I’m going to defer the more serious deep dive on this to people more plugged into the Habs beat, but I did want to get a few words in on it. On Tuesday morning, the Montreal Canadiens announced Kent Hughes as their 18th general manager in franchise history.
Hughes’ name had been in the mix since the team fired Marc Bergevin in late November, occasionally disappearing and reappearing as he debated whether this was a career transition he even wanted to make. While a veteran of the operations side of hockey, the 51-year-old wasn’t on the normal GM trajectory, instead working as a player agent for Quartexx. All the same, when the GM role of the most prestigious hockey franchise in the world becomes available, how do you dismiss it?
After reports of Mathieu Darche (Assistant GM, Tampa Bay) and Daniel Briere (ECHL GM, Philadelphia) being the finalists came out during the weekend, Elliotte Friedman pointed out on the 32 Thoughts podcast a few days back that the Habs were also waiting on Hughes to make that decision. He did, and all things considered, I do like the fit.
Having the experience of being an agent in your back pocket is no doubt an asset. Current GMs Bill Zito (Florida) and Kyle Dubas (Toronto) can attest to this, as can past ones like Mike Gillis (Vancouver). It comes with significant experience in contract negotiations and in maintaining player relationships. While you’re now on the other side of the tug-of-war, you have a stronger understanding of the technicals than most, and a better understanding of what the players and other agents might value in the fine print. Given how tight the salary cap ceiling is for pretty much any team wanting to contend today, knowing how to navigate the fringes and maximize these deals while not making the player feel unwanted is huge, and that’s an asset that Hughes can likely bring.
Hughes also has a lot of ties to the region. Quartexx is, after all, Quebec-based. He’s also Quebec born and raised, and he’s bilingual. One can argue that these things shouldn’t matter, and I’d agree with that, but the Canadiens have always felt it to mean something and to get a quality candidate who also checks those boxes is a two-birds, one-stone opportunity. What will also interest people in Montreal is his French-Canadian client list, which includes legends Kris Letang (Pittsburgh), Patrice Bergeron (Boston), and Anthony Beauvillier (New York Islanders). Hughes’ client list also includes players like Darnell Nurse (EDM) and Drake Batherson (OTT), and other Quartexx clients via Darren Ferris, Paul Capizzano, Philippe Lecavalier, and Ryan Barnes will be interesting to keep an eye on here.
Having someone with an agent’s experience, and also a former player’s experience, will be a solid compliment to new Team President Jeff Gorton, who has neither but has decades of front-office history, including as a General Manager. Between Gorton and Hughes, a lot of bases are covered, and you have to imagine the two will be running the operation in some form of tandem. Montreal’s road ahead will likely be a bit rocky – the sudden plummet from Stanley Cup Final Cinderellas to dead last in the league is a testament to that – but a process-oriented President combined a GM who understands the inner dynamics from many different perspectives (the player end, the agent end, knowing the market in general) is a strong start to turning this around.