How Canadiens GM Hughes can maximize Petry’s value after re-acquiring defenceman

Montreal Canadiens' Jeff Petry looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Montreal, Monday, February, 21, 2022. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL—This is about asset management, which Kent Hughes has already proven to be a master of in his short tenure as Montreal Canadiens GM.

On Sunday, he traded Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jeff Petry, goaltender Casey DeSmith, prospect Nathan Legare and a 2025 second-round pick, and there’s no arguing he made the Canadiens better in the process.

There should be little question Hughes will continue to do that with the flexibility—both on the salary cap and with his roster—he acquired in this trade.

Unloading Hoffman (a player he absolutely had to move for a multitude of reasons) without retaining any salary was a coup on its own. The 33-year-old winger had one season left at $4.5 million, he had topped out at 16 goals in his two seasons with the Canadiens and players like him were considered untouchable earlier this summer unless salary was being retained and deals were being sweetened with draft picks to move them.

Not having to do any of that was an essential part of Sunday’s trade for Hughes.

That he freed up much-needed space up front for younger, emerging players by moving Hoffman and Pitlick (who had fallen down the Canadiens’ depth chart after a breakout 2021-22 season following his trade from Minnesota to Montreal) was gravy.

But re-acquiring Petry and having the Penguins retain 25 per cent of his $6.25-million salary—on top of obtaining a 22-year-old, homegrown prospect in Legare, gaining a draft pick in a class that’s expected to be stronger than the 2024 one and a 31-year-old goaltender with 134 games of NHL experience and an expiring $1.8-million contract—was the prime rib of this deal.

Hughes had initially moved Petry, along with Ryan Poehling, to the Penguins 13 months ago in a deal that brought Mike Matheson and a fourth-round pick to Montreal, and he now has the opportunity to move him again for what could be an even better return.

The GM will be actively working on doing exactly that from here to the beginning of the season, armed with the advantage of being able to retain 50 per cent of the $4.69 million Petry is on Montreal’s books for this season and next.

That the Penguins already paid Petry’s $3-million signing bonus for this season will only help Hughes in that pursuit, just as the structure of Petry’s contract paying him only $5 million over the final year will.

But Hughes doesn’t have to move Petry immediately to benefit from the deal he made on this day. If he can’t find a trade for Petry that he likes between now and October, the player temporarily returns to the Canadiens lineup as arguably its best right-handed defenceman.

It’s a scenario no one would’ve envisioned when Petry requested a trade out of Montreal due to Canada’s restrictive policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. One that’s unlikely to be realized, but a scenario nonetheless.

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To think we wouldn’t even be talking about it had Petry recently accepted to waive his no-trade clause to go to San Jose is, at least, a little ironic. In the end, he was traded back to Montreal for the Penguins to make room for San Jose’s Erik Karlsson, and the Penguins were able to trade him back to Montreal because he didn’t have the Canadiens as one of the 15 teams on his no-trade list.

Petry’s willingness to be flexible this time around could expedite his shipment out of town.

But even if he remains rigid with his clause, Hughes is well-positioned to move him in a deal that will further benefit the Canadiens. We’re talking about a six-foot-three, right-handed defenceman who put up 31 points with Pittsburgh after posting more than 40 in four of his last five seasons with Montreal, a player who’s averaged over 22 minutes per game and played all situations in each of the last seven seasons, a player who has accumulated 48 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience; players like Jeff Petry are rarely, if ever, available for just $2.34 million per season against the cap.

Hughes will take advantage of that, just as he’ll capitalize on the flexibility DeSmith offers the Canadiens in net.

They were headed to training camp facing the reality that Cayden Primeau could be lost for nothing on waivers, so having DeSmith would at least soften that blow if it plays out that way.

But, in the event Primeau earns the job behind Canadiens starter Samuel Montembeault, Hughes could collect more assets by moving either DeSmith or Jake Allen.

That possibility, along with the others he created, by moving Hoffman and Pitlick (players the Canadiens were anything but committed to) says everything about how Hughes manages. His ability to not only maximize value but also create it out of thin air has been proven time and time again in just one-and-a-half years as Canadiens GM, and it was once again confirmed on Sunday.

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