Of all the bad moves Ron Hextall has made as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Jeff Petry trade is one that I actually had some hope for when it happened.
In fact, I liked it.
He had been an excellent all-around defenseman in both Edmonton and Montreal, he seemed to be a nice upgrade for the second pairing on the right side, and with Kris Letang back in the mix it was going to give the Penguins a situation where they would have one of those two on the right side of the ice for at least 40 out of 60 minutes every game.
That seemed significant, and like it could be a huge lift to the Penguins’ defense.
His age and remaining contract were not ideal, but they were giving up another undesirable contract and getting what looked like a decent upgrade at a premium position. Plus as long as Petry’s play did not completely fall off of a cliff it would align with the contracts for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Letang.
Now that the 2022-23 season is almost over and the Penguins are clinging to their playoff hopes, it is starting to look like none of it is going to work out the way it was hoped.
In fact, it is turning out to be one of the bigger disappointments of the season based on preseason expectations, and when combined with the rest of the roster construction it is looking like another mess that Hextall is going to leave behind for his eventual successor.
Petry is on my mind today because he had an absolutely brutal game on Tuesday night and played a significant role in a couple of the New Jersey Devils’ early goals to quickly put that game out of reach.
It was probably the low-point for him in what has been a really underwhelming year.
For the most part, Petry has not been a disaster.
He has not been a problem on the scale of Jeff Carter, Mikael Granlund, or any of the other Hextall additions. Some of his underlying numbers have been fine. He has shown flashes of still being a solid player. But he has not really been any sort of an impact player. He has not taken control of the second defense pairing and really driven it.
He has just kind of .... existed. That is not what the Penguins needed. That is not good.
That is not good when you consider he is another player on the wrong side of 35 and is still signed for another two full seasons at $6.25 million per season. Especially when John Marino, who was essentially given away to a division rival for a player that has spent most of the year in the minor leagues, probably would have done a better job in that spot.
There are 204 defensemen that have played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season.
Petry is around 100th — right in the middle of the pack — in every major defensive metric. Expected goals against, scoring chances against, and high-danger scoring chances against, which is .... again .... fine.
It is not terrible.
It is not great.
It is literally middle of the pack.
But what brings his overall performance down is the same thing that has brought down a lot of the Penguins’ performance as a team — the special teams.
He has struggled in both areas.
Of the 118 defensemen that have played at least 100 minutes on the PK this season, he ranks 70th or lower in all of the same defensive metrics listed above (expected goals, scoring chances against, high-danger scoring chances against). The PK has been one of the single biggest issues with the Penguins’ all season, and Petry has not really been a difference-maker.
It is a similar story on the power play where he has never been a very effective player. When he’s on the ice the Penguins’ power play averages just 4.71 goals per 60 minutes, which is one of the worst rates of any defensemen in the NHL, while he has just eight total points on the power play.
When you have average 5-on-5 play, and sub-par special teams play, what exactly do you have here? A below average overall player.
I just expected more. I feel like the Penguins probably expected more. And entering his age 36 season next year it is unlikely that he is going to see any of these trends reverse course. That is going to leave the Penguins with another ugly contract to have to deal with in the coming years. As it stands now they will have over $14 million going to the trio of Carter, Granlund and Petry next season. That stinks.