By Bob Trask – During the last 2 1/2 months of the NHL season has seen Jeff Petry’s play elevated back the level where he was once considered one of the best defensemen in the league. Some of that improvement shows up on the scoresheet where his point production is top 20 among defensemen in that time span. Equally impressive has been his play in the defensive zone. Petry may be playing the best defensive hockey of his career.
That kind of performance makes Petry more valuable to the Canadiens as a player or as a trade chip. Fortunately a trade deadline deal for him seems to have fallen through and his value has done nothing but increase since then.
There are only two realistic options available going forward: keep Petry or trade him. They certainly aren’t going to pursue the third option which would be a buyout. These options should be examined in more detail.
Return of Petry
Should Petry return the task of rebuilding the Montreal defense becomes less complicated and less urgent. There would be no need to seek a replacement and prospects would not have to be rushed or asked to play the tougher minutes as they break into the league.
Before speculating on a potential return, the question must first be asked, “why did Petry want out of Montreal earlier in the season?” The answer to that question can tell us if there is indeed a path back to the Bell Center for him.
One look at Petry’s bloodshot eyes last summer tells us how hard he played in the playoffs. There was no questioning is effort or commitment to the team. But his tank was probably empty when the season began – a season where he would be asked to carry the team without the help of two key defensive stalwarts in Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson. It was a huge burden.
That situation was complicated by the fact that he did not see eye to eye with his head coach, Dominique Ducharme, on the approach being taken. And as the losses piled up, the tension between the two seemed to grow. The environment grew increasingly toxic and it was reflected in Petry’s performance.
COVID restrictions, which resulted in a lengthy isolation from his family, made a bad situation not only worse but probably unbearable. I can fully understand Julie Petry’s frustration and anger with what was happening. Not only was the family separated from each other, the critics were piling on her husband and she was unable to be there for support. Trying to resolve this may be the biggest hurdle should Kent Hughes want to try and keep Petry in Montreal.
Since the hiring of Marty St. Louis, however, the boiling pot of controversy has calmed down to a slow simmer. Petry’s performance, both offensively and defensively, along with a far more positive body language are positive signs. The first option should be for the Canadiens to try to convince Petry that the Habs are his best choice but the odds still seem to favour a move out of Montreal.
Return for Petry
Rival general managers will be looking at Jeff Petry in a far different light now than they did in early February. He has gone from someone who looked disinterested and who contributed very little to a defenseman who has been puting up first pairing numbers offensively and is playing sound, aggressive defense.
Early in the year, Petry’s contract looked like an albatross around the neck of the Canadiens. His peformance over the past 30 games makes the contract very reasonable when compared to other defenseman performing at the same level. Petry is 17th in points per game among defenseman in that time frame and when you consider that there are 64 first pairing d-men in the leage is in close to top quartile in offensive performance.
Petry’s cap hit ties him for 28th highest in the league among defensemen, so when compared to his offensive performance over the last half of the seaon, that contract could be considered by some to be a bargain.
While Petry does control his destiny to some extent with a modified no-trade clause, the Canadiens are still in the driver’s seat. They can simply hang on to Petry if they don’t like the return offered in a trade.
Detroit seems like a logical destination until you realize that the Red Wings are in the same division as the Canadiens and strengthening them reduces Montreal’s playoff chances. It might take a offer of more than market value for Detroit to pry Petry out of Montreal.
A couple of other teams that may be looking for a quality defenseman are Nashville and Dallas. For the sake of argument, we can look at Nashville and the kind of assets that Hughes might want in return for Petry.
Hughes has stated that he sees value in adding prospects who have played a year or two since they were drafted. It gives him a more accurate reading on what their ceiling might be. He also likes speed in his lineup and has an organizational need at RD, a need which would be increased if Petry were traded.
From Nashville’s point of view, they need to keep an eye on the salary cap, particularly with Filip Forsberg in line for a new contract. That might mean a combination of salary retention by the Canadiens and/or having the Canadiens taking back an unwanted contract in return.
When you consider the wants and needs of both sides, Hughes could ask for Phil Tomasino (C/RW) and Luke Prokop (RD) while taking on the contract of Phillippe Meyers (RD). Montreal will have seen a lot of Prokop this year because he plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings with Kaiden Guhle. The Predators could also ask for some salary retention (perhaps $1 million per year) and a prospect or draft pick.
Whether this trade is feasible or not remains to be seen, it is the kind of trade that I could see happening if Petry is moved over the summer. The Nashville example was used to illustrate what Hughes might be looking for and what he might be willing to do to get a deal done.
What’s in it for Petry?
There are a number of reasons why Petry might be willing to waive his M-NTC to go to Nashville.
A trade to the Predators allows Petry to join a playoff contender with a stacked defense. He could thrive with high quality playing partners like Josi or Ekholm.
Nashville is closer to Jeff Petry’s hometown of Detroit than Montreal and A LOT closer to his wife’s hometown of Houston, Texas.
He would also be moving to one the most friendly tax jurisdictions in the league. As a result it would be an immediate raise in after tax pay for him.
The timing of when the Canadiens and Jeff Petry come to decision on his future may not occur for a while. Teams that may be looking to acquire him may be still in the playoffs and there is always the issue of contract limits to consider. Montreal are already sitting at 47 out of a maximum of 50 contracts and may need to wait until a couple of those contracts expire in July before getting aggressive in the trade market. What happens on draft day could also have an impact.
Depending upon how the summer unfolds and how well (or poorly) discussions with Petry and interested teams go, the final decision may not be made until late September. While we wait, we can look forward to the return of Petry – or the return for Petry