MONTREAL — We have to thank Craig MacTavish. Few executives would be as conciliatory in discussing what most would deem to be one of their biggest mistakes, but he spared no contrition in revisiting the 2015 move he made to send Jeff Petry to the Montreal Canadiens from the Edmonton Oilers.
MacTavish got a second- and a conditional fifth-round pick for Petry, who was 27 years old and an impending unrestricted free agent at the time. Prior to that, he made a half-hearted effort at re-signing him. And, with the benefit of hindsight, he told us in April he’d have done things differently.
“At the end of the day it was a pretty substantial mistake that I made not signing him to a long-term deal,” MacTavish said from his home in Lausanne, Switzerland via telephone. “He’s a great person, great character, hard-working guy and he’s played great. He’s a top-four defenceman all day long at this level and maybe slightly higher than that, and it wasn’t lost on us the improvement that he was making in his game. It wasn’t lost on ownership, either. We knew we might lose our best defenceman and that’s what happened. There’s a lot of questions obviously around that, but, to me, I give him all the credit in the world. He became a dominant player in the last half of the season that year. I’ve always regretted not signing him. I don’t regret a lot of things, but that’s one of them.”
It’s a feeling Marc Bergevin isn’t going to have to live with.
The Canadiens’ GM announced Friday he signed Petry to a four-year, $25-million extension that will run from 2021-25. After watching Petry have an immediate impact on his blue line in 2015, and then watching him produce consistently over the first five years of a six-year, $33-million contract, he avoided making the kind of colossal mistake he’d inevitably regret for years.
And the Canadiens are better for it. They have talented players coming up the right side of their blue line, but no one who can reasonably be expected to fill Petry’s role in short order. He’s a six-foot-three, 201-pound rushing defenceman who ranks eighth among his peers in power-play goals, ninth in hits, 22nd in shots on net and 25th in ice-time per game over the last three seasons combined. He’s a 1B defenceman in Montreal and would be a bona fide No. 1 in most markets, and it’s unlikely he’s going from prince to frog in the early stages of this deal.
That Petry wanted to stay badly enough that he’d skirt a glorious opportunity in free agency is just one more reason Bergevin did well to avoid losing him at the end of next season.
“From Day 1, when I got here, it’s been a special place,” said Petry on Friday afternoon. “And it’s a privilege to put on that uniform with so much history, and I’ve learned that over my four-and-a-half years so far. And you know how much pride that I take to put on that uniform every day.”
It was enough to agree to an annual raise of just $750,000 per season, despite his production and consistency laying the foundation for a much higher ask.
Not that Petry didn’t get a great deal for himself. He got four years of security and a full no-movement clause with a 15-team no-trade list despite the COVID-19 pandemic guaranteeing the upper-limit of the NHL’s salary cap remains fixed at $81.5 million over the next two seasons. He was able to get himself locked in even though it’s possible, if not probable, league-wide revenues are impacted far more negatively if fans can’t be an attendance any time soon.
The opportunity presented itself and Petry pounced on it.
“Nobody knows what this upcoming season’s going to bring and that all has effects on decisions and guys careers moving forward. So I would definitely say that had some impact on the decision,” the Michigan native said. “I think from when I got the initial call that Berge wanted to work on an extension, I knew if it made sense for me there was a very, very strong chance that I was going to be coming back. I’ve enjoyed my time in Montreal so far, and the organization’s been nothing but great to me. So when this opportunity came up, it was something that I couldn’t pass up.”
And maybe Petry would have had pause about it had the NHL and NHLPA not gifted the Canadiens a chance to participate in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but what he saw from his teammates over the 10 games they spent in the Toronto bubble had him convinced he was making the right decision.
“We have a lot of good young players, and guys like (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) KK and (Nick) Suzuki showed that in the playoffs, which is huge to have success as a team,” Petry said. “With those guys coming up, it shows that the future is bright here, and that was one of the deciding factors in ultimately signing this extension.”
There were several others to consider — from his family’s affinity for the city and their quality of life in Quebec, to which school the eldest of his three sons will attend next fall and for the foreseeable future.
Petry also said he wanted some assurances that key players like Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault — impending 2021 free agents — were able to come to terms on new deals and remain in the Canadiens’ fold for years to come, too.
But nothing was going to hold up the process once it got kicked off.
“My agent had called … two-and-a-half weeks ago … and said, ‘Berge wants to have a conversation about potentially having you re-sign or sign an extension, and would you be open to that?’ I told my agent, ‘I’m open to the conversation and then we can kind of go from there,’” Petry said. “They were great along the whole process of everything going on in this world today. It’s not only this year, it has some effects longer-term.”
Bergevin took a risk in that regard, but, in our estimation, the prospect of allowing Petry to play out the string of his current deal would’ve been riskier. And we don’t think this one will go down as one the Montreal GM will regret over time.