Jack Todd: I trust Kent Hughes to patiently get the best deal for Canadiens

Habs GM will wait for best deal to solve goalie surplus. Plus: Connor Bedard needs to keep his head up, and Lane Hutson shows his muscle.

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By the time the guy they call “Snacks” was through gobbling up pucks Saturday night, the logjam in the Canadiens net had sorted itself out beyond argument.

Samuel Montembeault is the man. If you don’t believe it, ask the New York Rangers, who fired 49 shots Montembeault’s way and three more in the shootout before bowing to the Canadiens 4-3.

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In particular, you might want to ask Mika Zibanejad, who pulled off a beautiful Forsberg move in the shootout only to have the big goalie stop it with an even more beautiful save.

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Montembeault is No. 1, Cayden Primeau is his backup and Jake Allen is likely the odd man out, based on their play this season. Is it fair? Of course not. Allen is a veteran who has handled every step of this with class. But professional sports are inherently unfair.

Will anything happen soon? Put it this way: If Canadiens GM Kent Hughes was to enter a test of patience with the Pyramids of Giza that have been there for 4,500 years, my money would be on Hughes. He will make a move when he believes the time is right and no amount of pressure from fans or aging newspaper columnists is going to change that.

With Jacob Fowler fresh off a gold medal with the U.S.A. at the world juniors, the long-term goaltending picture is coming into focus for Hughes and the Canadiens. On defence, the emergence of Jayden Struble and the expected arrival of Lane Hutson in late March leaves Hughes knee-deep in talented young blueliners.

The decisions that Hughes makes over the next six months will likely determine the fate of this club for the next six years. He has laid the groundwork already, bolstering the talent he inherited from Marc Bergevin with pivotal acquisitions in Mike Matheson, Sean Monahan, Kirby Dach, Alex Newhook and Juraj Slafkovsky.

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The next bit won’t be easy, but there’s no one I’d rather see in charge than the infinitely patient Mr. Hughes.

Blackhawks' Connor Bedard holds his glove near his face as he falls toward the ice, with Devils' Brendan Smith behind him
Chicago Blackhawks centre Connor Bedard falls to the ice after being checked by New Jersey Devils defenceman Brendan Smith (2) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Newark, N.J. Photo by Adam Hunger /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Corralling Connor: Everyone has an opinion on the hit that broke Connor Bedard’s jaw.

There are Blackhawks fans who want to see New Jersey defenceman Brendan Smith tossed out of the league for daring to lay a shoulder on Bedard. There are even people out there arguing that Smith shouldn’t be allowed to touch Chicago’s rookie star because he isn’t good enough.

The Associated Press report on the incident said that Bedard “was levelled” by Smith. It would be more accurate to say that Bedard levelled himself, because he was the one who was moving while Smith was stationary. Bedard had his head down. Smith did not move into the hit, didn’t leave his skates or bring his shoulder up into Bedard’s jaw — hence a clean hit.

Even Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson refrained from the usual practice of sticking up for his guy in the face of all reason. “I think (Smith) was just playing hard on the blue line,” Richardson said. “I don’t think he stepped up on him. I just think he kind of stopped and Connor ran headfirst right into him.”

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The one thing everyone agrees on is that the NHL has to protect its star players. But what else was Smith to do in that situation? Step aside and give Bedard a free crack at his goalie? Beyond that, there’s little we can add except to echo Don Cherry this one time: “kid, ya gotta keep your head up.”

Team USA's Lane Hutson looks at a Sweden player face to face as referees try to hold them apart
Sweden’s defender Anton Johansson and USA’s defender Lane Hutson are seperated by referees during the final ice hockey match between USA and Sweden of the IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden on Jan. 5, 2024. Photo by BJORN LARSSON ROSVALL /TT News Agency/TT NYHETSBYRÅN/A

Hammerin’ Hutson: Lane Hutson won gold at with the U.S. team at the World Juniors and made the tournament all-star team.

So what’s the takeaway for Hab fans? Only one thing: the bantamweight Hutson fought 6-4 Swede Anton Johansson in the gold-medal game – and took him down. Ya gotta love it.

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Time for a new calendar company: A couple of years ago, my mentor Stu Cowan did a piece on an 8-year-old Kayla Mandarino, a Canadiens fan living in Toronto who considers herself Cole Caufield’s biggest fan.

This year that girl, now 10 years old, got a Canadiens calendar as a gift — and guess who wasn’t on it?

Yup. Cole Caufield. Leaving one very disappointed girl.

The 2024 calendar, produced by a company called Turner Licensing which does the calendars for all NHL teams, was missing Caufield. It also identified Samuel Montembeault as Jake Allen, but it did feature Mike Hoffman and Joel Edmundson, now playing for the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals, respectively.

Yes, the calendar is printed well in advance, but this is just sloppy. Perhaps it’s a minor point that a kid gets a calendar that is missing her hero. But it’s not minor to the child and if there’s one player who has to be on a Canadiens calendar that is popular with the youngsters, it’s Caufield.

Heroes: Samuel Montembeault, Jesse Ylönen, Juraj Slafkovsky, Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Lane Hutson, Jayden Struble, &&&& last but not least, Marie-Philip Poulin and the Professional Women’s Hockey League.

Zeros: Aaron Rodgers, Pat McAfee, Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia, David Tepper, Tom Wilson, Novak Djokovic, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever.

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