Why re-signing Petry should be top priority for Canadiens GM Bergevin

Shawn McKenzie looks at the Canadiens, who snuck into the playoffs at the 24th seed and upset the Penguins in the play-in round, and the possibility that they are closer to contending than everyone thought.

MONTREAL — This isn’t just a layup, it’s akin to standing on a ladder and dropping the ball through the hoop.

Jeff Petry needs a new contract and Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin should already be speaking to Petry’s agent, Wade Arnott, about it. The 32-year-old defenceman, who’s produced three consecutive seasons of at least 40 points, is approaching the end of a six-year, $33-million deal. He’s 1B to Shea Weber’s 1A, and he’s eligible to re-sign right now and wants to stay.

“If that call comes where we’re going to sit down and negotiate and have this as a part of the future, it’s definitely something I’m very interested in. And I’ve enjoyed my time here,” Petry said last week. “So I think there’s a lot of things to consider, but I’m very open to that possibility if both sides can agree and if that’s something that the team (has) planned moving forward.”

How could it not be?

We’re talking about the 17th-highest-scoring defenceman in the NHL since 2017-18. A player ranked eighth among defencemen in power-play goals, ninth in hits, 22nd in shots on net and 25th in time on ice per game over the last three seasons. He’s an oversized right-hander who skates like he’s got NOS in his lungs and supercharged pistons for legs, and he’d be a no. 1 on at least half the teams in the league.

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There should be no pause about what Petry can bring to the table on a two- or three-year deal that runs through 2023 or 24.

Touching base with several sources over the weekend, that’s the contract that would all but certainly be available to the Michigan native on the open market should he be allowed to test it when his contract expires in 2021. And given what Petry just showed in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Bergevin should do all he can to ensure he has no incentive to test it.

Time catches up to everyone, but it’s a reasonable bet Petry will out-skate it over the term of his next contract. His conditioning will enable him, but so will his mindset.

“My approach game-in and game-out has been a focus of mine,” Petry said of finding the consistency that was somewhat elusive over his first seven NHL seasons. “I’ve worked hard to become a complete two-way defenseman and offensive defenseman. It’s something I’ve worked on and worked with the coaching staff about what they expect from me.”

It’s something he has delivered. Now it’s time to reward him for that and bet that he can continue providing it.

It’s not like the Canadiens have much of a choice if they wish to keep moving in the right direction. They have some good players in development at right defence, but none you could forecast as potential replacements for Petry in the immediate future. Cale Fleury, 21, played 41 games in the NHL and took a vital step in establishing himself this past season, but he’s got lots of room to grow in every aspect of the game. Noah Juulsen, 23, is playing catch up after two seasons marred by injury. Josh Brook ,21, has the talent, but it must be moulded over time. And though 20-year-old Mattias Norlinder — a left-shot defenceman who often plays the right side — has the makings of a top-pairing NHLer, it will take him years to fill that role.

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Given all of that, it’s essential to commit years to Petry.

And he’s made it clear that’s what he wants out of his next deal.

“At this point in my life, obviously stability and knowing where you’re going to be is very important with kids starting school and stuff like that,” said Petry. “You want to make sure you put yourself in a good position for your career, but obviously for the family.”

For three kids born and raised in Montreal, and for a couple that considers the city home.

“From the day I got here five years ago, it’s been great,” said Petry. “The city was very welcoming to me and my family, and to experience my first playoffs that first year was a big reason why I re-signed with the team. My wife and I have made it home over the last five years.”

Bergevin will have to navigate the financial realities brought on by COVID-19 to ensure Montreal is home for the Petrys beyond this upcoming sixth year under contract. He’ll have to deal with a flat salary cap — at least until revenues begin climbing again, which might not happen for years — or even one that could decrease. And that could mean some hard decisions to make regarding some other players up for deals in 2021.

But the decision to get Petry signed is an easy one.

Bergevin might want to see what some notable 2020 free agents (like Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug) get paid before acting, or he might want to set the market himself with Petry’s deal. But either way, signing him should be top priority.

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