When Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes took over the Montreal Canadiens, there were expected to be numerous changes and a mountain of tough decisions to be made. One of those decisions was going to be veteran defenceman Jeff Petry, who is in the first year of his contract extension.
Out of every player on the Montreal roster this season, no one has struggled as much as Petry, not just defensively but offensively as well. After multiple 40-point seasons in a row, Petry has just five points in 36 games for Montreal this year. The entire team is underperforming, but the degree in which Petry looks off his game is shocking, to be at least slightly diplomatic about it.
Decline is inevitable in the NHL (unless you’re Alex Ovechkin) and it wouldn’t be surprising if Petry is beginning the downside of his career, but this steep a dropoff after an exceptional post-season feels like a collection of factors beyond physical attributes are involved. Perhaps going to a team where he can settle into a second-pairing role as opposed to playing top-pairing minutes as he does in Montreal can allow him to get back to the form he’s accustomed to.
Pierre LeBrun and Frank Seravalli have noted that despite Petry’s tough season, there is plenty of interest for the Habs defender. The question now becomes: What can Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton get in return?
Below I’ve brainstormed a few teams that I think could be a solid fit, and also a good trading party for the Canadiens. Given how fluid situations like this tend to be, they are not the only option.
The simplest, almost too obvious answer is that Hughes will try and send Petry back to his home state of Michigan to join the Detroit Red Wings. Moritz Seider is going to continue to hold down the top right-side spot for Detroit, but there’s a lack of quality depth behind him on the blue line.
In terms of cap space, Petry’s new deal can fit comfortably. Given where Detroit is in its rebuild, Petry can provide stability while the Red Wings bring their prospects up to the NHL on their own schedule.
What is Steve Yzerman willing to part with if this trade is on the table? Detroit isn’t expected to be a playoff team, so it’s highly unlikely that the Wings would part with their first-round pick at this current juncture. There is, however, the option of acquiring some of their young prospects instead, and in recent weeks Elliotte Friedman has mentioned that Filip Zadina is a potential candidate for getting a fresh start with another club.
Presently, the Nashville Predators find themselves in a pretty tenuous spot in the NHL’s Central Division. They are currently in a playoff spot, however the fact that they’ve played more games than the teams around them is making their second seed look more secure than it actually is. The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild sit just behind them, and a few wild-card contenders have several games in hand.
With Dante Fabbro currently injured, the Predators’ current defensive right side is made up of Philippe Myers, Matt Benning, and Alexandre Carrier. Petry presents an instant upgrade on all of them, and likely Fabbro as well. The Preds are in a unique spot in that a large chunk of their core is aging out of its prime, and they are therefore strong candidates to load up for small extension to their Stanley Cup window.
Unlike Detroit, Nashville may be more willing to part with their own first-round pick given their status as a playoff contender right now. There is also the caveat between these two teams in that Shea Weber currently sits on LTIR, and is likely to never play a game in the NHL again. Should he retire, the Predators are on the hook for a devastating recapture penalty on his contract. Packaging the Weber contract in with Petry allows Nashville to utilize Weber’s cap hit for LTIR and future relief, and also can allow the Habs to ask for slightly more in a trade beyond the package for Petry alone.
Anaheim kind of falls in a middle ground between Detroit and Nashville. The team is also in the playoff hunt right now, and still looking to build for the relatively near future as their high-end prospects come to roost.
What plays into Montreal’s favour here is that the Ducks are expected to shop pending UFA Josh Manson at the deadline, and if they ship him out there’s an immediate spot for Jeff Petry to slot into their lineup. His presence allows Jamie Drysdale to take more carefully selected minutes as he develops, and by the time Petry’s contract has expired the Ducks’ next wave of prospect defencemen should be ready for the NHL.
The Ducks do have a wealth of young forward prospects, even if we know that Trevor Zegras is untouchable for them right now. Could a player like Maxime Comtois, or a Jacob Perreault be enough for Hughes to pull the trigger if the package is built around them? It could also depend on where the new Ducks GM sees his team in terms of contention when he takes over in the near future.
Okay, now hear me out. The Oilers currently have no cap space, a really rough-looking defensive group, and are out of a playoff spot right now. Adding Jeff Petry after they let him go for next to nothing almost a decade ago could be a win for Ken Holland and the Oilers. The team doesn’t fit the description of where Petry seems to want to go — the United States to avoid any red tape in travelling to see his family — and I highly doubt he wants to head from one ugly situation to another.
For the Canadiens however, there is a huge upswing here for them in terms of trading. For one thing, Ken Holland has to win in the post season, and win big. Adding Petry gives their blue line a much-needed shot in the arm. The second point is, the Oilers have a really nice looking prospect pool, and snagging a player like Raphael Lavoie or Xavier Bourgault plus draft picks seems like a winning situation. Mind you, it’s also extremely unlikely in the end.
Obviously, things can change in an instant, and new suitors for Petry can easily emerge at a moment’s notice. There is also the chance that Petry stays in Montreal and the current cloud of smoke is leading to nothing. Regardless, there would a healthy market for the defenceman, and it presents Hughes with a major task in his early days as GM. If done properly, he could very well set Montreal up for the future with picks and prospects.