While it has taken some time, the Habs have found a new home for Jeff Petry as they moved him and Ryan Poehling to Pittsburgh in exchange for defenceman Mike Matheson and a 2023 fourth-round pick.
Petry had been an integral part of Montreal’s back end since he was acquired back at the 2015 trade deadline and has signed two long-term contracts to remain with the team in that time. However, following a disappointing start to the campaign and some family concerns with Canada’s COVID protocols, he requested a trade midseason.
Unfortunately, with Petry having a down season at the trade deadline, moving him out was something GM Kent Hughes wasn’t able to do. Fortunately for the Habs, the 34-year-old was much better down the stretch and finished up with 27 points in 68 games and while that doesn’t sound great, keep in mind he had just two assists at Christmas. That improved finish under Martin St. Louis certainly helped to improve his value around the league.
Even so, it took until now to find a suitable trade. It has been difficult to move money in this cap climate; look no further than Max Pacioretty being traded for nothing with Vegas having to add a young defender to incentivize Carolina to take the former Hab. That meant that teams weren’t lining up to take Petry on.
Despite that, Montreal picks up an intriguing piece in Matheson, a former Hughes client during his days as an agent. He’s not too far removed from averaging over 21 minutes a night in Florida and while he had a smaller role in his two seasons with Pittsburgh, the 28-year-old is coming off a strong year that saw him pick up 11 goals and 20 assists in 74 games, career-highs in both categories.
A left-shot blueliner, Matheson has four years left on his contract with a $4.875 million cap hit. That makes him Montreal’s highest-paid defender and the one with the longest contract, one year longer than David Savard who now becomes Montreal’s top right-shot rearguard by default. He’ll effectively take the place of Alexander Romanov on the left side of the depth chart
During his press conference to discuss the trade, Hughes indicated that the team will continue to look for a right-shot defender to take Petry’s place. However, he indicated that several of his lefties are capable of playing on the right side with the GM specifically listing Matheson, Corey Schueneman, Jordan Harris, and Otto Leskinen as possible options. Savard, Justin Barron, Chris Wideman, and the recently-signed Madison Bowey are the only right-shot defenders under contract for next season.
The inclusion of Poehling can’t be overlooked either. The 23-year-old had 17 points in 57 games last season and looked to have a spot at least on the fourth line for 2022-23. However, the team felt that Poehling’s spot would be better off being filled by the return of Rem Pitlick who signed a two-year deal with a $1.1 million cap hit not long after the trade was made official. This trade closes the book on another of Montreal’s first-round picks as Poehling was the 25th pick back in 2017.
It took a while but Montreal was able to get some decent value for Petry as Matheson should be able to play a top-four role right away and will be around for a few more years. However, there is still some cap management to be done as the Habs don’t have enough money to sign Kirby Dach unless the team expects to be operating in LTIR next season with Paul Byron and/or Carey Price.