While it took a while, Kent Hughes found a suitable Jeff Petry trade over the weekend, moving him and Ryan Poehling to Pittsburgh for Mike Matheson and a fourth-round pick. Our writers offer up some mixed opinions of the swap.
First of all, I have to say that this trade was a classy move on Hughes’ part. The Montreal Canadiens have really turned things around in terms of how they treat their personnel.
What kind of message would the Habs have made if they kept Jeff Petry in limbo?
Petry was a good soldier who needed to leave because of family issues. Playing head games with him would have been heartless. And what if he got injured prior to the trade deadline? This would have been a huge mess for the Canadiens to contend with.
Montreal also did Poehling a nice favour by giving him an opportunity to play elsewhere. He seems to have limited upside and would likely have further stagnated with limited playtime. The acquisition of Kirby Dach put a logjam down the middle and at best, Poehling might have wrestled down the fourth line centre spot from Jake Evans.
Matheson has a bit more upside still in him in terms of development but not much beyond his current numbers. He certainly replaces Alexander Romanov in terms of offence. And, according to the analytics community, his defensive numbers are better than Petry’s.
We should also keep in mind that Matheson was also a client of Hughes in his previous life as a player agent so the Habs had/have a basket load of intel on him.
Montreal certainly got a lot more for Matheson than Vegas did for the very talented but expensive Max Pacioretty. Hockey is no different than real estate. The price of any player is what the market will bear. And right now, high salaries in a flat cap league are toxic.
We should also consider this trade in totality. By trading away Petry and Poehling, there was enough cap space freed up to re-sign Pitlick.
I was never fully sold on Poehling. He’s rarely shown much in terms of offence and likely will likely continue to stay on his current trajectory in the future. There is always a possibility that he will become the next Phillip Danault but there’s a greater likelihood that he becomes basically a journeyman player. For this reason, then, think of this part of the trade being a straight up Pitlick and a 4th for Poehling transaction – which likely favours Montreal.
The main winners in this transaction have to be the many green left defenders who can now be eased into Montreal’s lineup over the next few years. Matheson could be a sturdy placeholder who could fetch a Ben Chiarot-like haul somewhere down the road. In addition, Evans must be secretly relieved. The fourth line spot is now his for the taking.
So, while most Hab fans are not salivating over this trade, they should be pleased at the progressive work environment that the Montreal Canadiens are building. They got themselves a decent defender plus a forward with more upside than Poehling and can continue to shield their promising left defensive core from being shell-shocked.
More moves are coming. The right defensive core remains a top priority. But so far so good.
Allan Katz: Depending on what universe you exist in, the trade can be analyzed completely differently.
Pittsburgh fanatics can see this as an absolute win on the basis that the team that gets the best player wins the trade. Petry is the best player and absolutely thrives when he is not the number one defenceman on a team. The veteran team is gearing up for another shot at the Cup as the Penguin window of opportunity is starting to close. Very exciting.
Pittsburgh cynics have to despair this trade because the team just sent off a skates-like-the-wind defenceman, who had the best season of his career (better than Petry’s) and is absolutely trending upward in exchange for an over-the-hill, higher-paid player who the season before last was literally possessed by the devil (Google “Jeff Petry possessed by the Devil”). Absolutely devastating.
Montreal fanatics can rejoice over management trading a very difficult contract for almost a younger version of Petry who many will remember only hit his potential when he was traded to the Habs. Matheson is the Petry that arrived in Montreal to finally find his groove, better than that Matheson found his groove in Pittsburgh and is ready to take on the challenge. The Geeks will rejoice over the money saved so the Habs could sign Rem Pitlick who is simply a better player than Ryan Poehling. The Fourth-round pick is a sweet little present that can be used as a trade chip or another shot at a promising youngster. Petry pleases his wife and family while Matheson comes home to Montreal, bilingual, with his best years ahead of him. The Hab future looks better every day.
Montreal cynics expected more riches for the borderline all-star Petry than a veteran, Matheson, with a large contract who has had only one good season, even if it was the last. Petry could have mentored the young studs on defence and then been turned into something special at the trade deadline. One can argue that if Matheson is your top defenceman (certainly the highest-paid Montreal D-man) then your team is in serious trouble and for this many cynics will rejoice because, in their mind, Montreal is assured a nice pick at next year’s bountiful draft because this defense corps is going to be BAD.
My first reaction to the trade was feeling let down, but like many observers have noted, the silver linings became more apparent after a deeper appreciation of Matheson was uncovered. Poehling is still young enough to be worth more than a fourth-round pick BUT and this is a big BUTT (not really) Rem is better than Ryan. I am looking forward to watching Matheson. I am very happy that Rem was re-signed. I hope Petry has a resurgence and I suspect Poehling might be a nice catch for the Penguins and will be a true upgrade for the team’s bottom six forwards. The new era continues to evolve!
Brian La Rose: A lot of this comes down to where you view Matheson. If Montreal gets the version from last year and at the beginning of his career, the Canadiens make out reasonably well here. If they get the version in between that though? Yikes.
Personally, I think Matheson will be in between that. Pittsburgh did well sheltering him last season but the Canadiens aren’t going to have that luxury. He’s going to have to play in all situations and the last time that happened, well, let’s just say it backfired for Florida in a big way which is what got him dumped to Pittsburgh in the first place. As a transitional blueliner in the sense that he’ll be a serviceable bridge to the younger players, he’ll work. The fact that he’s a transitional player in the sense of being able to move the puck well and jump into the play helps as well. But he’ll be Petry-esque along the lines of when he makes a mistake, it’s often a bad and costly one.
Is this the best the Habs could do in a trade? Probably; I don’t think Hughes accepted a lesser offer for fun. But if that’s the best they could do, I’d have waited. While I’m a believer that it’s generally easier to move money now than during the season, I think there might have been a better move available during the year once a key player inevitably gets injured, opening up some LTIR flexibility in the process. But while I think Matheson will be a serviceable veteran, I don’t think this is a particularly great trade for Montreal.
As for Poehling’s inclusion, he’s going to be a serviceable depth NHL player for a while and I think he landed in a good spot as Pittsburgh has turned players like him into capable depth pieces. But his stock was on the decline to the point where I’m not sure he’d have cracked the opening roster based on the current depth chart. Effectively getting a fourth-rounder for him (it’s not quite that simple) isn’t a great return by any stretch but he’s someone whose value would have been lower in the fall had he been on the outside looking in on a team that isn’t expected to be all that good next season. Moving him now opened up a spot for Pitlick’s return and that’s a logical decision. In fact, in this trade, that one was the best decision of the swap.
Kevin Leveille: Is Matheson and a pick a great return for Petry and Poehling? No. Not really. I mean, the draft pick for a player that has struggled to find an identity in the league and doesn’t match the profile that new management has said they search for is a wash at best. So, I’m going to ignore that part of the trade. Then, if you want to win now, Petry is the better player. Considering the Habs appear lined up for another painful season, better picks and prospects would have been better for them, not to count the shedding of important cap dollars. So, they get neither the best player in the trade nor a real potential futures package; I don’t think anyone can really jump for joy with the return.
Having said that, one can consider the circumstances. The entire league knew Hughes was trying to move Petry, loss of leverage. Many teams are looking to shed salary, loss of leverage. The market on the blueline is currently over-saturated, loss of leverage. So, it’s actually surprising that Hughes was able to get as serviceable a player as Matheson.
In Matheson, the Habs get a puck-mover for the second pairing that could help on the power play more than Petry did. A player that might be a good match for David Savard. Both have limitations and would be better suited for a third pairing on a contending team, but should be serviceable while more talented prospects get the proper experience under their belt. While it’s not a great return, it’s not a terrible one either. Let’s see if Matheson can force his way into becoming a player the Habs want to keep long-term.
Peter Longo: Does the Petry trade really matter? The Habs are going to tank and tank huge this upcoming season – which is the game plan for Hughes. We’ve seen it in the Toffoli trade, the Romanov trade, and now with Petry. All three trades involved players performing extremely well in Montreal and under contract or team control for several years. And after each trade, it’s undeniable that the team is significantly worse.
How can Hughes say that he will only trade Petry if it benefits the Habs? Does he think a 28-year-old underachieving and overpaid left-handed defenceman is better than Petry? Petry was undeniably the best defenceman on the team last year. No person in their right mind would think Matheson can step in as an upgrade or with the potential to be one.
Does Hughes think that the meager -$1.37M in cap savings can be used to attract a replacement for Petry? Does he think an extra year on Matheson’s bloated contract is good long-term value for the Habs?
Does he think that including Poehling – a young centre still developing – will make the Habs a better team?
The only explanation is that Hughes wants to tank and tank huge for the upcoming seasons. He’s simply trying to field the worst team possible to acquire high draft picks. Competing is not the point for the upcoming seasons. Let’s just hope the drafting and development of these young players goes better than it has over the last decade. Habs fans should just take the next 2-3 years off and go fishing instead.
Ken MacLeod: There is an old sports adage that says that the team that gets the best player wins the trade, but that was before the NHL brought in a salary cap. In the salary cap era, sometimes you need to part with the best player so that a trade can help your team achieve other important goals. In this case, the immediate goal was cap relief that allowed the Habs to sign a player they liked in Pitlick, while in the long run, it honoured Petry’s trade request from early last season.
There’s little doubt that Petry is the best player in the trade. But Matheson is a legitimate top-four defenceman who plays a balanced game that should please the coaching staff while at the same time providing veteran support for a group of talented young defence prospects the Canadiens hope to develop into NHL hockey players.
In a perfect world, Montreal could have received a first-round pick and a good prospect for Petry alone, but the market for quality defence was saturated earlier in the month by a couple of near salary dumps, where Tampa Bay sent Ryan McDonagh to Nashville for a modest prospect and an NHL player who was likely acquired for future cap relief, followed by a San Jose trade/salary dump that saw them send Brent Burns and a third of his cap hit to Carolina for a bottom-six forward, a goalie prospect and a third-round pick in 2023.
All things considered, perhaps getting a defenceman who can play in your top four was the best return Hughes could have hoped for at this stage of the game.
Norm Szcyrek: I love this trade for many reasons. First, Petry was basically a disgruntled player. Anytime a player makes a trade request midseason, to me that puts them in that category. When that position becomes public knowledge, then it makes it even more difficult to trade the player and get value back. You can argue that Petry may have acted like the other Habs in the room, by underperforming in Dominique Ducharme’s terribly flawed system last season, when no player believed it would work. Hughes and Jeff Gorton knew that the longer they kept Petry, the more of a disturbance his presence would be in the locker room. I don’t mean he would vocally act disgruntled, but all his teammates would know where he stood and that is a big negative for team unity. A team that is trying to rebuild does not need that type of presence to influence its younger players.
I have always liked Matheson as a player. His skating and mobility are excellent and are much better than Petry’s skills. While he has not produced the same level of offence as Petry has, I want to point out that Petry’s offensive numbers only took off after he was traded to Montreal. Another coincidence is that Matheson is now 28 years old, the same age that Petry was when he arrived in Montreal. Mike is also coming off his best career season, and his offensive points per game exceeds Petry’s average point per game for his career. His defensive game is not as good as Petry’s, but Montreal is in a rebuilding mode, so that handicap may not be as big of a deal for the next few seasons.
It helps a lot that Matheson grew up in the Montreal area, and since Hughes discussed his high level of character, those are both positive signs that he will be receptive to playing well for Montreal. Another part of this trade to Montreal’s advantage, Petry is 34 and Matheson is 28. Even though there are four years left on Matheson’s contract, compared to three for Petry, it’s easier to manage Matheson’s contract in terms of his $4.875M cap hit. Matheson can handle top minutes, and although he’s a left-handed shot and Petry shoots from the right, I believe the Habs will be able to adjust their blueliners and make it work.
As for Poehling, he’s never come close to performing anywhere near the level he did in his first game as a Habs, where he scored three goals and a shootout winner. I remember a concussion he suffered the following preseason, and he’s not played the same since then. I consider him another Marc Bergevin/Trevor Timmins first-round pick bust. At least Hughes moved him to help his cap situation and then parlayed those savings into re-signing Pitlick who outscored and outworked Poehling last season.
Dave Woodward: The Petry trade does not strengthen the Canadiens in the short run. The Habs are weak on the right side of the blueline at the NHL and prospect level and the Canadiens just traded away their best right-hander, and very likely their best defenceman. Matheson, a left-handed defender, can play the right side if necessary but he would more naturally slot into the left side. So, in the short run, in isolation, the trade does not fit as seamlessly as some of Hughes’ other moves. However, the Canadiens’ objectives are to rebuild the team in the medium to long term. We all know that next season is sure to be another long season.
With the trade, the Habs become younger (Matheson is 28 and Petry is 34). Also, the Canadiens gain some much-needed cap space (Matheson at a $4.875M cap hit for another four years vs Petry at a $6.5M cap hit for another three years), some of which they immediately deployed to sign Rem Pitlick to a two-year contract at a $1.1M cap hit. In the deal, the Canadiens included Ryan Poehling and therefore moved out his $750K contract. The Canadiens also received a 2023 fourth-round pick, giving them 11 picks in next year’s draft. Poehling – yet another failed first-round pick of the Bergevin era – was going nowhere in Montreal and will most likely accomplish even less in Pittsburgh.
By accommodating Petry, they move a player that could become a distraction if he was to return to Montreal this season and they get a younger, less expensive, seasoned defenceman who has enough NHL experience to mentor some of the younger defenceman that will be arriving and hopefully developing in Montreal over the next few years. Matheson, like Petry, is a good puck-moving defenceman who can initiate offence from the back end. Also, while Matheson is an NHL veteran, he is still young enough to be around and contribute when the Canadiens become more competitive. Matheson was a client of Kent Hughes and Hughes effusively praised Matheson’s character during the Zoom call announcing the trade.
Hughes is not done yet by any means. Hughes must find some cap space to sign Kirby Dach and he will be looking to improve the right side of the defence corps, ideally before camp opens if at all possible. Of course, the uncertainty over the health of Paul Byron and Carey Price complicates these efforts considerably.
Petry was a solid contributor for the Canadiens for eight seasons and, as a Dad whose kids are young adults, this pundit will miss the Boyd Petry videos. However, at age 34 and with the Canadiens in the early phases of a full rebuild, moving Petry makes sense for the Canadiens, Petry, and the Penguins. With their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, the Penguins are in win-now mode. Petry is better off in Pittsburgh and the Canadiens are better off with Matheson.