Predicting the Habs Draft Window

Segue Issue 22-09

June 20, 2022

With the NHL Draft just over two weeks away, there is much chatter amongst fans and pundits about what the Habs might do. On June 16th, GM Kent Hughes opened the draft window when he traded the contract of Shea Weber to the Vegas Golden Knights for Evgenii Dadanov.

Before we get into what else the Habs might do, we should pause and admire that tidy bit of business. How many of us expected that return for Shea Weber? I expected a deal – when asked if he would trade Weber Hughes gave a definitive yes – and Vegas made sense because they needed the LTIR. But I thought it would be Weber for a 5th round pick, or something of that quality. For Hughes to obtain a player who would have placed behind only Suzuki and Caufield in goals and points this season on the Canadiens, on a reasonable $5M contract with one year remaining, and who can be moved for assets at the trade deadline, is absolute larceny.

What comes next? It’s almost impossible to predict. One thing I’m noticing – and I noted it at the trade deadline as well – is that Habs fans are struggling to imagine what business might look like sans Bergevin. Berge had a decade of drafts and that’s a hard habit to break. But this is decidedly NOT a Bergevin draft. The current GM of the Montreal Canadiens will not be sitting on the draft floor in semi-conscious boredom, noticeable only for his coral floral ensemble, allowing Timmins to pick the guys Berge agreed to in a meeting the previous week. There will be legitimate attempts for the Habs to do business leading up to and on the draft floor, and if nothing comes to fruition, it won’t be because “trades are hard” or because the GM has to feel he’s won every deal or he’s not playing.

It’s an error to consider this draft through a Bergevin lens, but we can also fall into the trap of trying to predict the draft through a Jeff Gorton lens. Gorton’s work is absolutely a better proxy – I tried to predict the trade deadline based on Gorton’s work since we had no history with Hughes – but Kent Hughes is a bona fide business mind and his influence will be significant. This draft is a HuGo first, and it will be unique.

So how can we predict what HuGo will do? My thoughts on this are not actually that much of a prediction at all. My expectations are based on things Hughes has said publicly, and because he has already taught us that he means what he says. I expect business because Hughes told me I should. He specifically said he hopes to have more to announce in the days ahead.

In Segue I usually riff off the ideas from another media hit. In this article, I’m going to segue off the work of several. So here goes. Let’s predict the Habs draft window.

The Habs will make the most of that first overall pick.

It’s the draft window we’re discussing, and the Habs have the first overall pick. Nothing they do will be more important than nailing a pick that can determine the direction of the franchise for at least a decade. Hughes has said they have not decided yet who they would pick, but they would be thorough in their homework.

If you have not listened yet, here is a must. Craig Button joined Arpon Basu and Marc-Antoine Godin to discuss the draft and who the Habs might target. The whole thing is brilliant, and you’ll love the commentary on Jarome Iginla.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/le-support-athl%C3%A9tique-a-show-about-the-montreal-canadiens/id1294532896?i=1000566852309

Button has been steadfast in his support for Shane Wright to go first overall. He acknowledged the players at the top are very close but referred to Wright’s “mental energy” and compared his style to Patrice Bergeron. He asks, “Who doesn’t want Patrice Bergeron and who doesn’t want a hall of fame centre?”

My prediction is that the Habs will select Shane Wright because they will do their homework and conclude what Button has concluded – that he is the best option at first overall and he fills an enormous organizational need for a top line centre.

The Habs will value quality over quantity.

The Habs currently have 14 picks in this draft, and there is no chance they are leaving the draft with 14 new prospects. Gorton has a history of packaging picks to move up, and Hughes has acknowledged this is an option they will explore. Without linking to one specific article, Marco D’Amico of Montreal Hockey Now has written extensively about the options the Habs have to move up in the draft.

We know from reports of those close to the team that Hugo took Jonathan Lekkerimaki to dinner during the combo. This is a prospect that will not be selected first overall and will also not be available at 26. He is a player that matches the HuGo targets of speed, skill and hockey IQ. Lekkerimaki, whether he is ever selected by Montreal, is evidence that they’re preparing for the possibility of moving up, and we can only guess what that might look like.

My prediction is that the Habs will package picks and/or players to land a mid-first pick in the 10-20 range.

The Habs will use the draft window to move out some significant contracts.

Is it a prediction when it’s already happened? The work with Shea Weber already checks this box, but I don’t believe Hughes is done. Hughes has been very transparent about this and has specifically stated his intention to move both Weber and Jeff Petry.

Earlier today, Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period appeared on Campbell vs Gallo on TSN690 Radio. Pagnotta said he would be surprised if Petry is not moved in the draft window but that he would be surprised if Josh Anderson is. He referenced other names that were being discussed at the trade deadline and wondered if they may be moved during this window, including Mike Hoffman and Christian Dvorak. The entire hit follows.

https://www.tsn.ca/radio/montreal-690/pagnotta-petry-will-be-traded-1.1815361

My prediction is that Jeff Petry and one other significant contract will be moved during this draft window to both free up cap space and acquire assets that will be more consistent with the new Habs window moving forward.

The Habs will use the draft floor to move at least one redundant contract.

The Habs have a couple of contracts that have little trade value, and that they’d love to move but are not essential to move. Following the Weber trade, Sportsnet’s Eric Engels wrote a piece explaining the impact to the salary cap, and other players the Habs may consider moving to free up cap space. He casually mentioned this. “Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin could both be moved this off-season. But if neither of them are, the Canadiens will still gain future flexibility by allowing them to walk to free agency next summer, and that’s another $8.9 million clear.” The entire article is here.

https://www.sportsnet.ca/article/weber-trade-adheres-to-hughes-long-term-plan-for-canadiens/

Both Byron and Drouin are entering the last year of their contracts and, in different ways, they are each providing less than their contracts suggest they should. The Habs don’t need to move them. Perhaps they could be traded at the deadline, or the season will come to an end, and the contracts will expire, and that will be that.

Or they could explore other options.

With the volume of picks the Habs have, would they be willing to sweeten the pot to move on from Paul Byron and have $3.4M immediately at their disposal?

Would the Habs be willing to trade Drouin, with salary retained and a pick added, for a younger player with upside that they might prefer? Anthony Beauvillier comes to mind.

I am predicting one of Byron or Drouin is moved during the draft window.

My predictions add up the most exciting draft window in years.

In addition to the thrill of selecting first overall, and several times thereafter, I am predicting a package to move up for another mid-first draft choice, a trade involving Petry and one other larger contract, and that one of Drouin or Byron will be dealt.

This draft period promises to be the most exciting in years, and the Montreal Canadiens will almost certainly be a markedly different team when this window of change is past.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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