“We have challenges. No question,” Hughes said on Wednesday, a day after being hired. “The team is not where we hoped it would be or where the Canadians hoped it would be at this point. In my opinion, some of these are circumstances. But there is no question that there must be changes.”
Hughes said one of the first decisions concerned the status of manager Dominique Ducharme, who was promoted to replace Claude Julien last season. Ducharme helped the Canadians reach the Stanley Cup finals, but they’re bottom in the NHL this season with an 8-25-5 record.
“Dom is the coach of this team and again, when I came here today with … I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to think about everything,” said Hughes, who said he was offered the job on Monday. “It was a rather reactionary 48 hours. But I certainly have beliefs about what a modern coach should be or have in terms of qualities and I’m anxious to speak to Dom and learn more about him and ultimately , we’ll see where things take us from there To run.”
Hughes was a player agent for Montreal-based Quartexx Management, with a client list that included the Boston Bruins Center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins Kris Letang, New York Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier and defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers Darnell nurse.
The 51-year-old Montreal native is the Canadians’ 18th general manager; He replaced Marc Bergevin, who was fired on November 28th.
“For a man from here, becoming general manager of the Canadiens is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Hughes said. “My work as an agent has taken me all over the hockey world and Montreal remains the greatest hockey city for me. The passion of the fans here is second to none. …
“It’s Montreal, it’s the city I grew up in, the most decorated franchise in hockey history. (Minnesota Wild GM) Bill Guerin is a friend. He called me to talk about the decision. He said to me, ‘Kent, it’s the New York Yankees, it’s the Dallas Cowboys, it’s the Montreal Canadiens. Come on, you don’t have to make a decision.” Furthermore, it’s not about coming here just to follow in someone else’s footsteps. There is a lot to do and an opportunity to really contribute to a new concept for the Montreal Canadiens.”
Hughes said his first step will be to meet the Canadiens in Las Vegas, where they play the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. He said he wants to meet the players and staff and meet with the scouting and player development departments to prepare for the March 21 NHL trade deadline.
Commenting on his vision for the Canadiens, he said, “In a perfect world, we would be an offense-oriented hockey club. I don’t think you can be successful in the National Hockey League today without being a defensively responsible team, but we see teams in the National Hockey League – I think we can all identify a few – where the focus is strictly defensive and others who are more creative… I envision a team that plays fast with the puck, that’s a possession hockey team. But I also understand that you have to build a team around the players you have and that will be a process for us here as we progress.”
Jeff Gorton, who was hired as executive vice president of hockey operations the day Bergevin was fired, said at the time that a new GM could be bilingual and an “out of the box” selection, including a players’ agent.
“The process of finding our new general manager gave us an opportunity to meet a number of extremely qualified candidates,” Gorton said Tuesday. “Kent stood out and we think he’s the right person to be the general manager of the Canadiens. We also believe that Kent’s experience as an agent will be a great asset to the organization.”
Hughes was one of 11 candidates interviewed for the GM job.
“There’s no question we spoke to some very impressive people,” Gorton said Wednesday, “learned a lot about their thoughts on our team and their thoughts on player development, analytics and team building, everything that goes into a successful hockey organization. It was a truly eye-opening and enlightening experience. I think it will help us move forward and I think there are some people we’ve spoken to and hopefully we’ll get a chance to speak again.
Hughes, who signed a five-year contract, represented several high-profile NHL players from Quebec, including Vincent Lecavalier, who played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings.
“We are very pleased to add Kent Hughes to our organization,” said Geoff Molson, Montreal owner. “Kent is well respected in the hockey world and has built an excellent reputation as an NHL agent for over 25 years.”
Hughes isn’t the first to transition from players’ agent to a managerial role on an NHL team.
Pierre Lacroix became general manager of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994 and helped lead them to Stanley Cup victories in 1996 and 2001 after joining the Colorado Avalanche. In 2006 he was elected President of Colorado.
Brian Burke, now president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Bill Zito, general manager for the Florida Panthers, are former players’ agents. Other former NHL GMs who have been agents include Dean Lombardi, Peter Chiarelli, Ray Shero, Mike Gillis and Brian Lawton.
Hughes played four NCAA Division III hockey seasons for Middlebury College, Vermont, from 1988 to 1992. He holds the school career record for assists (140) and points (194) and most assists (48 in 1992) and most points (63 in 1992) in a single season. Middlebury was 65-13-2 in Hughes’ last three seasons and won a national championship in 1991. He was inducted into Middlebury College’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2020.
Hughes’ brother, Ryan Hughes, was a No. 22 second-round pick by the Nordiques in the 1990 NHL Draft. Ryan played three NHL games for the Bruins in 1995-96.
Kent’s son, Riley Hughes, was selected by the Rangers in the seventh round (#216) of the 2018 NHL Draft and is a junior at Northeastern University (NCAA). His other son, Jack Hughes, is a Northeastern freshman and is the #7 North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings for the 2022 NHL Draft.
Bergevin has served as head of hockey operations since his appointment as general manager on May 2, 2012. The Canadians were 344-265-81 and made the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times in their nine full seasons, including a five-game loss to the Lightning in the 2021 Cup Finals.
NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika, independent correspondent Sean Farrell, and columnist Dave Stubbs contributed to this report