Montreal Canadiens Didn’t Get What They Expected For Jeff Petry, But Found Value On Depressed Market

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 09: Mike Matheson. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 09: Mike Matheson. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens had a plan to move on from Jeff Petry this offseason. They attempted to do so at the trade deadline, but couldn’t find a trade that made sense for the Canadiens.

So, Petry stayed in Montreal and made the most of it, closing out the season with 21 points in his final 28 games and rediscovering his impact two-way game under new head coach Martin St. Louis.

Though he is 34 years old and signed for three more seasons at a cap hit of $6.25 million, the Canadiens management had plenty of reason to believe they could get a good young player or a decently high pick for Petry.

Surely, other teams looking to contend in the next couple seasons would want a veteran who showed year after year he among the better offensive defencemen in the league and could hold his own defensively as well. They would be willing to give up a top prospect or late first round pick for Petry, wouldn’t they?

Apparently not. The NHL Draft came and went and just like the trade deadline, Petry remained in Montreal.

To make matters worse, a couple of other top four defenders, as well as former teammate Max Pacioretty, were traded for basically nothing. Ryan McDonagh was traded by the Tampa Bay Lightning for scraps, Brent Burns was traded by the San Jose Sharks but they had to eat $2.72 million for each of the next three seasons to get rid of the rest of his contract.

And Pacioretty was traded, with an NHL ready defender, for literally nothing other than the $7 million in cap space it opened up for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Kent Hughes did not want to trade Petry for nothing. But he did want to open up that $6.25 million in cap space. He said all along he would wait until there was a deal that made sense for the Canadiens. That would ideally have been a good young player who takes up very little cap space, or a good draft pick.

With neither on the table, and other top four defenders going for nothing, Hughes pivoted and did the best he could. And though he got something different than expected, and had to include Ryan Poehling in the deal to make it work, which is something else he didn’t want to do, he really did okay considering the depressed market for veteran players with term on their contracts.

Hughes acquired Michael Matheson and a 4th round pick for Petry and Poehling. At first blush, it seemed like he took on way too much money and term, and not nearly a high enough pick in exchange for Petry and Poehling.

But, taking a longer look at Matheson leads you to believe Hughes did quite well in this deal, especially considering the circumstances.

Those circumstances include the fact everyone in hockey knew Petry wanted out and it was best for the team if they didn’t have a disgruntled veteran leading the way on a blue line that could have a few rookies next season.

Also, the trades of McDonagh and Burns kind of set the asking price for Petry at “just be happy someone is willing to take the contract.”

Instead of nothing, Hughes got Matheson, which doesn’t solve the salary cap issue, but could give the team a reliable top four defender who can add some offence at even strength.

Matheson set career highs last season with 11 goals and 31 points. Interestingly, 29 of those points came at even strength, which ranked 34th among defencemen in the NHL last season. He wasn’t really given power play time, since Kris Letang ate up most of those minutes on the Penguins.

It will be interesting to see if Matheson is given more of a power play role with the Canadiens, and what he can do with it. He is a terrific skater and obviously brings plenty of offence at even strength with his vision and playmaking skills. That should nicely transition to the man advantage in Montreal where they could use a power play quarterback.

Matheson, from Montreal, Quebec, has four years left on his contract with a cap hit of $4.875 million. He signed that contract early in his second NHL season, earning it after a strong rookie campaign showed the potential of a top pairing offensive defenceman.

The 28 year old hasn’t reached that potential yet, but took big strides in his two seasons with the Penguins after having a disappointing season to close out his time in Florida with the Panthers.

If he can continue to improve his two-way game like he did in Pittsburgh, and Martin St. Louis helps him unlock a little more offence like he did with so many players in his short time behind the Habs bench, this trade will go down as a great one for the Canadiens.

The general manager had to pivot and make a different type of trade than he expected. He was not able to open up as much cap space as he once hoped, but he just might have acquired a very similar player to Petry who is six years younger, signed for less money and will play his 28-31 year old seasons in Montreal.

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