The Montreal Canadiens' new management hierarchy has its final piece.
To work under Jeff Gorton, the Canadiens have officially hired Kent Hughes — a former player agent — as their new general manager. As of this announcement, Hughes represents several high-profile and French-speaking NHL players, including Patrice Bergeron and Kris Letang, both of whom happen to be stepping into unrestricted free agency this summer.
Hughes will be the 18th GM in the franchise's storied history.
The Canadiens have hired Kent Hughes as GM
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 18, 2022
Hughes checks several key boxes for the Canadiens, the most publicized of which being his ability to speak both languages. When Geoff Molson turned to Gorton earlier this season to lead the franchise out of the all-in Marc Bergevin era, it became necessary a French-speaking executive was brought in to communicate with the media and fans.
After that, Hughes has several key areas of expertise, many of which should complement Gorton. First, he's forged many meaningful relationships with players, including those which would be particularly desirable to the Montreal market. This isn't to say that either Bergeron or Letang will be headed to Montreal on a free-agent deal this summer, but Hughes will most certainly be able to leverage his previous role as a prominent figure among the French-speaking NHL population.
On a broader level, Hughes has a deep understanding of the perspectives and priorities of the players, accruing the sort of knowledge that might be outside — and therefore not conflict with — Gorton's narrow focus on on-ice ability, potential, and development. If there was a partnership designed to avoid a potential power struggle, it's having a through-and-through hockey-first executive working with someone whose specialized in the business aspect of the game.
It's believed that Gorton has prioritized Hughes throughout this process, despite his name being absent from the first round of interviews. Gorton and Hughes finally spoke about the position Monday, according to reports, before turning around and signing a five-year deal less than 24 hours later.
Perhaps Hughes was mulling the decision to show interest altogether as someone with other priorities and interests to consider. He has an impressive list of NHL clientele, but perhaps more importantly two sons playing for Northeastern University and continuing to forge their paths through high levels of hockey. Hughes' oldest, Riley, is a seventh-round selection of the Florida Panthers, while his youngest, Jack, is a high-level prospect awaiting selection at the 2022 NHL Draft.
There were many considerations, at least it would seem, to this career change for Hughes, but ultimately none which dissuaded him following a formal discussion with Gorton.
As for a ripple effect, Hughes' move leaves Darnell Nurse, Drake Batherson, Anthony Beauvillier, Colin White, Mike Matheson, and Alex Newhook, in addition to Bergeron and Letang and others, without representation, at least in the immediate term.
Hughes is not the first agent to cross into management at the NHL level. Bill Zito is perhaps the most successful in recent history, having left the agency world in 2013 to join the Columbus Blue Jackets organization before moving on to Florida where he's pulling the strings for the first-place Panthers.
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