Canadiens’ Best Deadline Move Was Not Trading Petry

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin certainly took a lot of heat for an underwhelming and arguably confusing trade deadline. In retrospect, by hanging on to his best players, he gave the Habs a decent chance to make the playoffs.

Bergevin Puts Habs in Good Spot

Obviously, Bergevin is not psychic. If he were, the Habs would be in vastly better condition after his now-eight years at the helm. Still, credit where it is due, as a result of the NHL’s 24-team return-to-play format for this COVID-19-shortened season, the Habs have new life. Since Bergevin didn’t trade defenseman Jeff Petry or forward Tomas Tatar, despite calls to the contrary, the Habs have a shot at making the playoffs by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in their projected play-in series.

Marc Bergevin Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The thought process had been for Bergevin to theoretically maximize Petry’s value (for example) by giving prospective suitors over a season of his services, before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Of course, few of his critics mentioned Brendan Gallagher or Phillip Danault by name, each of whom are in the same boat as Petry and Tatar (alongside fellow-forward Joel Armia and goalie Charlie Lindgren).

So, it was a flawed argument from the start. Maybe Bergevin could have gotten more had he traded either a few months ago instead of waiting until next season. However, the second anyone makes the argument that the Habs must rebuild by holding a fire sale despite leaving some of their most valuable merchandise off the table is when they acknowledge there’s value in making a go of it that very same next season. As it happens, by sheer fate, the Habs don’t need to wait that long.

Petry Belongs with Canadiens

Furthermore, the idea that Petry of all people should be on the block was quasi-nonsensical. Besides the fact that he has a modified no-trade clause, Petry has been consistently putting up big numbers for the last few seasons. He may be 32, but he’s just finding his rhythm from a statistical standpoint.

It admittedly may not pay to re-sign Petry long term, but giving up the opportunity to negotiate a shorter-term deal? When the drop-off from him on the second pairing to Christian Folin or Cale Fleury on the third is as big as it is?

Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry
Jeff Petry – (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The undeniable truth is the Habs’ defensive corps is far from stable in terms of its make-up. Beyond captain Shea Weber, there’s really no one established to help steady the ship aside from Petry. As great as Weber is, you can’t expect him to shoulder that load by himself at age 35, even if you are looking to bottom out and rebuild anew, which Bergevin has made clear (in his own way) he’s not going to do.

Under Bergevin and owner Geoff Molson, the Habs want to “reset” instead, which is akin to having their cake and eating it too. The Canadiens have effectively acknowledged they’re not good enough to win, but that they’re not planning on ever being bad enough to hit rock bottom (be it for the sake of ticket sales or their collective ego, what have you).

Canadiens to Compete for Playoffs

Whether you agree with it or not, it’s the reality of the situation. So, Bergevin failing to trade Petry and Tatar, when they each have another year under contract? It’s far from confusing, based on the strategy the Habs have decided to deploy. The strategy itself may be confusing, but the non-moves make for perfect sense for what the Habs had been looking to accomplish in 2020-21: compete. Now, they can as soon as this summer, assuming the NHL moves ahead with their plan.

Of course, in retrospect, Bergevin’s trade deadline didn’t go perfectly, considering what we know now. He gave up key depth pieces that could have been useful for a long playoff run. Up front, he traded Nick Cousins to the Vegas Golden Knights, Matthew Peca to the Ottawa Senators, Nate Thompson to the Philadelphia Flyers and, most significantly, Ilya Kovalchuk to the Washington Capitals.

Ilya Kovalchuk Montreal Canadiens
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Ilya Kovalchuk – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The moves put the pressure on guys like Jesperi Kotkaniemi to take the next step, especially with Max Domi far from a lock to rejoin the team. However, the departure of Marco Scandella on the back-end underscores Petry’s importance to this team. It was undeniably impressive how Bergevin not only got back the fourth-round pick he initially traded to the Buffalo Sabres from the St. Louis Blues in addition to a second for Scandella. Nevertheless, the Habs’ defense is patchy at best as a result.

The “Anything Can Happen” Canadiens

If the Canadiens are going to make the playoffs, which especially Bergevin should want, he’s going to need Petry to do it. Yeah, Alexis Lafreniere may be up for grabs if the Habs fall short. And there’s every reason to believe the Habs will still get the chance to draft him, whether it’s by losing to the Pens or earning it by default if the league is forced to officially cancel the rest of the season. In such an instance, they’ll still get that one-in-eight chance as one of the bottom eight teams in the standings to have “earned” a berth to the play-in round.

Still, this is a team that has effectively substituted out their “no excuses” mantra for “anything can happen” once you make the playoffs. Now Bergevin can put his money where his mouth is, after having stuck to his guns this past deadline. The irony of the situation is, had Bergevin traded Petry and/ or Tatar, the Habs likely wouldn’t have earned that hypothetical shot at first overall because of the draft lottery.

Tomas Tatar Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Again, Bergevin can’t claim to be psychic based on how he has yet to win the actual lottery. Regardless, almost in spite of himself, he’s put the Habs in a decent position here. Now, it’s up to the Canadiens themselves, Petry and Tatar included, to get it done.