Jeff Petry open to remain in Montreal, but Canadiens might have other plans

Defenseman asked to be traded after a slow start to the season and the rumor mill has Penguins’ Kris Letang as his replacement.

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Jeff Petry says he hasn’t shut the door on a return to the Canadiens next season, but the decision on whether he stays in Montreal might not be his.

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Two hours before Petry expressed his love for Montreal, general manager Kent Hughes said he was continuing to work on fulfilling the request Petry made earlier this season for a trade.

The uncertainty over Petry’s future is being played out amid rumors the Canadiens will replace Petry with Kris Letang, who has reached an impasse with the Pittsburgh Penguins over a new contract. Hughes previously served as the agent for Letang, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Petry requested the trade around the Christmas holidays. He was unhappy with his own slow start and, while he said he didn’t have any personal disagreements with former head coach Dominique Ducharme, he was frustrated when Ducharme didn’t make adjustments in a system that wasn’t working. At the same time, the difficulties of coping with the pandemic forced Petry’s wife and family to return to their home in Michigan.

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“There was a lot of things going on from the start of the year to the point where we made the decision for my family to go home,” Petry said Saturday as the Canadiens gathered for post-season physicals and a final media opportunity. “Mentally and physically, to start the year, I didn’t feel like I was where I was in previous years and then all the things that happened on the ice was a factor that made things very difficult.

“The decision for my family to go back was difficult,” Petry added. “We both love this city, we’ve loved it for the eight years we’ve been here. It was such a good set-up for our kids in school, but it was hard for my family and her family to come here to help. You guys have seen videos of our kids and it’s a wild house, and we need all the help we can get.”

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Petry’s situation improved in the second half of the season and the arrival of head coach Martin St. Louis was a big factor. Petry said St. Louis not only changed the style of play on the ice, but also understood his situation and looked for opportunities for the player to see his family.

Petry also benefitted from the return of defense partner Joel Edmundson, who was sidelined until March 12 with a back injury.

“Not having him as a partner consistently though this season was a big loss, not only for our team, but for myself,” Petry said. “Last year, we had a good thing going and he’s a guy I feel comfortable playing with and we communicate well. Our games are different, but we play well together. After last night’s game, he came and gave me a big hug and he said: ‘I wished we had more time together this year.’ ”

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The Canadiens have several young defense prospects in Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron, but Hughes said if Petry isn’t back, he’ll look for a veteran with leadership qualities, which sounds like a description of Letang.

While awaiting a decision on where he’s going to play next season, Petry said he’s looking forward to being a full-time dad.

“I’m super excited,” he said. “I’ve only seen them a couple of times in the past months and my wife tells me ‘when you’re back, you’re back.’ I’ll be at baseball practice, hockey practice, school drop-offs and school pickups. I’ll be the taxi service, but I’m looking forward to it.”

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