Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes accomplished two of his goals in one stroke in his trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When the Canadiens traded Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling to Pittsburgh in exchange for Micheal Matheson and a 2023 4th-round pick, they did so with a few goals in mind, most notably to clear some much-needed cap space.
The Montreal Canadiens were finally able to find their veteran defenceman a new home, all while gaining some much-needed flexibility under the salary cap. Although the return may seem underwhelming at first glance, the Montreal Canadiens were able to secure a top-4 defenceman that could play on the powerplay and provide some much-needed offensive punch and top-end skating to their brigade. Jeff Petry’s contract holds a Cap hit of $6.25M over the next three years, while the 28-year-old Michael Matheson‘s contract holds a $4.875M cap hit for another four seasons. After including Poehling’s $750,00 cap hit, the Canadiens were able to save approximately $2.125M on their cap for next season, while bringing an offensive defenseman capable of playing in offensive situations.
At first glance, Matheson may seem like an underwhelming return to fans who remember him from his Florida days, but many around the league believe this is an underrated acquisition for the Montreal Canadiens, as Matheson plays a style the Canadiens wish to emulate. He has improved a great deal since his time in Pittsburgh, sometimes playing on the top pair with Kris Letang, but being consistently used in a top-4 role by coach Mike Sullivan. The Pointe-Claire native will have the chance to show his improvement on a bigger stage in Montreal, but will need to cover the defensive side of the game to ensure he gets consistent minutes from Martin St. Louis.
“If you lock, Mike was in the 90th percentile for goals at 5-on-5 in the NHL per 60 minutes, and I think he was 85th percentile in goals. Almost all of his offensive production came at even strength,” said Kent Hughes when asked to explain his desire to acquire a player like Matheson.
Matheson will be used in a top-4 role with the Montreal Canadiens and could play either side of the defence, giving the Canadiens some flexibility when it comes to their blueline combinations. The Canadiens’ addition of the Penguins’ 4th-round pick in 2023 now gives them 11 picks for the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft, which is supposed to be one of the deepest in recent memory.
The Montreal Canadiens’ Second Move
The Montreal Canadiens weren’t done there, as they immediately turned around and announced that they had re-signed forward Rem Pitlick to a team-friendly, two-year deal with a $1.1M cap hit. During his time in Montreal, the speedy winger put up an impressive nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points in 46 games, and proved to be one of the best waiver pick-ups in recent memory. He was very versatile for the Canadiens, being able to play up and down the lineup, while bringing good speed and tenacity to whichever line he played on.
However, the Montreal Canadiens still chose not to qualify Pitlick prior to the July 11 deadline because he had arbitration rights this summer and would have likely been in line for a very hefty raise that the Montreal Canadiens were unwilling to provide him. After free agency opened up again on July 13, the Canadiens remained in communication with Pitlick’s camp and waited until they had cleared a sufficient amount of cap space to bring him back in the fold on a very agreeable contract. Pitlick was a well-liked member of the team in the room last season and his return is sure to be a welcomed sight for his teammates next season.
In the end, this deal proved to be a successful piece of business for Hughes, who was able to find Jeff Petry a new home in a market he liked, bring in a top-4 defenceman in Michael Matheson and clear enough cap space to sign Rem Pitlick. With the Canadiens now having only $1.25M in cap space and a few notable restricted free agents to sign, Hughes’ summer deals might not be over just yet.