The nearly year-long saga of Jeff Petry has come to an end. Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Kent Hughes has finally found a deal that benefits both the player and the Canadiens. In the end, Petry was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with the Canadiens’ 2017 first-round pick, Ryan Poehling. With this deal, Hughes continues his efforts to clear cap space and make the roster younger.
The Lead-Up to Petry Getting Traded
Petry requested a trade early in the 2021-22 season but a deal failed to materialize before the March deadline. At the time, Hughes said he would try again in the offseason to find something that worked for the blueliner and the Canadiens.
During his press conference announcing the Shea Weber trade to the Vegas Golden Knights in return for Evgenii Dadonov, Hughes was asked about Petry’s status. He indicated that a deal wasn’t imminent, but didn’t rule it out before the NHL Draft, slated for Montreal on July 7 and 8.
Trading Petry was more than just to acquiesce to a player’s request, it was also a cost-cutting measure. Even though Weber’s $7.857 million cap hit for four years was removed, the Canadiens were still over $80 million shared among 19 players.
Petry has three more years left on his contract at a $6.25 million cap hit. At 34 years old, his decline may soon arrive. Despite a poor start last season, his revival after the arrival of Martin St. Louis showed that it hasn’t arrived just yet.
The Trade to the Penguins
According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN, as many as six teams had expressed interest in Petry. One team that was never mentioned to be in the running was the Penguins. However, at the draft, it seems that changed.
The Penguins began making deals a few days after free agency opened on July 13. One trade saw GM Ron Hextall move right-handed defenceman John Marino to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Ty Smith, a left-handed defender. The trade opened up cap space but also a top-four position for a right-handed defender. This may have been the domino Hughes was waiting for after the draft floor discussion that saw them speak for 15 minutes before exchanging handshakes.
Going to Pittsburgh with Petry is Poehling, who will add depth to their bottom-six forward group. He was in need of a change of scenery as he floundered in Montreal and was unable to earn a permanent roster spot. Despite having good overall speed, he had trouble playing at pace with the puck on his stick, making it difficult for him to fit into the team’s long-term plans as the Habs’ desired style is to play at a high pace. The Penguins do add someone with a good one-time release who will be better suited to play on the wing than at center.
Canadiens Receive Matheson in Return
After the long wait to move Petry, the goal was to clear cap space, which they did, saving an additional $2.075 million in cap space. Along with the cap considerations, the Canadiens open up one roster position under the 50 contract limit, gain Pittsburgh’s 2023 fourth-round pick and add Montreal native Mike Matheson. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound left-handed defenceman will earn $4.875 million per year until the end of the 2025-26 season.
The 28-year-old is coming off of a season that saw him score 11 goals and 33 points in 74 games played. He is capable of playing on the power play (PP) but was only able to add two assists and no goals last season on the Penguins’ second PP unit. He has all of the necessary skills to be a good two-way defenceman and more importantly, he can play both the left and right sides of the blue line. He has excellent mobility, and NHL size, and is adept at generating the transition teams need to counter-attack. His downside, however, is consistency. There will be games where he looks like an all-star, then others in which he will make several glaring errors. While that consistency issue has improved over his seven-year NHL career, he will still need to continue to work on that aspect of his game.
Also, Matheson can be relied upon to play heavy minutes in all situations. While this adds another left-hander to the Habs lineup, he does bring a similar style of game to that of Petry and provides Hughes with the option of protecting the younger defensemen in the system. His arrival also allows for options to either call up a young defenceman or allow Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris to play with the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League (AHL) instead.
Just as fans saw last season from Brett Kulak after Martin St. Louis arrived as the head coach, the expectation will be for the newly signed coach to motivate and coach up Matheson in improving his game and provide more offense from the blue line. The ability to play both sides did factor into Hughes’ decision to take him on, even if he does plan to look at the waiver wire at the end of training camp for right-handed defenders as he mentioned in his post-trade press conference.
Hughes’ patience paid off for Montreal and for the Petry family, as he is closer to home and will have an easier time having their parents provide support to his wife and four children. For the Canadiens, they add a defenceman from the area whose family is all local, has that support, and understands the market and its unique issues, but more importantly, it is very likely he will want to be a part of the rebuild going on in Montreal as well.