HabsWorld.net -- 

When the Habs re-acquired Jeff Petry earlier this month, there were hopes that they could flip him for a nice return.  That didn’t exactly happen when they moved him to Detroit.  Our writers discuss the swap.

Terry Costaris: I’m not impressed by this move. I’ll explain in detail why in an upcoming piece. Basically, I will argue that the Montreal Canadiens had enough money on hand to pay Jeff Petry roughly $9M over the next two years. Imagine what investing this money in critical infrastructure such as adding more scouts and consultants would have done for this organization.

Wouldn’t such a move have increased the Canadiens’ odds of landing at least 2-3 cheaper, quality young players?

Montreal is in a rebuild and likely has two more years of bottoming out. Now is the time to keep acquiring draft picks and invest in personnel to make this team a future powerhouse. The Canadiens are not as rich as people assume.

Yes, they have high value on paper but the Canadiens in no way have the same deep pockets as the Toronto Maple Leafs. Trading away a player to use his salary for more sets of eyes, is a prudent way to use this team’s limited financial resources.

A while back ago, the Toronto Blue Jays traded Carlos Delgado and his $10M salary, and then Rogers Communications, the team’s owner bought the then-named SkyDome with the proceeds. Moving money around is a good idea.

Allan Katz: STOP THE PRESSES!!! Nicklas Lidstrom is coming to Montreal!!! Retired in 2012, one of the greatest defencemen of all time … Okay, um, looks like I got that wrong. Gustav Lindstrom is coming to … Laval? Enough with the sarcasm, let’s get to the meat of his acquisition. Lindstrom has a certain trait that makes his arrival very exciting. Any Swede with the name Gustav Lindstrom has to be Uber-talented. Sadly at this time next year, chances are Lindstrom will be driving an Uber, not being one. His past season was so bad the Swedish media outlet Expressen reported back in April that he was already looking to Europe for job possibilities.

His acquisition by the Habs might delay that by a year, but in what way is hard to say. He is 24/25 so he’s young. He has a contract that can easily be buried in Laval. He might be better than Mattias Norlinder or Brady Keeper but then again you didn’t even know that the Habs had Brady Keeper or who he is either. If Lindstrom even arrives at training camp his only chance of making the team is injuries and as you know the Habs won’t have any injuries this year because they got a new massage therapist. So, what gives?

The Habs made no attempt to win this trade and yet they achieved as much as Detroit in this transaction, but in a much more subtle manner.  The conditional 4th round pick is better than kissing your sister, but not a lot better (you haven’t met my sister so hush).  Removing a veteran defenceman to make room for a younger talent is an obvious plus. Making headway in their complex salary cap permutations is another plus (explaining this will take too long, but they did okay, not great – because of the 50% salary retention over, say, 25%). You can add by giving the Red Wings a veteran like Petry, it increases the chances they stay ahead of the Habs giving Montreal a higher draft pick. So, what did the team achieve above these tasty morsels?

The Habs have a reputation that is new and exciting. Players across the league are seeing Montreal as a destination hockey town. The coach, the management, Bell Centre, and the city all have helped the team turn around their somewhat wounded reputation. With Petry going to Detroit for almost nothing – the Habs are also telling the world, “If it doesn’t work out here, we will try our best to send you somewhere you would like to go.” It’s called “Good Will” and the Habs now have a few more bushels of it to show. I also suspect the now very happy Petry might have some nice words to describe the city to inquiring players who are considering the move. Another solid house cleaning move.

Brian La Rose: When I first saw the headline, my thought was that Montreal took a lighter return to avoid retaining salary.  Underwhelming but it’s hard to trade salary for value in this market.  That would have been fine.  To retain 50% of the contract and have this be the return?  That stings a bit more.

Lindstrom is a serviceable defender who could become a full-time sixth if all went well.  And with how the blueliners developed last year, it’s possible that he has another level to get to.  But the ceiling is pretty low here.  He’s a filler piece, not a core one.  Perhaps he displaces Chris Wideman who becomes a high-paid offensive blueliner for Laval, giving the Rocket another veteran defender.

I wrote earlier this week how I was against full retention unless the return was a strong one.  This isn’t close to a strong return.  Yes, it buys a bit of short-term flexibility cap-wise and if that helps the Habs avoid going into LTIR next season to avoid a future bonus overage, that would help defray some of the retention cost in 2024-25.  If that happens and this move is the difference-maker that makes that happen, I might look at it a bit more favorably.  We’ll know what happens on that front in mid-April.

But as things stand, I don’t like losing $2.3 million in cap space for 2024-25 and perhaps more importantly, a retention slot.  Christian Dvorak, Joel Armia, Jake Allen, and David Savard are all on expiring contracts that year and if Montreal is still selling at that time, they’re likely going to be asked to retain on those players to maximize value.  At most, now they can only retain on two of them.  Would the value of retaining on one of those players outweigh the return here?  There’s no way to tell for sure but my guess would be yes.

In the grand scheme of things, if you fold this into the original trade, the Habs still come out relatively well here.  But if this was the best they could do, they would have been better off moving Petry to a different team on his list for a slightly better return (GM Kent Hughes acknowledged in his presser that he didn’t exactly maximize value here in order to get Petry where he wanted to go) or hold onto him.  I’m fairly confident this move would have been there later in the year and had Petry played well, a better one could have presented itself.  If Justin Barron wound up in Laval for a few months while waiting for that trade (or at least until someone was injured), that wouldn’t have been a bad outcome.

Montreal didn’t owe Petry anything here, them playing ball to trade him the first time checked off that box.  Maybe the goodwill from this deal amounts to something down the road.  Frankly, it’s hard to quantify one way or the other.  But if the potential for future goodwill is the highlight of the trade, it’s probably not a very good trade to make.

Peter Longo: Simply put, this is a terrible trade and not just for the hockey team but for the organization. While it won’t cost Mr. Hughes his job, it’s certainly a step towards that end.

Petry would have stepped into the top spot on the right-hand side of the defence and immediately made the team significantly better. Nobody is going to argue otherwise. To suggest that Montreal doesn’t have an enormous hole on the right side of their defence is to deny reality. Trading away their top right-handed defenceman immediately makes the team worse. But Mr. Hughes has also made the team worse in the medium term by retaining salary on the deal for two years which will impact his ability to sign players in the future. While normally you can justify these negative consequences with potential long-term gains (i.e. draft picks, prospects) that is not the case this time. Neither the 4th round pick nor Lindstrom will ever play meaningful games with the team. So just looking at this as a hockey trade and without considering recent team or player history, Mr. Hughes has made the team worse in the short and medium term for no benefit. It’s just a bad hockey trade.

Now stepping back to consider recent history as context, this trade is exactly what Hughes has been doing in his short tenure. Hughes has been tearing down the team towards a complete rebuild. With this trade, he’s announced he obviously expects the team to continue to be bottom dwellers in league standings for another few years. Knowing this, it is easy enough for fans to deal with – we simply stop watching and move on to other things in life. But what about the other players on the team? These are ultra-competitive athletes that are hard-wired to want to win and they know they have very short careers. So, what will the current players on the team think about this transaction? Are they going to be happy that management made no effort to upgrade the roster to help them compete? Are they going to be motivated knowing they will be bottom dwellers again for another full season? No matter what he says in public or to the players in private, by trading away their top right-shot defenceman for nothing, Mr. Hughes has sent a crystal-clear message to the players that winning and competing aren’t important this season.

It wasn’t that long ago that the team had a core of good young players but failed to perform because of poor leadership, culture, and attitude. The GM at that time had to reset, traded away popular players (P.K. Subban) and their captain (Max Pacioretty), and brought in new leadership like Shea Weber who established a strong culture that led them to the Stanley Cup Final despite playing against more talented and better-coached teams. How long before the culture that Weber established fades away and is replaced by a poisonous culture (i.e. Winnipeg) or an apathy towards losing (i.e. Ottawa or Buffalo)?

If I’m the owner of the +$1B sports team and organization I don’t like this type of trade. In fact, it downright scares me. Mr. Hughes is supposed to represent the organization. And while he may have done Petry a favour in the trade, he did it at the expense of the organization in the short and medium term. And Mr. Hughes has sent a strong message that winning or competing isn’t important which can provide an opportunity for team culture and attitude problems to take hold. This can be far more damaging to the organization and should outweigh any one player’s personal history with the team. As an owner, this type of transaction would be unacceptable and would require a very short, candid, and one-sided conversation with Mr. Hughes about his role, responsibilities, and expectations of him from the organization.

But that’s just me from the outside. As a fan, I’ll just stop watching the losses and move on to other things in life.

Norm Szcyrek: I guess I am in the minority that thought the Habs would retain Petry.  After I wrote my contribution to the last Petry trade article, it was pointed out that in the preceding days of the transaction, Montreal did not officially welcome Petry back from their social media accounts nor did they provide him a press conference.  The trade rumours started growing afterward.

The cost of moving Petry is retaining half his salary or around $2.3M for two seasons. Between the two trades, the Habs did save more salary against the cap than they gained, so that’s a positive sign.  The return is a 4th-round pick and Lindstrom, who is a 24-year-old right-shot defenceman who turns 25 in October, with five seasons of pro experience in North America but only 128 NHL games.

I went back to review his draft information from 2017 and found a few publications that mentioned he is a good skater with some offensive skills that needed time to develop defensively.  Some comments made by Red Wings fans after this trade was announced mentioned he was not a good skater, but could make a good first pass and was decent defensively.  In all likelihood, Lindstrom will be a depth defenceman for insurance against injuries, like the Habs faced last season among their blueliners.  I doubt he will push Barron or Kovacevic for ice time with a healthy set of defencemen, so he’s going to be their eighth defenceman at best. At worst, he will end up in the AHL for a season, then the Habs can decide whether or not to keep him. He will be an arbitration-eligible RFA next offseason, so unless he plays much better than any of his previous pro seasons, I expect the Habs will let him go.

Dave Woodward: The deal is…ok.  At 35 years of age, Petry clearly did not fit within the rebuild even in the short term and he and his family had no interest in returning to Montreal.  Retaining Petry may also have constituted a “shortcut” in the rebuild.  He would have improved the back end’s right side but only for a short time, all the while usurping ice time from a younger player that better fit into the team’s long-term rebuilding plan.  So Petry had to be moved.

However, the return is not overwhelming, especially when one considers that the Canadiens retained 50% of Petry’s reduced salary for two years.  I say this as a scribbler who possesses only passing familiarity with Lindstrom.  Nonetheless, at 24, he seems to be a sixth or seventh defender who has struggled to stay in the lineup on a struggling Detroit team.  Lindstrom does add some depth on the right side which will be an area of organizational weakness until Logan Mailloux and David Reinbacher are ready.  However, unless the Habs’ development team can unlock some of his untapped potential, Lindstrom is the type of player that often becomes available via waivers late in the preseason.  As for the fourth-rounder, the Canadiens have plenty of picks over the next few years.  For certain, the move was probably made to accommodate Petry.

Would it have been better to have Petry in the lineup and trade him closer to the deadline?  Barring injury or a catastrophic drop in Petry’s performance (both of which are possible given his age), the return could not have been that much worse.  That said, this move treats Petry and his family well.  Perhaps that will be duly noted by potential free agents when this Habs’ regime dips into that market in a few years.   That said, in isolation, the deal represents an underwhelming return for the cap space retained and Petry himself.