Montreal Canadiens: Keeping Jeff Petry Until He Walks As A Free Agent Is The Right Move

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 18: Jeff Petry #26 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on February 18, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 18: Jeff Petry #26 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on February 18, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens made minor moves at the trade deadline. Many wanted to see Jeff Petry or Tomas Tatar traded, but keeping Petry until he is a free agent is the right move.

The Montreal Canadiens made some minor moves at the trade deadline earlier this week. They sent out basically anyone who has an expiring contract at the end of the season and had enough value to bring back a mid range draft pick.

We saw Marco Scandella, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nick Cousins, Nate Thompson and Matthew Peca all shipped out of town with second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh round draft picks coming back to Montreal in return.

The second and third round picks for Scandella and Kovalchuk were a nice addition considering the two players only arrived in Montreal six weeks before the deadline and only cost the Habs a fourth round pick at the time. That is some pretty nifty asset management by general manager Marc Bergevin.

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Many Habs fans wanted to see something splashier happen at the deadline. They wanted Bergevin to acquire first round picks and top prospects. Sure, second and third round picks are nice and add some extra lottery tickets at the annual draft, but first round picks and great prospects have a chance to have a more immediate and profound impact on the future of the team.

Fans were asking for Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry to be moved leading up to the deadline. Looking at the returns for other, less valuable players, like Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow made us believe teams would give up their entire futures for Tatar and Petry.

Petry does have one year left on his contract, but will be 33 years old when it expires and will be looking for a raise on his $5.5 million salary along with a long-term contract. Signing players that are in their mid thirties to long term contracts is quite risky in the National Hockey League.

So, keeping the players was the right move. First of all, Bergevin could always trade them at the draft if he wishes. He could also wait until July 1st so that teams acquiring them could immediately sign them to contract extensions and instead of having them for two playoff runs, they could have them for six.

The ball is still very much in Bergevin’s court. There was some angst among fans after the deadline past, but this was not a deadline to move players that still have one more year left on their contracts like Tatar and Petry.

Keeping them when you still own their rights for another 18 months is the best move. In fact, keeping Petry right up until he becomes a free agent and then letting walk away for nothing is the smartest thing to do.

Why would that make sense? Well, the Habs have absolutely no one even close to Petry’s ability right now that could take on his enormous role. He plays second pairing minutes behind Shea Weber, but also takes on a power play role and is a big part of the team’s penalty killing unit. He averages 23:39 per game this season which ranks 21st in the entire league in ice time.

Who is going to play those minutes without Petry right now? I will remind you that the Habs current third pairing is Karl Alzner and Christian Folin. So, they couldn’t trade Petry at the deadline.

What about at the draft? That’s always a busy time for trades. However, Petry is eligible to sign an extension on July 1st, which is less than two weeks after the draft. A team acquiring him would probably want to extend him right away so they would wait until July.

This would also give the Habs a chance to try and sign an unrestricted free agent that could replace Petry. There are some intriguing options this year. Alex Pietrangelo helped lead the St. Louis Blues to a Stanley Cup last year and will be free agent. Sami Vatanen was just traded from the New Jersey Devils to the Carolina Hurricanes and will be available. Chris Tanev out of Vancouver will have his contract expire that day. Tyson Barrie hasn’t been a perfect fit in Toronto but could be the power play quarterback that the Habs desperately need. Travis Hamonic is a big, physical defenseman who could eat minutes and bring a presence on the blue line.

All of those players will be unrestricted free agents this summer, all of them shoot right, average over 20 minutes per game with their current teams and they are all at least two years younger than Petry.

If Bergevin can sign one of them this summer, he could then trade Petry and still get a great return. The team acquiring Petry could negotiate a long-term contract and have him for the next several year. Meanwhile, the Habs would have to sign a current free agent which is risky, but a 29 year old Vatanen wouldn’t cost as much as Petry and is further from the end of his playing days.

A five year contract for Vatanen expired when he is 34. Petry’s next contract will start when he is 33.

If the Habs can’t bring in a right shooting defenceman this summer, keeping Petry throughout the season on an expiring contract would be the next best option. It would give the Habs the best chance to compete for a playoff spot next season and if they fall out of the race they can trade Petry at the deadline. If they stay in the race, they keep Petry for the postseason.

In this scenario they would then lose Petry as a free agent in the summer of 2021. Then who would replace his minutes? Well, the Habs have one of the deepest prospect pools in the league and could look to make a trade at that time to bring someone in to the organization.

They could also look internally by that time. Noah Juulsen looked close to being ready for a top four role last season before being injured for most of the last year. He is getting closer to returning to the lineup and will take time to get back on track. Cale Fleury looked good as a third pairing, stay at home defender for the first half of this season. Josh Brook had the most potential of this group at the start of the year.

All three of those prospects are right shooting defenders and the oldest, Juulsen, is just 22 years old. Can one of them become a second pairing defender over the course of the next year and a half? Chances are one of them will, and if not, the Canadiens could try to dip into the 2021 free agent market, or make a trade.

Keeping Petry at the trade deadline was the right move. Trying to replace him with a right shooting defender in free agency this summer would be the next logical step. Failing that, keeping Petry for another year and trying to develop Juulsen, Fleury or Brook into a second pairing defenseman to replace him would be ideal.

Re-signing Petry after this contract when he is already 33 and would want a long term contract worth big money is far too risky. The Habs already have one right defender signed until he is into his forties. Having two of them signed until that stage of their careers doesn’t make sense.

Next. Can Habs compete next year like Bergevin thinks?. dark

It also didn’t make sense to trade Petry. It makes the most sense to keep him until his contract runs out and then thank for for six and a half great seasons in Montreal.