The Argument for the Habs to Keep Jeff Petry

No doubt one of Montreal’s biggest problems this past season was scoring. The Habs had four players with 20 or more goals on the team but the lack of offense from other players and failing to produce in the post season was why Montreal got ousted by the offensively superior Tampa Bay Lightning. While many are calling for Marc Bergevin to go out and find a sniper, defenceman Jeff Petry is a UFA and it would be wise for Bergevin to resign him.

Jeff Petry Edmonton Oilers
Jeff Petry has been tacking on the points before the trade deadline. (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

Argument to keep Jeff Petry

Despite only being with the team for approximately two and a half months, Petry filled a glaring hole on Montreal’s defence corps. The Habs were in need of a top four defenceman and Petry delivered. He brought steady play, quick skating and puck moving to Montreal and appeared to play better without the pressure of being the top guy like he was in Edmonton.

The Montreal defence has a very good first pairing in PK Subban and Andrei Markov. Subban is elite and can handle playing big minutes for Montreal. But Markov’s age was an issue in the playoffs as the fatigue of playing heavy minutes caught up to him. He was making uncharacteristic mistakes and looked a step or two behind the play. Markov is an effective player but fewer minutes can go a long way in making sure he stays fresh for more important situations. Even Subban can benefit from a minute or two less per game.

Keeping a player like Petry is key as he is in his prime and can take on minutes to help rest Subban and Markov as the blueline starts to look less impressive after the top pairing especially when removing Petry from the equation. Petry is what Montreal needs to fill out the second pairing alongside Beaulieu, who has a very promising future as a top four defenceman as Tom Gilbert and Alexei Emelin are better off in more limited roles.

Greg Pateryn will be looking for a spot on the blueline next season but he projects more as a number five or six defenceman. Jarred Tinordi likely has one more chance to make the Habs roster for good but unless he takes a massive step forward, he will likely start the year competing for a bottom pairing spot.

Habs’ big picture

When you look at the four remaining teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they all have solid bluelines with emphasis on the top four. Chicago leans heavily on Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmersson and Johnny Oduya. Anaheim has Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Francois Beauchemin. New York has Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Keith Yandle. Tampa Bay boasts Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn and Jason Garrison. The defensive depth on these teams extends beyond the top four as they can boast other solid defencemen, even on the bottom pairings.

Big picture wise, the Habs don’t have a player in the prospect pool who projects as a top four defenceman except for Tinordi, who doesn’t look like the sure thing he was a few years ago. Darren Dietz and Dalton Thrower have intriguing skill-sets but barring big steps in their development, they won’t be NHL ready this fall. The Habs hold the 26th overall pick and could target a defenceman. There are realistic options such as Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Roy and Brandon Carlo but the chances of them stepping in to be a legitimate top four option is a few years away. It makes a player like Petry more important, especially in the short term.

Making it work

The most important roster players that need new contracts are Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu while UFA Torrey Mitchell could easily be kept for cheap or walk. Bergevin was critical of Galchenyuk in his year-end press conference which could mean Bergevin was telling the truth or it is a tactic to keep the cost down on Galchenyuk’s new deal. Beaulieu could command as much as $2-3 million dollars on his new contract. Neither player will break the bank on a new deal and Montreal has over $12 million in cap space heading into the off-season.

No doubt the Montreal Canadiens need more scoring but it would be wise to hang onto a player like Petry. Top four defencemen aren’t easy to come by and are very valuable. Keeping Petry and finding a sniper will take some creative cap work and perhaps trading the likes of PA Parenteau or Brandon Prust to alleviate some of the pressure. Letting Petry walk and spending money on a sniper would help fix the scoring problem but losing Petry and failing to replace him will only open up another hole that will eventually need filling, especially if the Habs plan on contending any time soon.