Stu Cowan: Some big questions for Canadiens GM ahead of next season

Carey Price’s knee, Shea Weber’s contract and Jeff Petry’s family life will have effect on what moves GM Kent Hughes can make to improve the team.

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The Canadiens could be a much different-looking team next season after finishing last in the overall NHL standings.

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But there are some big questions that need to be answered before GM Kent Hughes can come up with a plan to improve the team this summer.

Is Carey Price’s career over?

Can Shea Weber and his contract be traded?

Does Jeff Petry want to stay with the Canadiens?

The answers to those questions will determine what kind of salary-cap space Hughes has to play with.

“At the end of the day, what we’re hoping to get is clarity in terms of is this an injury that Carey’s going to be able to recover from and return to true form or not,” Hughes said Saturday about the knee injury that Limited Price to five games this season. “Is it something that he’s going to be able to play with? We don’t have those answers right now?”

Price had surgery to repair a torn meniscus last July and said Saturday a second operation is a possibility since he continues to have swelling in his knee.

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“There are still a lot of question marks for me,” Price said during the team’s post-mortem Saturday in Brossard when asked about the meeting he had Wednesday in New York with the doctor who operated on his knee. “We sat down briefly and went over some imaging, but no real questions were answered.”

Price said the way his knee feels now he would not be able to play 55-60 games next season. He will see another doctor for a second opinion, but he prepared for Friday night’s 10-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the Bell Center as though it might be the last game of his career.

Price will turn 35 on Aug. 16 and has four more seasons on his contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $10.5 million.

Hughes believes there is a market to trade Weber and his contract after the captain spent all season on the long-term injured reserve list. Weber will turn 37 on Aug. 14 and has four seasons remaining on his contract with a salary-cap hit of $7,857 million.

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“Shea’s situation is complex,” Hughes said, adding there are a number of issues involved, including insurance and the NHL that he’s not at liberty to discuss. The GM added it’s “highly unlikely” Weber will play again.

Whether he’s able to trade Weber or not, Hughes said the plan is to name a new captain next season.

For Petry, this was a difficult season both on and off the ice. He was frustrated with former head coach Dominique Ducharme’s system and was an outspoken critic of it. Petry said it wasn’t a personal problem between him and Ducharme, but that he was expressing the frustration in the locker room with the coach’s refusal to adjust his system when it wasn’t working.

Off the ice, Petry’s wife became frustrated with COVID-19 restrictions in Quebec and decided to go back to the family’s home in Michigan with their three young sons, leaving Petry alone in Montreal. Petry decided to ask for a trade and Hughes said he would accommodate him if it was a deal that worked for both teams.

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With Ducharme gone and COVID-19 restrictions loosened, Petry said Saturday he doesn’t want to close the door now on staying with the Canadiens, noting his family had enjoyed life in Montreal for the previous seven seasons.

The 34-year-old has three seasons remaining on his contract with a $6.25 million salary-cap hit.

Hughes said he can’t confirm yet that Martin St. Louis will return as head coach, but there is interest on both sides to remove the interim tag and the GM would like to sign him to a three-year contract. St. Louis didn’t want to negotiate during the season, so those talks should begin soon and St. Louis said Saturday he plans to keep his assistant coaches.

Hughes’s main objective is to build a team that can win consistently, year after year, and he realizes there’s a lot of work ahead, starting with this year’s NHL Draft with the Canadiens holding 14 picks, including two in the first round and a shot at the No. 1 overall pick.

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“We’re young,” Hughes said. “I think it’s hard to sit here today and say: ‘Hey, we expect to compete for a Stanley Cup next season.’ If the objective is to build a team that can win on a sustainable basis, it’s not just a question of drafting, signing, there’s a component of development.”

Hughes liked the job St. Louis did in that department and was impressed by the character and team spirit the Canadiens showed after he took over. Even though the players knew they weren’t going to make the playoffs, they didn’t give up.

“We’re excited by what he brought to this team and what he will in the future,” Hughes said about St. Louis.

At this point, one of the things that does look certain for next season is that St. Louis will be back behind the bench.

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