Stu Cowan: Canadiens looking at multiple ways to boost offence, Kent Hughes says

GM knows Habs don’t have a point-per-game scorer, but he is more concerned with finding players that can help team as a whole.

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I was chatting with TVA Sports reporter Anthony Martineau during a recent Canadiens practice about the team’s problems on offence.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “In my lifetime, the Canadiens have never had a 100-point player.”

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Martineau, an outstanding and hard-working reporter who is in his first year on the Canadiens beat, is 29 years old.

The last Canadiens player to record 100 points in a season was Mats Naslund in 1985-86, when he posted 43-67-110 totals to finish eighth in NHL scoring. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup that season. That’s something else Martineau has never experienced in Montreal.

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During Martineau’s lifetime, the Canadiens have had only one point-per-game player — Alex Kovalev, who posted 35-49-84 totals in 2007-08 — and they have never had a 40-goal scorer. The last Canadien to score 40 goals was Vincent Damphousse in 1993-94.

A lack of offence — especially from the forwards — continues to be a big problem for the Canadiens. Nick Suzuki was leading the team in scoring heading into Monday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche with 12-23-35 totals in 42 games.

When GM Kent Hughes met with the media for his midseason news conference Monday morning I asked him how important it is to find another Naslund or Kovalev in his rebuilding plan.

“I don’t really think of it in terms of a point-per-game player,” Hughes said. “I do hear that a lot in this market.”

Hughes noted that former Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron — a player the GM represented during his days as a player agent — never had more than 79 points in a season, but will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

After his news conference was over, Hughes did some more research and when he spoke with me later noted that when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 their leading scorer was Milan Lucic with 30-32-62 totals. He added that when the Los Angeles Kings won Stanley Cups in 2011 and 2014 they didn’t have a point-per-game player. Anze Kopitar led the Kings in scoring both seasons with 76 and 70 points, respectively. When the St. Louis Blues won the Cup in 2019 they didn’t have a point-per-game player and neither did the Vegas Golden Knights last year, although Jack Eichel did have 66 points in 67 games.

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“Listen, we’re looking for players that can help us,” Hughes said during his news conference. “Are we looking to add offence to this group? Yeah, no question about it. We’re talking about our D group and having a lot of depth and trying to rebalance the ledger — and if we’re able to do that and either use young players that we have that we feel there’s just a logjam in a position or draft picks — and we’ve accumulated a lot of draft picks … we’ve got 22 picks over the next two years. Do I expect that we’ll use all 22? In a perfect world, no. In a perfect world, we’ll use some of those picks (in trades), as we’ve done in the past, to get a (Kirby) Dach, a (Alex) Newhook. As we continue to move forward, we’ll have more financial flexibility under the cap to evaluate this.”

As someone who grew up in Montreal, Hughes understands the frustration of fans of a franchise that had the likes of Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau not having a star offensive player in such a long time. He added that if the Canadiens had won the draft lottery last year, one could have fallen into their lap in Connor Bedard.

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“When you look at what we’re doing, we don’t have that 100-point player,” Hughes said when we spoke after his news conference. “But with more depth offensively … like if you took Suzy and put him in Tampa playing between (Nikita) Kucherov and (Steven) Stamkos, do I think he’s a point-per-game player? All day long. If you put him with (Boston’s David) Pastrnak, is he a point-per-game player? All day long.”

If linemate Cole Caufield can start scoring more often, that would also help Suzuki.

“I think teams generate offence some more by committee and some based on pure talent,” Hughes said after his news conference. “I think as we continue to build this team we have to look at a variety of options to determine how do we go about generating offence. Does that player hit the free-agent market? Not often. If he does, obviously we have to consider that.”

For now, Hughes is looking more at offence by committee. He noted that some point-per-game players don’t bring a lot of overall value because of severe shortcomings in other parts of their game.

“We don’t have a coach who’s trapping in the neutral zone,” Hughes said about Martin St. Louis. “That should speak to what we’re trying to do here in terms of how we build our team. But there’s also the reality of how that plays out.”

As for the Canadiens ever getting a 100-point player during Martineau’s lifetime, the TVA Sports reporter said: “Maybe one day. You never know.”

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