TAMPA - Poor drafting and even worse trading has led the Montreal Canadiens to overpay for defenseman Jeff Petry. All told, the Canadiens gave up second- and fourth-round draft picks to get him, then kept him from hitting the unrestricted free agent market by giving him a six-year deal worth $33 million.
It’s not an outrageous deal since $5.5 million a year is kind of the going rate for No. 3 or 4 defenseman these days, if you can believe it. After all, Petry’s cap hit for the next six years with the Canadiens is no more than the Pittsburgh Penguins have allotted to Brooks Orpik or what the Tampa Bay Lightning have earmarked for Matt Carle. And the betting is that the Orpik and Carle contracts are going to start looking bad before Petry’s will. He’s just 27 years old and it’s not outlandish to expect he’ll maintain his level of play for the next six seasons. And if he plays for the Canadiens as well in the next six years as he did in the playoffs this season, the Canadiens will indeed be happy.
Then again, is he as good as Anton Stralman, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning for one fewer year and a million dollars less per season than Petry did at the same age? No, he’s not, particularly given how well Stralman has performed for the Lightning this season and through these playoffs. But Petry was very, very good for the Canadiens in the post-season and had he not signed that deal with the Canadiens, there would have been no shortage of teams lining up to offer it, or more, to him after July 1.
The problem the Canadiens faced is that neither Nathan Beaulieu nor Jarred Tinordi is ready to assume a top-four role with them. Beaulieu has shown some promise, but needs to move his feet more for a guy who has that kind of foot speed. And Tinordi, if he makes it at all, has become a longer-term project. Either of those players on a bridge deal would have been a more preferable way to go.
For the Canadiens, this goes way back to 2006, when the Edmonton Oilers took Petry in the second round of the draft. That year, the Canadiens took four defensemen, including David Fischer 20th overall. In a perfect world, Fischer would have been the guy to fill that spot as a right-shot defenseman, but he failed to play a single NHL game and is now playing in Germany. In fact, of the four defensemen the Canadiens took in that draft, they got just three NHL games in return.
Then in 2007, the Canadiens had one of their best drafts in years when they got Ryan McDonagh 12th overall, Max Pacioretty 22nd, P.K. Subban 43rd and Yannick Weber 73rd. Ideally, McDonagh would have been a top-four player for them if he hadn’t been dealt for Scott Gomez in one of the most lopsided deals the Canadiens have ever made. McDonagh, meanwhile, is a far superior defenseman to Petry and he’ll be taking up just $4.7 million in cap space to captain the New York Rangers the next four seasons.
So when the Canadiens were looking for help on the blueline at last year’s deadline, they turned to Petry to fill the void. And because he’ll take up $5.5 million in cap room, that will leave less cap space to go after the help they desperately need up front. Petry gives the Canadiens another good puck mover from the back end, but what good is that if there are so few forwards who can do anything creative with it once they get it?
It also helps that Petry is a right-shot defenseman. And as Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said Tuesday on Media Day on the eve of the Stanley Cup final, it was a huge factor in him signing Stralman to a five-year, $22.5 million deal last summer.
“The biggest reason I think we signed Anton Stralman, I shouldn’t put words in his mouth, we had a huge, glaring hole in our lineup,” Yzerman said. “We needed a right-hand shot defenseman. We have a pretty competitive team. A player like that can make a real difference, and he has in the first year.”