In unfavorable circumstances, Hughes lands an acceptable trade with Petry for the Canadiens
MONTREAL— If this was an easy deal to close, it wouldn’t have taken this long.
And if it had taken much longer, the probability of doing it before the season would decrease from second to second.
Those must be the primary considerations in evaluating the trade Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes made on Saturday, as it’s far from perfect for his team.
Moving Jeff Petry and former first-round pick Ryan Poehling to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Montreal native Mike Matheson and a 2023 fourth-round pick fell short of Hughes’ primary goal, which has repeatedly stated was to achieve long-term cap flexibility. for the Canadians by honoring Petry’s trade request earlier this year.
Matheson, who had a career season after two well below expectations, hit a cap of $4.875 million for each of the next four seasons, while Petry is expected to earn $6.25 million for each of the next three. And while it’s reasonable to assume that Poehling, who will earn $750,000 this season, will likely hit just over $2 million per person if he continues to progress, it’s fair to say that trade was a failure. on the front most important to Canadians. – especially without taking into account the nuance that this is a very difficult job to do.
But this nuance cannot be ignored.
And that’s not a lemon of a deal for Montreal by any stretch of the imagination.
The short-term cap flexibility Hughes got in the trade was at least used to sign Rem Pitlick in what will most likely be a steal of a deal, and that’s a plus. The player, who had nine goals and 26 points in 46 games with the Canadiens last season after scoring six goals and 13 points in 31 previous NHL games, was eligible for arbitration and may have been able to fish a reward of more than $3. million per season based on a relatively small sample size and Hughes managed to sign him for an average salary of $1.1 million on a two-year contract.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that trading Petry represented as good an opportunity as Hughes will have in the short term to knock out a sizable chunk of Montreal’s cap going forward and now that opportunity is lost. It doesn’t change anything for Hughes who will have to devote a great deal of his time and energy over the coming weeks, months and years to creating the space he will need to fill the list he wants to have in three seasons from now.
But, again, it was a tough trade to make.
It was also unwinnable.
Petry, who was writing the worst of his eight seasons as a Montreal Canadiens and doing so in the first year of a new four-year, $25 million contract that would only expire after his 37e birthday, asked to be moved for family reasons in January. Given his unrecognizable game compared to the one that got him the deal in the first place, there was no way to trade him before the NHL trade deadline in March without essentially giving him away for nothing or take back something unwanted and, until the start of the off-season, it seemed that Petry’s resurgence from mid-February had done nothing to change this dynamic.
Hughes said moments after completing the trade with Pittsburgh that he could have held Petry, hoped he would show his best side and hoped a better deal would emerge, but added he didn’t want to risk it. to lose the deal on the table for the flip side of this scenario having already seen what the worst of Petry could be in the early months of last season. Knowing that Petry would return to Montreal without his wife and four children certainly made Hughes think the risk was higher than he was comfortable with, so he accepted the deal with Pittsburgh.
Despite missing what was seen as the key objective the Canadiens needed to achieve in honoring Petry’s request, Hughes got more than the money to shut out Pitlick.
“In any trade that we were going to consider with Pittsburgh or any other team involving Jeff Petry, one of the elements that had to go into the trade or that we had to be able to acquire afterwards was a defenseman. We weren’t ready to go into next season with (only) two defensemen who had played full time or (had) extensive NHL experience, so we wanted to do that.
Matheson, 28, has played 417 games in this league and another 20 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was represented by Hughes for years before Hughes moved from player agent to general manager of the Canadiens, and he fills a need.
“Matheson is a defenseman who was playing in the first four minutes in Pittsburgh, which brings a lot of the qualities that we lose in Jeff Petry in terms of carrying the puck,” Hughes said. “I think if you look, we were checking yesterday, I think Mike was in the 90se percentile for goals in the National Hockey League 5-for-5 per 60 minutes, I think he was in the 85e percentile in points. I don’t know where he sat, but he’s been five game-winning goals, and almost all of his offensive production has come at even strength.
“I also know him as an individual. I feel really comfortable that Mike is the kind of person in our locker room, at this point in his career, who can help our young players, whether it’s draft picks like (first overall pick in 2022) Juraj Slafkovsky or our young defensemen trying to make their way as regular NHL players. I think Mike is a five star human being who can be of great help to our club and help our young players.
The Canadiens weren’t getting that in other deals Hughes had discussed with Petry’s suitors.
He was considering keeping his salary on Petry’s deal to see him play for another team – which Hughes was adamant he wouldn’t do as it would negate the only advantage of trading Petry without getting a player who could play a similar role – and seeing nothing that would give Canadians what they needed to accept Petry’s request at this time.
This trade was an acceptable solution, with Poehling at the bottom of a Canadiens depth chart who improved to his position (center) and pushed him back to the margins and with the money released to bring Pitlick back on a good deal.
Whether or not the Pittsburgh deal is good for Montreal will be determined by Petry’s performance in Pittsburgh and Matheson’s ability to leverage his 11-goal, 31-point season with Pittsburgh to prove he can be the player. who was believed to be when Dale Tallon gave him an eight-year, $39 million contract with the Florida Panthers in October 2017.
Hughes is optimistic that the environment that has developed under Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis is conducive to that.
“I think that’s always a factor,” Hughes said. “I guess if we trade directly and hope that the player we send performs at the level he played with us before sending him to a new team and vice versa, I think we’d be crazy to think we just know a hockey player better than any other team. In Mike’s case in particular, it’s not just the player, it’s the individual and it will be an environment that will work for Mike and allow him to play to its potential.
“The potential, no one disputes that. There’s a reason he got picked in the first round, there’s a reason he signed an eight-year contract while in Florida after a full season in the NHL. And Marty, in our opinion… You know, Brendan Gallagher told me that one of the things he felt was very unique about Marty was that he felt driven as an individual; not individually as part of the system, but simply as a hockey player.
“And yes, we believe that Marty and our group will help these guys. And it’s not just on the ice, it’s the environment they perform in and how we include them, protect them and make them comfortable to play their best.
St. Louis and the new Habs regime helped Petry do just that when it looked like he never could again. They helped Pitlick pull out of Montreal and helped several others play much more to their potential than they were playing as they propelled the Canadiens to the bottom of the standings.
So it’s not unreasonable for Hughes, who knows Matheson as well (if not better) than any GM who acquires him, to feel encouraged it will work out well.
If there was something better available in the past few months, it would have been done already. A better deal was unlikely to come along as the money left in the system was spent filling out rosters before training camps opened.