Revelations from the Habs Locker Cleanout Day

April 16, 2023

On Friday, the Montreal Canadiens cleaned out their lockers to conclude the 2022-23 season. Management and players met with the media, and teased us with a few revelations. Here are some things I found most noteworthy.

HuGo knows the injury situation is not okay.

Man-games lost to injury was a focal point of the presser. Sean Monahan had confessed his regret at having played in his return to Calgary despite knowing he had a broken foot, and acknowledged this decision likely impacted the groin injury, which led to his inability to return to action for the rest of the year. In this situation, everyone knew about the fracture and he played. Hughes noted that Martin St. Louis had played through a similar fracture during his career.

Brendan Gallagher had confessed that he had broken an ankle blocking a shot, and then played eight games on that broken ankle before shutting down. Then he returned too early and aggravated the injury again. Gorton said he was sure Gallagher would have told them if he knew he had a broken foot, and Hughes acknowledged some diagnostic tests are driven by player self-reports.

Gorton spoke about the dynamic of players hiding or minimizing injuries. “You’d be surprised how often guys are hurt and we don’t have the information right away. We will talk to our players about being a little more forthright.”

Jeff Gorton confirmed this would be an off-season priority with one sentence. “Our first dive was today.” He was referring to player exit interviews. Kent Hughes made the comparison to being a player agent. “How would I have asked questions to try and better protect my client? We have to do a better job of protecting them from themselves.” Then he acknowledged the Habs could not afford to have their developmental work undermined by their inability to get a handle on this issue.

It will be a priority, whatever that looks like. Maybe it’s reviewing diagnostics processes, or training, or their comfort with allowing players to return too early, or the culture that has been built in Montreal where it is “Man Mountainesque” to play through injury even when you’re hurting your team. I imagine all of these will be addressed on some level.

It strikes me that Monahan and Gallagher are both veterans whose careers have been in jeopardy due to injury. The commitment to Monahan was brief, but the Habs have a lot tied up in Gallagher. The Habs cannot have their developmental work and ability to plan a roster for the season undone by veteran players afraid of losing their spot.

Jeff Gorton is committed to Montreal.

Jeff Gorton was asked directly about rumours of him leaving for another team. He was quick in his response. “Are you sick of me already?” This drew a few laughs and then Gorton definitively stated, “I’m coming back.” His sporadic insertion of French phrases throughout the interview was a message of its own.

Kent Hughes will be aggressive at the draft.

Jeff Gorton referenced the volume of assets they have at their disposal for the draft. He said they have leverage to make deals and that he expected they would be active at the draft.

Gorton said they were crossing their fingers for the lottery, but that their scouts are really confident there are good players available to the Habs wherever they pick. He noted that he and Hughes would be going to Europe to see some prospects ahead of the draft.

Using the Kirby Dach deal as his example, Gorton noted that Kent Hughes is aggressive by nature and they expect to be aggressive again at the upcoming draft.

Gorton was asked about trading up to land a top pick. His response was that the Lindros trade didn’t work out like people think. He acknowledged that Connor Bedard is very good, but seemed to suggest any team trading to draft him would have to overpay to the point of potentially losing the deal.

The Habs will be aggressive with their cap flexibility.

Arpon Basu reminded Kent Hughes of a comment from last year – they were at the top of the Capfriendly.com list and at the bottom of the standings. This summer Hughes will have some contracts expire, and he gave some indication of how he intends to use the newfound cap space.

Hughes noted that as soon as they found out Carey couldn’t play last year they used the cap space. Specifically, they added Monahan and another first rounder. Hughes said they would be open to something similar – taking on a contract “as long as it doesn’t tie us up long term.”

An entire article could be devoted to exploring which players are on the trade block while their teams try to make cap space work. We were deep into the summer last year before Hughes had the ability to work in this space. This summer he knows what he has to work with.

Hughes also pointed to another possibility when you have cap space – trading a prospect for a player. When you have cap space you can make the money work. For me, that screams Pierre-Luc Dubois.

There are a few veterans to keep an eye on.

Sean Monahan said he loved playing in Montreal, got chills every time he took to the ice at the Bell Centre, and would welcome a return. The Habs need another forward who can transition the puck through three zones. For the right cap hit and term, why not?

Jonathan Drouin said he loved his time in Montreal even though he didn’t meet expectations, including his own. My own sense is that it’s time for both to move on.

Paul Byron has made a pitch to HuGo. He will wait to see if there is a place for him in an off-ice role in Montreal before deciding if he will try to make a return to the ice. That sounds like he knows that if he is making a comeback, it won’t be in Montreal.

Josh Anderson is sensitive to swirling trade rumours. You can’t blame players for having a reaction to media when asked, but you also can’t blame the media for asking. It’s a real story, and my sense is Josh knows it is.

HuGo is not surprised that Marty is killing it in the coach role.

Both gave their endorsement for Martin St. Louis’ work this season. They were on to what he is capable of, long before fans and pundits, and the initial interim tag was at Marty’s request, not theirs. Hughes said that without exception, players raved about him and the whole coaching staff in their exit interviews.

For years I have said that Marc Bergevin’s fatal flaw came early – when he hired Michel Therrien. The Hughes decision is the exact opposite.

Expectations for next season are balanced.

They were asked about expectations for next season, whether fans would be expecting playoffs, and whether there would be a different level of pressure. Kent Hughes provided a lengthy answer that Eric Engels noted and tweeted in a photo that I’ll share here.

From @EricEngels – Kent Hughes on pressure and doing things the right way

Hughes was elaborating on an answer from Gorton who said he didn’t like to put a timetable on their development period, he said they wanted to do it the right way with no shortcuts. He said they would ask fans for a little more patience. “It’s coming”

You get the sense from this presser that this will be an active summer for the Montreal Canadiens. It’s coming.

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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