Two seasons ago, the Montreal Canadiens opted to hold onto defenseman Jeff Petry despite facing the prospect of another non-playoff season. General manager Marc Bergevin faces much the same situation now. The same solution arguably holds true as well.
Canadiens Keep Petry in 2020
Obviously, holding onto Petry then proved to be a good decision, as the Habs ended up making the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, albeit thanks to a technicality resulting from a global pandemic. The play-in round they won over the Pittsburgh Penguins served as a precursor to Bergevin’s impressive 2020 offseason and the Habs’ eventual run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. So, even though Petry would have fetched a king’s ransom then, it’s hard to find fault with the decision in retrospect.
Hell, in all honesty, it should have been objectively difficult to find fault in the decision then, because Petry was “just” 32 at the time and had term left on his deal. It’s not as clear-cut this time around, because Petry is 34 and in the midst of a piss-poor season (along with most everyone else on the Habs).
In spite of Petry’s mere two points through 18 games (ranking last among Habs defensemen), it’s hard to imagine the Canadiens taking much of a beating on the trade market, if they decide to go that route. And that would be conveniently ignoring his no-trade clause for the record (which entitles him to a 15-team no-trade list).
Yes, Petry’s getting older and could realistically be in decline right now. However, hypothetical trade partners would most likely be looking at the Petry of literally yesteryear, when in 2020-21 he had 42 points in 55 games, was a general standout on an otherwise immobile defense corps and even earned a few James Norris Memorial Trophy votes.
In other words, Petry’s not far removed at all from arguably his best season ever. Looking at it that way, keeping him in the fold is a worthwhile risk to take as he can seemingly rediscover his game moving forward. It is admittedly a risk though, because what if he doesn’t? Bergevin and co. would be foregoing a chance to kick-start a rebuild in especially effective fashion, with likely a high pick or two and prospect(s).
Petry vs. Weber
Petry’s new four-year, $25 million contract, which was signed prior to the 2020-21 season and just came into effect, was generally seen as a great, team-friendly deal. The fact that he then went out and put together the season he did should only reinforce the notion Bergevin did good work here… admittedly a foreign concept to some due to current circumstances, with the team languishing in the standings at 4-12-2 as one of the worst in the NHL.
Petry’s play is likely a contributing factor as he was expected to take on extra responsibility as the Habs’ undisputed No. 1 defenseman with Shea Weber effectively retired. It obviously hasn’t worked out that way. Petry really only leads the defense corps in ice time. Even then, Chris Wideman of all people has a significant edge in terms of power-play ice time per game among d-men.
Granted, Wideman leads the team’s defensemen in scoring (with a modest six points), but he was supposed to be a seventh defensemen for all intents and purposes. Credit to Wideman for picking up the slack, but ultimately it’s adding insult to injury, especially when Petry hasn’t been able to, having put more pressure on himself because of the Weber situation (from ‘Jeff Petry a de gros patins a chausser,’ Journal de Montreal, Nov. 3, 2021).
However, the Weber situation can serve as a guide here. Up until the degree to which he was injured was made public, even in the few seasons leading up to his “retirement,” Weber had become visibly less effective, his heroic playoff run notwithstanding. While his multiple injuries presumably piled up, leading to his decline in play, that’s not the point. What is, is how the Canadiens were seemingly prepared to bite the bullet and continue to play him and learn to live with his $7,857,143 cap hit… because, uh, “leadership?”
The Case to Keep Petry in 2021-22
In truth, even if the Canadiens wanted to, they probably would have found it hard to trade Weber due to his contract and the cap staying flat. However, it’s hard to believe they wanted to, because Weber’s intangibles were celebrated to such a great extent. It’s not like Petry is chopped liver in that regard… and his $6.25 million cap hit is far less crippling if the Habs see this thing through, with him staying put.
Of course, the Canadiens don’t have to worry about Weber’s hit now (long-term injured reserve) and they do Petry’s, but for a team whose primary weakness is a lack of mobility on defense, it’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to trade your most mobile defenseman of all (in principle), because he’s having a bad season.
Just about everyone is and you’re not going to trade three quarters of the team. Oddly enough, the Habs should just Ben Chiarot, who’s having arguably the best season of all Habs defensemen. However, that’s primarily because his contract is expiring and you would want to get something for him instead of see him leave for nothing.
Furthermore, it’s hard to see Chiarot replicate his performance so far this season and remain a key component for the Habs into the long term (at least it should be difficult). Ditto for Petry, just in the other direction. Objectively, if you were to give Team X the choice between Petry and Chiarot, they would surely choose Petry, probably even with a higher asking price. That’s a telling assessment of his overall value, in spite of his struggles this season. It’s not about what you can get for Petry, but rather will you get enough that can eventually replace him. Assuming he starts playing like he can, the answer is a resounding “no.”
The only way to truly justify moving Jeff Petry is if the Canadiens are prepared to undergo a complete rebuild and be bad for several seasons. Little of what this front office has done the last 10 years suggests that’s so much as an option (even if the Habs ironically almost missed the playoffs in four of five seasons a few years ago). For better or worse, Petry remains the team’s best defenseman, at least on paper. Things may change in another two years, but for now it must be the status quo, even if change in the standings would be welcome for most. The only way they get there is likely with Petry.
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.