Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin began his memorable 2020 offseason by acquiring goaltender Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues. A few weeks later, he signed defenseman Jeff Petry to a four-year contract extension.
While most are talking about the new players who have made an immediate impact and ignited the Habs’ hot start to the 2020-21 season, Petry continues to be a major contributor to the team’s success.
Getting Better With Age
The 33-year-old defenseman has picked up where he left off in the postseason and is playing some of the best hockey of his career so far in 2020-21. He was a very good defenseman when he arrived in Montreal from the Edmonton Oilers, and now, he’s an elite one, improving every year along the way.
Through six games this season, Petry has seven points which is tied for second in the league amongst defensemen and until a few days ago, he was alone in first. He’s playing like an early contender for the Norris Trophy.
Petry has put up three straight seasons of 40 points or more. Before that, his best output was 28 points in 2016-17 with the Habs. He also scored two game-winning goals in the playoffs last year, helping Montreal upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifying Round.
Over the past few years, he has formed a highly effective pairing with Brett Kulak and this season, he’s playing even better alongside the newly acquired Joel Edmundson, who is quite impressed by his new defense partner.
“He’s (Petry) just a smooth skater, he makes it look so easy and our chemistry has been good so far,” Edmundson said.
The Canadiens’ Best Defenseman
Petry’s importance to the Canadiens needs more than just statistics to be truly appreciated and understood. He is a modern-day defenseman, the kind that is so valued in today’s NHL, who excels at both ends of the ice thanks to his strong skating, his ability to read and anticipate plays, as well as his long reach.
There was one play during Montreal’s two-game series against the Oilers last week where Petry had Leon Draisaitl bearing down on him at full speed through centre ice and the Habs’ defender skillfully angled him off to the outside to negate any scoring chance. That sequence was Petry in a nutshell. As Edmundson so accurately put it: he made it look so easy.
If it weren’t for captain Shea Weber and the respect he commands, Petry would be widely considered the Canadiens’ best defenseman and on many teams, he would have that distinction without debate. If he’s not the 1A option yet, he’s definitely 1B.
It’s a luxury for the Habs that they can send out Weber and Petry on separate pairings at 5-on-5 and this season, they are playing together on the power play out of the gate, an experiment that has garnered promising early returns.
Petry and the Canadiens have been a match made in hockey heaven since the day he was acquired six years ago, so it’s no surprise that he has become an elite defenseman in Montreal or that he wanted to make the city his long-term home.
“When I got the initial call that Marc Bergevin wanted to work on an extension, I knew it made sense for me and there was a very strong chance that I was going to be coming back. I’ve enjoyed my time in Montreal so far and the organization has been nothing but great to me, so when this opportunity came up, it was something that I couldn’t pass up,” Petry said.
One of Bergevin’s Best Trades
Bergevin’s acquisition of Petry from the Oilers at the trade deadline in 2015 will be remembered as one of his great moves.
He gave up a second-round draft selection and a conditional fifth-round pick to get the pending unrestricted free agent for Montreal’s playoff run that year and then signed him to a new six-year deal in the offseason, a contract that has been worth every penny.
It’s a trade that Craig MacTavish, general manager of the Oilers at the time, wishes he could have back.
“At the end of the day, it was a pretty substantial mistake that I made not signing him to a long-term deal. He’s a great person, great character, hard-working guy and he’s played great. He’s a top-four defenseman all day long at this level and maybe slightly higher than that,” MacTavish said of Petry.
Bergevin can sleep well knowing that he won’t have to live with that regret. Instead, he has all but guaranteed that his two most valuable defensemen will finish their careers with the Canadiens and be integral pieces of the contending team he’s started to build.