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The Habs were somewhat surprisingly the third team involved to help facilitate the Erik Karlsson trade and in the move, moved out a pair of veterans while bringing in two more.  Our writers offer up their assessments of the swap.

Montreal’s portion of the trade was as follows:

Acquired: G Casey DeSmith, F Nathan Legare, D Jeff Petry, PIT 2025 second-round pick
Traded: F Mike Hoffman (to SJ), F Rem Pitlick (to PIT)

Terry Costaris: Like virtually all of Kent Hughes’ trades, there are still a lot of moving pieces that make fully assessing this transaction very difficult at the moment. The Habs have successfully cleared space for their young forwards but they now have a logjam both in net and on their defence. Something has to give.

Right now, Montreal can either keep or trade Petry or move a surplus aging right defender such as David Savard. If I had to pick between the two, I would keep Petry.

However, the question that needs to be asked is, does Petry want to stay on a team that he wanted out from just a year ago? Have the wounds from the past healed? I seriously doubt it. So, I’m going to assume that he will either be traded soon or by training camp.

Moving RDs, especially those with retained salaries, is easier than wingers such as Hoffman whose market value was much lower than Petry’s. Hughes then, may have once again converted straw into gold here.

As for DeSmith, decent backup goaltenders also have some value. A patient Hughes may potentially snag yet another 2nd or 3rd rounder for DeSmith. Alternatively, he may now trade Jake Allen who is even more valuable.

As you can see, the permutations and combinations here are multifold. So, let the speculation begin!

As things currently stand though, this three-way deal is a huge win for Hughes. He basically got Mike Matheson for Hoffman, Ryan Poehling, and Pitlick and loaned out Petry for a year, and then got him back with a 25% reduction in his contract. Now that’s a tidy bit of business wouldn’t you say?!

Allan Katz: So, the Canadiens traded Hoffman, a player they could not give away and Pitlick, a classic NHL/AHL bubble talent, that was considered a long shot to make the Hab top 12. This is similar to a person who is eighty pounds overweight losing thirty pounds. In other words, “NICE!!!”

The Habs kind of won their part of the trade without receiving anything in return, but, of course, they did get a return of sorts so let’s look at whom or what they received.

Petry (25% salary retained) or what some might call, an interesting if somewhat bizarro acquisition.  While I have no intention to mention our curiosity about his wife’s reaction (she wanted out of Montreal) I would like to point out something extraordinary about this part of the trade: On March 2nd, 2015, the Habs traded a second and a fourth-round pick to Edmonton for a young, somewhat unproven Petry. Montreal won that trade big time. On July 16, 2022, the Habs traded Petry and Poehling for Matheson and a fourth-round pick. Petry nosedived into a very mediocre season while Matheson showed he is a high-quality top-four defenceman. Montreal won that trade big time. Now they reacquired him essentially so the Habs can take on 75% of a salary the Pens had to let go to acquire Karlsson.

While people might want a grade of this trade for the Habs this was a housecleaning move. BUT here’s where it gets fun. On October 11, 2023 (yes, in the future), the Habs will trade Petry to a team that just lost their best right-shooting defenceman. In return, the Habs will receive a 2nd and a 4th along with a huge Cheese and Wine basket for Petry’s wife who agrees to call off the divorce. Think of that, ultimately four trades involving the same player all to the benefit of the Habs. Bizarro.

The acquisition of DeSmith provides some depth in case there is a goaltender injury in camp. The team is basically saying they don’t want Primeau to be on the team in case of such an injury. The trade was really to help the Pens clean house so they can make their trade. Whether DeSmith is flipped or beats out someone in camp or is sent to Laval will provide some fodder to consider… I guess.

Legare is a 22-year-old Montrealer, was an excellent QMJHL talent, has a little size, and has been an underachieving AHLer since being drafted in the third round. He will play in Laval and hopefully, he’ll fulfill his promise. I grew up near Legare Street in Cote-Des-Neiges and remember walking by Legare after my first French kiss with a fourth cousin I had asked out on a date. Hopefully, Legare will provide as much excitement for Rocket fans.

So, Pittsburgh’s 2025 second-round pick is the cherry on top and the way the Pens are aging means this might wind up being an excellent asset in what is supposed to be a high-quality draft.

In summary, I am very excited to break the news that no one has mentioned since the trade. Just a short time ago Rhett Pitlick, a fifth-round pick of the Habs was the third-best Pitlick in the team’s organization.   With Rem gone, Rhett is now the #1 bonafide Pitlick in the Hab organization. While many of you might consider this meaningless… you’re right.

So, what I’m saying is this was all another nice housecleaning job, potentially not significant, but ultimately important and needed.

Brian La Rose: In a nutshell, this move is the Canadiens moving two players who had no value (they were trying to give away Hoffman and Pitlick was going to be waived in training camp) for two players that they hope have some value.  And if they don’t, they at least get a good draft pick out of it.  (Legare isn’t exactly a needle-moving prospect, he has some work to do if he wants to last more than a year in this organization.)

I suspect Montreal is looking to offload both DeSmith and Petry sooner than later.  The market isn’t going to be great for DeSmith but if they’re willing to retain on Petry (and I’m not as certain that they are as many believe; Hughes has talked about avoiding adding cap spending for 2024-25), he could bring back a decent return.  There’s some short-term and potential long-term upside that makes this a nice piece of business for the Canadiens.

I like the ‘full-circle’ element of this trade.  Hoffman was traded to San Jose once before amid off-ice allegations that involved Karlsson’s spouse and this time, he’ll stay there instead of being flipped elsewhere an hour later.  Petry’s connection is rather obvious but even Pitlick’s connection was tied to the Petry trade; Pittsburgh taking on Poehling in that move allowed the Habs to re-sign him in the first place.  Legare being a local is another obvious connection as well.  I don’t have a direct full-circle connection for DeSmith (maybe the Habs tried to sign him as a college free agent back in 2017?) but hey, four out of five isn’t bad.

Peter Longo: While this is a great trade for the Habs, it also creates a lot more questions. In terms of the trade Hughes had a surplus of forwards and salary cap flexibility and converted this into a top-four right-handed defenceman, backup goaltending depth, and a good draft pick. Hard to argue with those results!

While I didn’t watch any of his games last year, Petry put up 31 points in 61 games which, on paper, is a good bounce-back season from the unusual struggles he had in 2021-2022 with Montreal. If Petry plays, he’ll fill a gaping hole on the right side and take some of the pressure off the other defenders. More than likely, Hughes will trade him given the team history with Petry and the surplus of defencemen the Habs now have. Either way, it’s a big improvement for the team.

As for those leaving Montreal, the main piece is Hoffman who provided good secondary scoring (4th on the team) albeit much less than expected and not in line with his contract. But the 34 points in 67 games from Hoffman didn’t make a dent in the team’s anemic offence, and with his age and UFA status at year end, it makes sense to move him out. Otherwise, the Habs also took on $900K in additional salary, which has no impact to the team.

So, it’s pretty hard not to like this trade. Certainly, they are better with Petry and that should be the key focal point assessing the trade. Are they a better team after the trade? In this case – absolutely!

But the trade also creates more complications in other areas. They now have too many defencemen including five rookies from last year that played great hockey. Petry, Savard, and Matheson will all be too old to contribute when the Habs are next in contention. Matheson’s value has never been higher and the team is loaded with left-handed defencemen. Is he a candidate to be moved?

They have a logjam in net with three NHL goalies, plus Primeau who will all be vying for playing time. Will they try to trade one in a less-than-ideal goalie market?

And now that Hughes has created openings in the forward ranks – who will fill those? I assume Cole Caufield and Alex Newhook will be the top two left wingers. In my opinion, Rafael Harvey-Pinard has earned a spot given his inspiring play and the results he delivered last year (and throughout his career). But after that, the pickings are slim for NHL-ready players. Will Pezzetta be the fill-in for the fourth line slot? Not ideal but it would be preferable to watching another slow-motion horror movie with Juraj Slafkovsky or another rookie called up before they are ready. Or perhaps Hughes has another move planned to upgrade the forward roster and provide a little more offense.

What are the next moves from Hughes?

Paul MacLeod: My initial thoughts upon reading about this deal were: Hughes is a genius! And, “How much of Karlsson’s salary did he have to retain to make this work?”

Upon sober reflection and serene contemplation, my response to this deal is: Hughes is a genius!!

The overall result of this deal is that Montreal gave up:

An aging Jeff Petry on an expensive three-year deal
Ryan Poehling
Rem Pitlick
Mike Hoffman
No salary from any player retained

Montreal received:

Mike Matheson (younger and cheaper than Petry)

A fourth-round 2023 pick
Jeff Petry at a 25% discount on a two-year deal
Pittsburgh’s 2025 second-round pick
Nathan Legare
Casey DeSmith

When you consider that Petry the first time around wanted out, Poehling was a fourth line spare part, that almost no one believed that the Habs would be able to unload Hoffman without giving up a sweetener, and Pitlick was likely headed to Laval, the deal is astonishing. It is the hockey equivalent of the Internet trend of trying to trade a pencil for steadily increasing assets till you get a car.

Hughes got a first-pairing left-shot defender in Matheson, two picks, goalie depth which gives them options in case they lose Primeau to waivers or to create a market for Jake Allen, a young local prospect who will get lots of playing time in Laval, and Petry who will either provide veteran depth on the right side or another asset in a trade (because he is suddenly a much more attractive option for many teams if Montreal retains salary).

As an additional bonus — or the key aspect of the current deal, depending on your perspective—Hughes also cleared two forward slots for the youngsters to compete for. Not to mention, if the reports regarding Pitlick requesting a trade are true, solidifying his reputation as a GM who takes care of his players which will be important when Montreal gets to the point of needing/wanting to sign free agents.

So, I repeat: Hughes is a genius — or at least he looks like one after this master class of asset management, which reminds me of the great Sam Pollock.

Norm Szcyrek: I am pleasantly surprised about this complex three-team trade. First off, I did not believe the Habs could find a taker for Hoffman, unless they paid most of his salary and only got a seventh-round pick in 2099 in return.  For some reason, he never clicked with the Habs, and if it wasn’t for the putrid play of Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Drouin, a bigger spotlight would have been on Mike’s terrible play for Montreal.   Pitlick was an effective player when he first joined the Habs in 2021-22. He tailed off somewhat, but really stalled last season when he earned a demotion to Laval for 18 games.  Moving him out gives younger players like Slavkovsky, Sean Farrell, and Harvey-Pinard a better chance at getting ice time for the upcoming season.

It’s curious that Petry was brought back to Montreal.  The rumour mill reason for him asking for a trade was tied to the strict COVID restrictions, which the rest of Petry’s family eschewed by leaving Montreal during the 2021 Christmas break, returning to their Michigan home. That must have been a factor for the downturn in his play, which was less than his usual high level for most of his time with the Habs.  His last season in Pittsburgh was marred by two significant upper-body injuries, causing him to miss 20 games.

Jeff has two seasons left on his contract while at the age of 35 (he’ll be 36 in December).  His points per game average in Pittsburgh was just higher than his average during his stay in Montreal, so it’s still likely he will continue that trend.  Now, with the 25% savings from his contract that Pittsburgh retained, it’s possible Montreal will move Petry to another team.  I think Petry must have been willing to come back to Montreal since he could have easily updated his 15-team no-trade list to include them if he didn’t want to go back.  If he does stay, it will give the Habs much more depth on the blueline, but could prevent right-shooting defencemen like Justin Barron or Jonathan Kovacevic from developing.

Dave Woodward: It’s hard not to like this deal from the Habs’ perspective.  The Canadiens’ biggest problem going into the offseason was the logjam of wingers up front and the contracts of Hoffman, Joel Armia, and (perhaps) Christian Dvorak and Pitlick.   This deal takes care of Hoffman and Pitlick (who had no future in Montreal as part of the rebuild) and no salary has been retained.   That opens up two roster opportunities for younger forwards such as Harvey-Pinard, Jesse Ylonen, and Emil Heineman.  Creating these openings and avoiding any salary retention would be a win in this scribbler’s opinion.  But that’s not all.

The Canadiens bring back Petry at three-quarters of his cap hit, a backup NHL goalie who may well end up being first on their NHL depth chart in the short run, a prospect with possible upside (a player that will likely help the Laval Rocket in the near term) and a second-round pick in 2025, a draft year that is billed as superior to the 2024 class.

The result is a net salary cap increase of a little less than $900K and all those assets for getting rid of two players who were, quite simply, in the way.  Hoffman and Pitlick (and their contracts) were blocking the development of young players that may (or may not) be part of the rebuild.

This deal does create a logjam in the crease and, if Petry is not flipped, it may prevent one of the younger defencemen from playing on their offside.  However, Petry, if kept, will likely be their best right-handed defender and makes the team better in the short run.  It also allows the Canadiens to send down one or more of their young defencemen to Laval for more seasoning (Barron, Jordan Harrism and Arber Xhekaj are three candidates that could use more time to round out their game).  And if Petry is dealt either now or at the Trade Deadline (a very real possibility), the Habs could deal him and retain salary.  A contender could well pay dearly for Petry at half of the Canadiens’ share of his salary (well under $3 million after salary is retained).

As for adding DeSmith, the Habs now have three goalies with material NHL experience (not including Primeau).  There are questions with all of them and none of them are a 1A option.  Was Samuel Montembeault’s season last year sustainable or just a one-off?  Are Allen’s declining numbers and injury problems a function of the team in front of him or a harbinger of a rapid decline?  Can DeSmith be anything more than a backup or a 1B option in a good year?  And there are more questions about the future of the now waiver-eligible Primeau than anyone anticipated when he was thought to be Carey Price’s likely heir apparent.  The Canadiens can use another option in the crease going into camp.

If Primeau gets plucked off the waiver wire, at least there are three options.  While Hughes may not be done dealing with his goaltenders, with the recent injury history (and declining numbers) of Allen, the brevity of Montembeault’s success at the NHL level, and Primeau’s utter lack of success in his NHL appearances, this pundit would not be surprised to see all four goaltenders in camp this September.

For the first time, after the NHL Draft, I was disappointed with management.  They had all the cards (all those picks) in a loaded draft year and, without getting into the weeds, they failed to fully exploit those opportunities.  The rumoured refusal to take Yaroslav Askarov and two first-round picks from Nashville for the fifth overall pick together with the Newhook deal was incomprehensible to the author of this missive.   This deal restores some of this scribbler’s lost faith.  Nevertheless, their clumsy mishandling of the Draft is something I am still trying to get past.