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Evaluating the Canadiens' Deadline Acquisitions: Bergevin's Bargains

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Jeff Petry will need to improve the Canadiens' possession numbers, rather than fall victim to them

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Bergevin often talks about how "there are players that get you [into the playoffs] and players that get you through," and today he acquired both.

Jeff Petry was arguably the best defensemen left on the market at the beginning of the day, a smooth-skating puck-mover who has played in all situations for the Edmonton Oilers over the past few years. Like Tom Gilbert before him, Petry took criticism in Alberta for the occasional defensive lapse, defensive zone turnover, and an overall lack of physicality. Petry, however, is built for the new NHL. On a consistently bad Oilers team he has played tough minutes and - with a revolving door of partners - has generally put up favourable possession numbers relative to his teammates. It's clear from watching him that in a system in which a team has possession of the puck the majority of the time, he is capable of thriving, driving play through the neutral zone and using his offensive awareness to create chances, even if that doesn't mean putting up massive amounts of points.

The problem, however, is that the Canadiens aren't a great possession team - if we take Carey Price out of the equation, we probably don't even need the modifier "possession" in there - and Petry is inevitably going to be playing in his own zone, where his defensive deficiencies might manifest themselves in the same way as they have for Gilbert this season.

The important question with this transaction then becomes: Will Petry drive possession enough to put himself in a position to thrive, or will he ultimately struggle in the same ways he did out west, only this time with more of a buffer in net?

It's important to frame the acquisition in that manner and not simply reference the numbers, whatever they may be. Why? Because as we've seen time and time again, past metrics are an imperfect evaluative tool, especially when it comes to players changing teams, systems and coaches. It is often appropriate to paint a transaction in a particular light based on a player's Corsi/SAT, Fenwick/USAT, and contextual metrics like faceoff zone numbers and qualities of teammates and opponents, but it isn't always sufficient.

Tom Gilbert went from controlling 52 percent of on-ice shot attempts at even strength last year to 46 percent this year. Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant GM Kyle Dubas this weekend, at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, spoke about how his prior team in Sault Ste Marie improved 21 percentage points in shot attempt percentage simply by firing a coach in mid-season. Environments change all the time, and players must adapt with it. This is where scouting comes into play and is still so critical.

Petry has never played in the NHL playoffs, so presumably the thinking is that he's a player that gets you there, and then we'll see how he fares at getting you through.

Bergevin likely sees Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell as helping with the latter. It's no secret that the Canadiens GM loves depth, and the Massachusetts and Quebec natives, respectfully, certainly bring that. Flynn was an under-the-radar talent playing on the worst team in the league, and has the skills to potentially make a positive impact on a contending fourth line. He has also been one of Buffalo's better penalty killers over the past couple of years. Mitchell is more of a known commodity, and is probably less likely to make a significant positive impact. It's certainly great to see somebody considered one of the real "good guys" in the NHL getting a chance to play in his hometown, but Mitchell, when he can stay healthy, appears significantly past his prime, and is probably more of an injury fill-in than anything else. As a bonus, all three of these players are right-handed shots, which is something that undoubtedly helps in a league mostly dominated by lefty shooters.

So where do these trades leave the Canadiens? Well the problems with the team going into the day - poor shot attempt numbers coupled with an inability to prevent high-quality chances against - are still very much present. But Petry, and to a lesser extent Flynn and Mitchell, are still positive acquisitions, and when you have Carey Price in goal, even just spending a few extra shifts in the offensive zone with a few cleaner breakouts and tape-to-tape passes could be enough to make it through a wide-open Eastern Conference.