The Montreal Canadiens continue to suffer through arguably their worst season in franchise history. Between the laundry list of major injuries and players who have been placed in COVID Protocol, there were times the Habs iced a lineup that would be unacceptable for even a preseason game. Only Nick Suzuki can boast that he has played in each of the team’s 44 games this season. Jeff Petry has played 37 games this season, and they have not been great.
After a strong playoff run and the loss of Shea Weber, Petry started the season as the Canadiens’ de facto top defenceman. Expectations for the 34-year-old right-handed blueliner were high. He was coming off his second straight 40-plus-point season when he received Norris Trophy votes and was entering the first of a four-year deal that paid him $6.25 million (with a 15-team no-trade and a no-movement clause).
Petry’s Poor Play
Petry’s efforts in this first half have been abysmal. He has one goal and six points, and only five takeaways compared to 42 giveaways. Pair that with his second-worst expected goals for (xGF) rate of 24.57% – a stat that uses shot quality to determine which team is expected to score more goals when a certain player is on the ice by looking at the difference between expected goals for and expected goals against – and the Canadiens’ top defenceman is playing the worst hockey of his career.
Because of this, many have speculated he might have a lingering injury, perhaps even the same one he suffered in the playoffs last season. His play has been inconsistent, and he seems distracted, almost as if he doesn’t want to be playing right now. As an alternate captain, his leadership is essential to the team battle though these hardships. However, his disinterested play so far all season has been an issue, and everything wrong with his play seemed to culminate in one play, when Zack Kassian of the Edmonton Oilers bumped Samuel Montembeault in a game on Saturday 29 Jan 2022.
In this play, Petry saw the hit, and his response was to do nothing, a response that he later acknowledged was insufficient:
“Looking back at it, I didn’t see the actual (hit). I just saw Monty go down. For me, it’s not a place to go and have to fight a guy like that. But I think, looking back, replaying it in my head, you should at least get in his face and have a word with him. I think that’s something that is on me and on the other guys on the ice, too, you know—stand up for our teammates.”-Jeff Petry
The very next game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, Petry was no longer an Assistant Captain. With the return of Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron, they, along with Suzuki, will wear the letters. This could be explained that Gallagher and Byron, who usually wear the “A”, are returning to their roles. However, the 22-year-old Suzuki remains in that leadership group, when Petry is the more experienced of the two.
Petry’s Trade Demand Rumours
Before now, Petry was considered a key piece of the Canadiens‘ near future. However, with his poor play, the leadership debate, and his family situation – Petry’s family moved to Michigan to live in an area with fewer COVID restrictions than Montreal – rumours about his future have reached a fever pitch. On the one hand, general manager (GM) Kent Hughes commented that he is open to trading Petry if the right fit comes along, stating on an episode of Tout Le Monde En Parle:
“I’m not saying that every player that wants to be traded will be traded. In the case of Jeff Petry, if we can find a deal that is good for the club and good for him, yes, we will trade him. At this point, all options are on the table.”-Kent Hughes
Hughes didn’t confirm that Petry demanded a trade, only that he is available and may have said he is open to a deal. However, just a few hours after that interview, Francois Gagnon of RDS confirmed that Petry had, in fact, demanded a trade.
The Canadiens’ new management are seemingly trying to usher in a new era of transparency. Yet teams, no matter how transparent they say they are, would likely confirm publicly that one of their top players, and leaders, demanded a trade for any reason.
Possible Petry Trade Destinations
This leads to the question, where could he go? There are several options, but here are two possibilities.
Detroit Red Wings
The first team that comes to mind is Petry’s hometown Detroit Red Wings. His father, Dan Petry, was a Major League Baseball pitcher and won a World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. His family has already moved back to Michigan this season, so Petry’s return home would make sense.
What about for the Detroit? Moritz Seider is proving he will be a star for many years, so they don’t need Petry to be their top defender, which takes some pressure off him. He can provide veteran leadership and be a mentor for the young player. He also improves their blue line for the mid-term, and they have the salary-cap space ($10.8 million under the cap) to add Petry’s contract.
That being said, they will likely want to shed a contract in return, possibly defenceman Jordan Oesterle. Instead of adding a draft pick, they may decide to send Filip Zadina, who has struggled recently, to Montreal as well. According to my THW colleague Kyle Knopp, Zadina may no longer fit in the team’s plans. If that is the case, a deal including these three players might be feasible. More assets could be involved, but this trade might benefit both teams, and Petry, which is what Hughes said he is looking for.
Another team that might be a fit is the Colorado Avalanche. They are on the rise as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They are also close to the salary cap but could use an upgrade as they race to get past their playoff rival Vegas Golden Knights. By adding Petry on defence, they add a puck mover who plays in all situations, that also boasts significant playoff experience with an appearance in last year’s Cup Final in a run that saw the Canadiens beat Vegas in the SemiFinals to get there.
To fit his salary under the cap, they would likely need to move out another hefty contract on defence. Erik Johnson, who earns $6 million until 2023, would need to waive his NTC. If he refused, it might be possible to convince the Avs to move Samuel Girard, who earns $5 million with no clauses. Girard plays on his off-side, the right, so placing a right shot there instead would balance their blue line and allow the top four on the left side to be led by Devon Toews and Bowen Byram.
Petry adds veteran leadership, experience and puck-moving abilities. He would also provide Colorado with an opening for their top prospects to develop. This deal would need to include other assets, possibly even the Canadiens retaining salary, and because of this, it’s more likely to be an offseason deal.
These teams aren’t the only possible fits, they are simply examples. Hughes is on the lookout for a location that allows Petry to reunite with his family and refocus on hockey but he is also in dire need of a reasonable return. There will be several hurdles – salary and overall value – but we know the Canadiens will be sellers at the trade deadline, which will make the GMs job a little easier to shop Petry’s services.