From the moment the Canadiens re-acquired Jeff Petry from Pittsburgh, speculation soared about Montreal flipping him elsewhere with 50% retention. With what the market would be for him in that scenario, that might not be the best course of action for the Canadiens.
It wasn’t that long ago that the rough estimate for how much retention would be needed to get a first-round pick was around $5 million. It took $6.375 million last year to get a first-rounder as part of the Sean Monahan swap. 50% retention on the remainder of Petry’s contract (in terms of cap hit) is $4.6875 million which is pretty close to that $5 million mark. But does anyone think even with that much retention that the Habs could get a first-round pick here?
Not to pick on Petry but that hardly seems likely. He’s not coming off his best season by any stretch (although, with 31 points in 61 games, he can definitely still contribute) and he’s 35 years old. This is not another Jake McCabe situation where Toronto paid a first-rounder to get Chicago to eat half of the contract; McCabe is 29 and still somewhat in his prime. Petry is well past that point now.
You might be thinking then that a second-round pick would be doable with that level of retention. I suspect that might be the case. But just because GM Kent Hughes could do that doesn’t mean that he should do that.
Hughes has spoken before about wanting to keep flexibility for 2024-25 open. This was used as cover for what he predicted would be a very quiet free agent period for the Canadiens. The idea behind that notion is that Montreal wants to keep as many options open as possible heading into a 2024 UFA market that has the Habs relatively well-positioned to take a big swing if they want to. Ideally, they should be starting to exit the rebuild next summer.
Taking a roughly $2.34 million dead cap charge into that season cuts into that flexibility. That’s not an insignificant chunk of change; that’s enough to be the difference between getting a desired free agent target and not. As we sit here today in mid-August, is a second-round pick enough of a return to justify losing that much flexibility next summer? I don’t think it should be.
Just as a reminder, teams can’t retain for one year and not the next either; it’s for the entire deal or none at all so there’s no way for Montreal to retain for 2023-24 but not the following year.
It’d be one thing if the prospect pool was relatively thin. If the Canadiens only had five or six picks for three or four years in a row, then getting an extra second-round pick would be significant. But in terms of sheer quantity, Montreal already has one of the deepest prospect pools in the entire NHL. It doesn’t have a lot of star power but the overall depth is pretty strong. A second-round pick isn’t a star, it’s just another depth addition. That doesn’t really fill an organizational need.
Granted, Petry being on the roster doesn’t fill a long-term organizational need either. But he could fill a short-term one, potentially allowing Justin Barron to get a bit more development time in Laval while taking some pressure off David Savard who, let’s face it, isn’t a top-pairing defender. Savard being in a more favorable role could help his trade value while Petry should play well enough next season that if the Habs really wanted a second-round pick at the trade deadline, it should still be on the table with 50% retention at that time. Aside from the possibility of injury, there isn’t much risk in waiting if a second-round pick is the best option on the table.
I’m not saying that the Habs unilaterally shouldn’t be against retaining any salary here but there should be a limit as to how much they should be willing to retain at this point. I’d peg that amount around $1 million. Teams can get relatively creative to try to create an extra million in cap space with in-season movement which is much easier to try to overcome in free agency compared to $2.34 million. If they could retain that level and get a second-round pick, well, I think it’d be done already.
To that end, I think Montreal is taking a different approach in its Petry discussions. I think that if a deal is made, it’s going to resemble the one they made a year ago with him, one that saw a roster player come back that made a little bit less. That ties in better with the lower retention level as that would then mitigate (or even equalize) the difference in cap hits which is important in this cap environment.
The player acquired in this scenario would check one of two boxes – someone that could be part of at least a medium-term future for the Habs or someone that is cheap enough (or on an expiring contract) which makes them easier to trade than Petry. Can they get someone in their mid-20s? That might be tough. But is there an expiring contract they can take on and retain on it to get the draft pick instead of retaining on Petry, thereby saving 2024-25 cap space? That might be doable at some point. Both scenarios sound better to me than retaining 50% on Petry at this juncture.
When the trade was announced earlier this month, I expected Petry to be flipped quickly, thinking the framework of a move was more or less in place. Clearly, that’s not the case. And considering how undesirable maximum retention is, I’m starting to think the chances of the veteran making it to training camp as a member of the Canadiens is trending upward. There’s still plenty of time to work something out but the closer teams get to training camps, the less likely they are to make a move of significance. We see the odd move that bucks that trend but generally speaking, September isn’t a big month for notable hockey trades.
There is a distinct possibility that Petry is back in a Montreal uniform when the puck drops next season, an outcome few would have expected just a year ago. But frankly, it wouldn’t be the worst outcome for the Habs while they wait to see if a better trade market emerges midseason. Perhaps that market could warrant less retention on the contract which would be much better off for the Canadiens if they want to make a splash next summer.