general manager in franchise history, Kent Hughes. Hughes comes to the position following a 25-year career as a player agent, representing the likes of Kris Letang (Penguins), Patrice Bergeron (Bruins) and Darnell Nurse (Oilers). Hughes is expected to form a solid team with Gorton to reshape the Habs roster. A native of Beaconsfield, a Montreal suburb, Hughes is fully bilingual and is expected to be the face of the Habs with the local media.
Hughes has two sons involved with hockey. Riley Hughes was drafted by the New York Rangers in 2018 during Gorton’s tenure. Jack Hughes is draft-eligible this year. Both are currently playing with the Northeastern University Huskies and are teammates with Montreal prospects Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble. The clock is ticking for the Habs to sign Harris, and fans are hoping this connection pays dividends.
Hughes held his first press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 19, accompanied by President and CEO, Geoff Molson, and Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, Jeff Gorton. The new GM was impressive, communicating fluently in two official languages, delivering thoughtful and straightforward answers. A member or two of the local media were less eloquent, one asking whether Gorton had hired his best friend. I was waiting for a follow-up query about whether they shared a pair of travelling pants.
This hire represents a departure from the usual way of doing business for the Habs. Rather than hiring a former player or the guy the hockey inner circle is pushing to the top, Gorton has picked a top-notch executive.
Fans are griping about Hughes being an inexperienced GM. Do you see what’s going on in Edmonton under Holland, or in Philadelphia under Fletcher? Experience might be a little overrated sometimes.
My favourite line from the presser was when Hughes said that he wanted to create a modern organization that players want to be a part of. He has a good grasp of that. The Canadiens are a storied franchise but fans are ready for some new stories.
One guy who was thrilled to have Kent Hughes steal some attention from the media was Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers. They had not won a game since Dec.18, 2021 in Seattle, and that was the backdrop for a post-practice squabble on Tuesday. Draisaitl was facing the media and a sequence of questions was levelled at him by Hall of Fame sports journalist Jim Matheson, who has covered the Oilers for decades.
Matheson asked Draisaitl what he believed to be the “number one reason” for the losses the Oilers are piling up. Draisaitl’s answer was that the team needed to get better at everything, which Matheson asked if he would like to expand upon. Draisaitl responded that he would not, and that Matheson could do that because, “You know everything.” Matheson followed with, “Why are you so pissy?” As you can imagine, the good vibes were overwhelming.
Media peers have come to Matheson’s defence while fans have come to Draisaitl’s. It wasn’t the finest moment for either of them. In fairness, Draisaitl is hardly at the root of the team’s issues – the player is on pace for more than 100 points this season. But he’s part of Edmonton’s two-headed monster and it’s fair to ask the big guns the big questions.
Perhaps some of the angst should be directed to the guy who can make the changes necessary to save the season. Perhaps GM Ken Holland should be dialing the number of that new guy in Montreal to see what help might be available there – for a price, of course.
The NHL released an updated schedule for the remainder of the season. The break previously reserved for the Olympics has been filled with rescheduled games that were postponed due to COVID-19, and many teams now have a heavy winter schedule. The 2022 All-Star Weekend is still scheduled for February 4-5 in Las Vegas, where the best players in the league will put on a show and then return to their teams for the second half of the season. Can you say super spreader?
On Wednesday night, the Raptors were in Dallas to face the Mavericks. Following the loss, the team was at an even 21 wins and 21 losses. The February 10th trade deadline quickly approaches. Let’s see if Ujiri gives us something to talk about.
The Toronto Blue Jays are currently the only Major League Baseball team north of the border, but that hasn’t always been the case. The Montreal Expos were the first MBL team outside of the United States, and they played their first season in 1969. The team was moved to Washington after the 2004 season.
Hopes for a return of baseball to Montreal were squashed on Thursday when MLB killed a plan proposed by the Tampa Bay Rays to split their home games between Tampa and Montreal. Another chapter in the book of heartbreak for Canadian baseball fans.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreational softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. Originally from NL and now based in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or debate, as long as it remains respectful. She posts game time thoughts on twitter as @lori10habs.