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Jeff Petry locked Down, Now Who Leaves Montreal?

Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin was wheeling and dealing by June 1st, getting Jeff Petry signed to a six-year deal worth $33 million, which works out to $5.5 million a year. We’ll be taking a look at Petry’s contract, his play, and if it’s deserving. The 27-year-old will be 33 when the contract expires on July 1st 2021.  We’ll also look at what it means for the Habs cap situation and what is going on on the blueline.

First off, he was acquired on trade deadline day from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2015 2nd-round pick and a 2015 4th-round pick. It was a very cheap pick up, even if Petry was an impending UFA. The right-handed defenseman played in 19 regular season games with Montreal, racking up three goals and seven points while adding a much needed offensive boost to the blue line behind P.K. Subban. He played in his first-ever post season action this year, being an integral part of the Habs run, appearing in 12 games and notching the points before they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a heartbreaking six games.

Petry wasn’t well known around the league but that is mainly attributed to wasting away for so many years in Edmonton. In just 31 overall games with the Habs, he’s gone from a lesser known defenseman to almost a household name. He’s still underrated in the defense department, but he has shown he is capable of holding his own in front of Carey Price. What Bergevin saw in him and what made him so attractive though was  Petry’s puck handling ability, which isn’t as good as Subban’s say, but it’s definitely better then Andrei Markov or Tom Gilbert. His play on special teams was also a huge factor in acquiring and resigning him. His handedness was also a huge boost to the teams blue line. Behind Subban, there was only Gilbert and Mike Weaver, who will not be resigned this summer. Gilbert is decent, but Petry is much better in all areas and is an upgrade over Gilbert.

Prior to this signing, not many knew if Petry would be staying. But now after he has talked about the situation, it’s been revealed that Montreal was his first choice and never had any other team in mind. It was even reported that he left an extra million on the table just to stay with the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.


You might look at the price tag for him and think it may be high. You’re wrong. 15 other defensemen in the league right now, including some big names like Duncan Keith ($5.5 million), Nick Leddy ($5.5million), Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($5.5million), and Tyler Myers ($5.5 million), are right at the same price or a little above or below. $5-6 million is the norm for a solid top-four defenseman, which is the perfect description of the right-handed puck mover. Anything over $6.5 million is a superstar number-one defenseman – Subban, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang, for example. That’s not to say that Petry couldn’t fill a number-one spot on numerous teams, because he could, but he is better off on the second pairing. He is certainly capable of filling in on the first pairing in the event of an injury though. His price tag is super for what he brings on the ice night-in and night-out.

Now the biggest question is who on the defense corps goes to make room for the youngsters waiting? Before signing his deal, it was assumed that Petry may be walking, therefore fixing that problem. But now the Habs have a good problem. They have eight defensemen who could step in for a full time job for 2015-16, including to a lesser extent Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

Is Markov’s, whose cap hit is similar to Petry’s, time up in Montreal after dedicating  14 years to the franchise? Is it finally time to wave bye bye to Alexei Emelin? Is the Gilbert project done?

Gilbert is the cheapest of the three, and can still be somewhat useful in a limited role. Habs fans were very hard on Gilbert last year via social media, and not all of that was deserved.  He wasn’t top-four quality, but didn’t do a bad job on the third pair.  His movement also wouldn’t clear a lot of cap space, a precious commodity in Montreal.  However he is a right-handed defenceman and with Subban and Petry, the top two pairings are set on the right side.  Greg Pateryn emerged late last season and showed that he can do the job as a bottom pairing guy.  The fact that Gilbert’s contract is relatively small (1 year and $2.8 million remaining) and that he is also a right-handed, puck moving defenceman may give him more value on the trade market.  He also does not have a no trade clause.

On the left side things become murkier because you have Markov, Beaulieu, Emelin, and Tinordi there.  Beaulieu is a definite keeper and appears to be ready to take his spot in the top-four.  Beyond that, though questions arise.  If one of Markov or Emelin is traded, it means that another veteran left-handed defenceman must be acquired, or that Gilbert plays the wrong side, or that Tinordi is given a full-time role.

When we look at Emelin, he has been downright horrible in terms of possession stats and his knee has kept him from being a solid top-four addition. At $4.1 million cap hit, he eats up far too much cap space for a third-pairing defenceman.  He’s an obvious candidate to move.  Don’t be too sure though, as Emelin has a no trade clause, meaning that shipping him out might be difficult.  Some might worry about losing Emelin’s physicality on the back end, but Petry, Beaulieu, Pateryn and Tinordi have all shown that they too can hit and play a gritty game.

Markov struggled this year at times, especially in the playoffs, and wasn’t himself. His age points at retirement in the near future, so it’s a smart play to trade him now to a team who needs somebody of his skill set. “The General” would definitely be missed but it’s imperative to remember that this is a business and that a Stanley Cup is the goal. Markov would bring in more value then Emelin would, packaged or not. Trading him along with a prospect, which the Habs have a surplus of, or a pick or two could net them the top-six scoring right winger they have been needing for a couple years now.  He would clear significant cap space with two-years at a cap hit of $5.75 million per season left on his deal.

It’s clear that one of these three players needs to go, in order to make room under the salary cap for that desperately needed winger.  What is next for Bergevin?  We’ll have to see in the lead up to the NHL draft.

Whatever they decide to do, the Habs defense corps is looking dangerous and having Petry under wraps makes it even more dangerous, both on offense and defense. Glad to have you on board for another six years, Jeff.

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