MONTREAL — On a stage laid out directly onto the Bell Centre ice, the Montreal Canadiens introduced newly hired general manager Kent Hughes on Wednesday afternoon.
The Beaconsfield, Que. native signed a five-year deal to team up with executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and become the 18th GM in Habs history. The former sports agent is leaving behind his firm Quartexx Management, which he joined in 2016, in help end the struggles of his hometown hockey team and build a winner.
“In the past, Jeff and I spoke about the possibility of joining the New York Rangers but those discussions didn’t last very long,” said Hughes, referring to Gorton's past role as GM of the Broadway Blueshirts. “I still had work to do in the sports agent world but this time it was Montreal. It’s the city I grew up in and it’s the most decorated franchise in hockey history.”
Hughes credits friend and current Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin for speaking with him as he mulled over the possibility of being Montreal’s next GM.
“He called me to discuss the decision and told me: ‘Kent, there’s the New York Yankees, there’s the Dallas Cowboys and there’s the Montreal Canadiens. You have no decision to make,’” Hughes said.
Both Gorton and Hughes lived in Boston for extended periods of time. Gorton, a Massachusetts native, rose through the ranks in the Bruins front office. After studying in the United States, Hughes stayed in Beantown to further his agent career. They were introduced to each other when negotiating Patrice Bergeron’s entry-level contract with the Bruins.
However, Gorton was steadfast in saying that the Canadiens didn’t choose Hughes because of their relationship.
“No offence but Kent is not my best friend,” Gorton said. “I just admired him as a hockey person.”
Canadiens president and CEO Geoff Molson added that the hiring process, which also included former captain and GM Bob Gainey and minority owner Micheal Andlauer, didn’t have a favourite from the start.
“Jeff and I spoke on Sunday morning. I spoke first to give my preference for Kent and he had the same so we went back to the committee and we were all aligned,” Molson said.
While some people think he is a hire with outside-the-box ideas, Hughes doesn’t think of himself as such. As a former agent, Hughes is confident in his negotiating ability but wanted everyone to know that isn't the only asset in his tool shed. He pinpointed advanced analytics and understanding how his players perform as important values.
“Of course I know what a player and an agent thinks and that will be an advantage for us,” Hughes said. “But it’s more about my hockey side. I spent a lot of time scouting, working on hockey skills, and determining how we can help a player develop.”
“If a player doesn’t perform, I want to understand why they’re not performing.”
Hughes will fly to Las Vegas to follow the team in the next few days. He also hopes to sit down with head coach Dominique Ducharme as they figure out the future of the team.
“I certainly have beliefs about what a modern day coach should be or have in terms of qualities,” Hughes said. “I'm anxious to speak to Dom and learn more about him and ultimately we'll see where things take us from that.”
The Canadiens, who fired their last general manager Marc Bergeron and his assistant GM Trevor Timmins on Nov. 28, still have holes to fill in their front office with just two months before the trade deadline and less than seven months before the NHL Draft. Hughes and Gorton will discuss how to add to their team but hinted that certain people interviewed for the GM job could be considered
“We talked to some very impressive people and learned a lot about their thoughts on our team, about player development, analytics and team building,” Gorton said. “It's been a really eye opening and enlightening experience and I think it's going to help us move forward.”
Martin Lapointe took over the amateur scouting roles left by Timmins, and Gorton said he is “very comfortable" with Lapointe as a hockey evaluator but he would still like to “build into that department.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 19, 2022.
Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press