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Petry can be a meaningful contributor for a contender

Jeff Petry Pittsburgh Penguins Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers Jeff Petry Darnell Nurse - The Canadian Press

What is the trade market for veteran defenceman Jeff Petry?

It’s a question the Montreal Canadiens are certainly pondering after reacquiring the veteran blueliner in the Erik Karlsson megadeal on Sunday.

Petry, now 35 and closing in on the 1,000-game mark, is an understandably clunky fit for a rebuilding franchise. And while the narrative of Petry returning to the place where he spent eight years is captivating, from a business standpoint, a trade does seem like the more viable option.

Petry’s resume speaks for itself, but potential suitors in any Petry deal are going to have to answer two critical questions. The first: for interested parties, which would presumably be compromised of contending teams in the market for another defender, can they swallow a $4.7-million price tag over the next two seasons? If not, what does a trade involving some degree of salary retention look like?

And the second, which seems the more pertinent of the two at this stage: where is Petry’s game right now, and are teams getting a reliable defender in the twilight of his career, or a player whose game is starting to erode?

Let’s first look at how Petry’s teams have performed with him on the ice at even strength, the core game state and where a two-way player like Petry has delivered meaningful historical production. The below graphs show how Petry’s teams have performed offensively and defensively (both by real and expected goals) with him on the ice:

I would argue there have been two critical moments in Petry’s career. The first was the trade in 2015 that saw Petry moved out of Edmonton – who were abjectly miserable the entirety of Petry’s stay there – to Montreal in exchange for a second-round pick. Petry, playing with a much more formidable lineup, immediately saw improvement in his production at both ends of the ice.

The second is more recent and concerns a broader shift across the league.

We have spent a lot of time talking about the offensive renaissance the NHL has undergone in the past three seasons – underneath the surface of all of those additional goals is a lot more skill and a lot more skating ability across playing lineups. That change has been palpable on the blueline, where general managers are hunting for defenders who can play capably in both directions.

Petry may have been a few years before his time, but I think this shift has been a tailwind for the late stages of his career. Petry’s on-ice offensive production has exploded in recent years, and that’s also true for his individual production. Over the last six seasons, Petry’s averaging 45 points per 82 games played, and when adjusted for ice time, puts him on par with Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen and Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey. Those are impressive comps.

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, the one area where Petry has seen production start to erode is on the defensive end of the ice. Again, league-wide trends can explain some of this, but real goals and expected goals have ticked up for Petry over the past two seasons.

Leveraging the shot profiles from HockeyViz, we can observe this defensive zone degradation over the years. Petry’s went from a well above average defender to one posting average results. The performance in and of itself is not bad; rather, I would argue it’s the trend (and age/mileage) that’s more concerning:

First, the preceding two-year stretch (2019-21):

Second, the following two-year stretch (2021-23):

All this to say that Petry looks like a viable option for a contender in need of a reliable two-way defender next season. The headache may be figuring out how to fit his contract on the books considering the muted salary cap growth this season, and it may – as we have seen a few times already this summer – involve a third team.

As it relates to on-ice performance, I think there’s still some juice left in Petry’s game. He may not be as marked or pronounced an off-puck defender as he was some years ago, and counting on him to play heavy minutes against the opposition’s best attackers long-term doesn’t seem tenable.

But don’t discount what a more meaningful offensive league has meant for a player like Petry, who has always been comfortable in all three zones. It’s still a sport that decides wins and losses by goal differential, and if Petry is still adding real offensive value, he’s still a meaningful contributor.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference