John F. Kennedy once said: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” Once opportunity points itself, one must seize it and run with it as it doesn’t come every day. Further, we must recognise that with opportunity and success comes expectations and those can be overblown and too often, unrealistic and unattainable.
Back in March 2015, Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin traded a second round pick to the Edmonton Oilers in return for some much needed depth on defense, to play behind P.K. Subban, acquiring Jeff Petry. Petry, a pending UFA at the end of the season, has been a fixture on the Habs’ blue line ever since.
On an Oilers team lacking quality depth on defense, Petry was counted on too often as a top defenseman as he and Justin Schultz we the most utilised defensemen on the team. In a role that’s not his, he failed to meet the expectations placed on him by the organisation and fans in Edmonton, leading to him packing his bags for Montreal.
Playing on the second pairing behind Subban and Andrei Markov allowed Petry to truly be himself. Living in BC, he reminds me a lot of Vancouver Canucks’ Alex Edler. Good skater, he is a lot more physical than anticipated. Yes, he will have the odd blunder that will have people wonder what he was thinking but overall, he plays a solid game. What Habs’ fans have discovered however is how he can step up his game when needed.
When Shea Weber was shut down in mid-December of last year, someone had to take some of his quality minutes. The Canadiens turned to Petry who became the team’s de facto top right-handed defenseman and he seized the opportunity. Anyone who knows hockey will tell you that while you can never replace a top player like Weber, teams can get away with such a loss in the short term, with others on the team doing a bit more. But such players are simply irreplaceable in the long run.
The common fan will look at Petry’s plus/minus and judge that he was awful but that’s not how great hockey minds work. The fact is that the organisation and his teammates know the quality ice time he has provided and coach Claude Julien certainly is one to appreciate what the veteran defenseman brings to his team. With two more years (after this year) at a cap hit of $5.5 million, the Canadiens are getting top mileage and top value out of the veteran.
With Weber tentative return is scheduled for late November, early December, Petry is having a phenomenal start to this season, as is the team’s surprising output. With 10 points in the first 14 games (same total as Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban), he leads the team in ice time with 24:01 minutes per game. Further, he plays on both the powerplay and the penalty kill units, and he is second on the team in hits. The 30 year-old veteran is defensemen coach Luke Richardson‘s go-to guy in all situations and he might just be playing the best hockey of his career.
Now imagine when Weber is back in the line-up, Petry will be able to ease the newly appointed captain’s return until he gradually gets back to game shape and once that happens, the Canadiens’ defense will be that much more difficult to play against. He is now playing against top opposition. Upon Weber’s return, it won’t be the case and this should allow him to be even more effective. Until then, let’s appreciate Petry for what he is and what he provides, outside his regular role and his comfort zone. Go Habs Go!