In at least one respect, Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme owes defenseman Jeff Petry a drink… even following Petry’s supposedly inflammatory comments many have interpreted as being directed at the coaching staff.
A few days ago, following yet another loss, Petry said: “It’s frustrating. It’s the same things, over and over. We’re not playing as a team. We’re not playing as a group. It’s like you’re searching to find where people are. It seems like there’s no structure there.”
“I feel like everybody knows where we should be, but we’re not going to those places. We’re making it easy for anybody on the ice except most of the time the other team,” he added (from ‘Stu Cowan: Jeff Petry’s comments should carry weight with Canadiens,’ Montreal Gazette, December 16, 2021).
The Gazette’s Stu Cowan, for just one example, would go on to write “Petry’s comments were a direct shot at head coach Dominique Ducharme’s system.” But were they, though?
Petry Shifts Spotlight off Ducharme
Even if they were aimed at Ducharme, the spotlight had been squarely on him and the team’s last-place record in the Eastern Conference. It’s now shifted onto Petry for apparently stepping out of line. So, maybe inadvertently, Petry’s done his head coach a solid. Granted, public opinion is still divided in that some are saying Petry was wrong to go public with his concerns, while others say it’s a sign Ducharme isn’t working out as a head coach.
Cowan suggested Petry is an intelligent, soft-spoken guy, who knew exactly what he was saying, as if he normally wouldn’t speak out unless he had to. However, how can Cowan be so sure Petry knew what he was saying, when no one else is 100% clear as to what he said? At no point did Petry mention Ducharme or his system. Sure, it’s possible that’s what Petry meant, but, in the absence of any explicit reference to his head coach or his system, why are so many rushing to jump to that conclusion?
All Petry could have meant is the players themselves aren’t playing well, respecting the system Ducharme has tried to instill. After almost a year of Ducharme and the Canadiens players themselves talking about five-man units, it’s odd to hear an argument that, because Petry is saying the Habs aren’t playing as a team, it’s because of flaws in Ducharme’s system. While the Canadiens struggled last regular season under Ducharme, no one was complaining about flaws in the system during the run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Just as realistic of a possibility, if not more so? Petry was only saying the Canadiens are playing badly. They’ve now lost seven games in a row and are feature the second-worst offense in the league, having scored 2.13 goals per game. Not to be completely outdone, their defense has allowed the third-most amount of goals per game (3.52) too. Losing captain Shea Weber to retirement, star-goalie Carey Price to the player assistance program and the team’s depth down the middle to free agency tends to have adverse effects on a team’s ability to compete. Who knew?
The Case Not to Trade Petry
There’s no denying Ducharme’s had a bad season too, but he’s staying on at least until the end of the season, according to executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton. So, if this blood feud between Ducharme and Petry is the massive problem the media is generally making it out to be, that just leaves the option to trade Petry, which, to be clear, the Canadiens shouldn’t do.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the Canadiens would go down that path either, even if the actual act would be wholly impulsive and irrational. Remember, the Habs traded, mid-game mind you, a just-29-year-old, top-line talent in Michael Cammalleri almost a decade to the day back in 2012 after he said the Habs had a losing mentality.
While the Cammalleri trade kind of worked out, in the sense the Canadiens rebounded in the standings the following season, the deal still didn’t have to happen. Negotiating from a position of weakness, they gave up more than they got, with Rene Bourque replacing him in the Habs lineup the next few seasons. Cammalleri scored 96 points in his 135 games with the Calgary Flames. Bourque scored 39 points in his 141 games with the Canadiens.
So, it was a dumb trade, all in all, with then-general manager Pierre Gauthier getting replaced by (the since-fired) Marc Bergevin the following offseason, after the team finished third from last in the NHL. Trading Petry, especially now, would similarly backfire, one has to believe. Thankfully, considering Tyler Toffoli is still around, albeit injured, a trade is unlikely.
Toffoli said what he did, in explicit terms to be clear unlike Petry, and has yet to be traded. That’s a good sign for several reasons. For starters, Toffoli arguably has higher value on the trade market than Petry based on their respective seasons to date. It also shows the Canadiens are exercising caution.
Granted, Toffoli’s comments came when Bergevin was still GM, so Gorton could conceivably have a different perspective on how to address the Petry “situation,” but to what end? Canadiens players are simply frustrated as anyone would be. The Canadiens losing is the issue. This isn’t even an issue. No one should make it one.
No Big Petry News Yet
To his credit, Ducharme and co. tried to diffuse the situation, talking to the media the following day. He said the situation’s been addressed in-house and left it at that. It really should be “it” too, since a) this was arguably a non-story to start and b) any move made in response to Petry’s comments would be ill-advised.
This is one situation in which players are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. They’re constantly asked questions, some of the “gotcha” variety, some not, by reporters constantly hoping for a break from mundane, clichéd responses. Petry didn’t even give them anything everyone doesn’t already know and yet his comments are apparently big news.
Maybe Petry does want out. Now, that would be big news. However, until there’s a leak or actual report to that effect, all you’ve got is conjecture. In fact, all you’ve got is a player stating the obvious, that the Habs are playing badly. That doesn’t make Petry a mutineer. It makes him someone who doesn’t need glasses… unless we’re talking glasses for drinking. Everyone on the Habs could surely do with a little alcohol.
First round’s on Ducharme, not that he’s got anything to overly celebrate or anything. However, he’s still got his job with the Canadiens. So does Petry. Neither is logically going anywhere for the time being.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.