The Jeff Petry Experience: Detroit Red Wings Edition

Jeff Petry's time with the Detroit Red Wings has had ups and a lot of downs. He is a focus of much of the criticism of the 2023-2024 defense corps. But has the Jeff Petry signing been a failure?

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On August 15, 2023, Jeff Petry was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. On the one hand, bringing a quality, experienced defenseman and Detroit athlete legacy with a salary retained by Pittsburgh and Montreal seemed like a strong move. On the other hand, Petry had struggled badly in his last season in Montreal and showed signs of further slowing down while in Pittsburgh, and his contract created a jam at the Red Wings’ blue line that froze out popular prospects from the NHL. Most of the response to signing Petry was that he is a veteran, solid, stopgap player at a reasonable contract price for a decent trade. The trade was for Gustav Lindstrom and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2025 draft. This is a reasonable trade with an affordable contract.

Petry is a good-sized (6’3”), excellent skating player. He played major minutes throughout his career, averaging over 22 minutes a game. He was mostly a solid minutes eater in Edmonton. In Montreal, he became a fearless shot blocker and contributed about a half point per game. He excelled in the 2021 Canadiens’ playoff run despite multiple injuries. Petry’s famous red eyes were caused by extreme pain created by a hand injury. He continued to play well through that episode.

There were high expectations for the following a Stanley Cup finals run in Montreal. But Shea Weber was unable to return due to career-ending injuries. Petry and the entire team had an extremely poor season. One year removed from a successful playoff run, the entire Canadiens team collapsed. At one point, the team was clearly tanking for a better draft pick. Petry was so associated with the poor season that he was referred to locally as the Tank Commander. He had to get out of town.

The Detroit Red Wings must move on from Jeff Petry this off-season.

Petry’s overall game has always been a mixed bag. A strong, puck-moving defenseman with good vision, courage, and the ability to chip in with occasional offense. Yet, this is tempered by egregious turnovers and breakdowns in defensive zone coverage. The same strengths and weaknesses have been evident in Detroit. However, where he used to be able to overcome weaknesses with skills and skating, these attributes have been eroded by age and accumulated injuries. The result is that Petry has been one of the targets of fans’ scorn.

Petry was paired with Simon Edvinsson for most of the Columbus and New York Islanders games last week. He placed the young defenseman in good positions and allowed Edvinsson to use his reach, puck handling, and skating while covering up for the occasional missed coverages. These two games were among Petry’s best as a Red Wing. Although pairings were shuffled a bit in the Nashville game, Petry played a lot of minutes and was strong, especially in the neutral zone.

Jeff Petry is not the answer going forward. He is under contract for one more year. A trade seems unlikely or difficult. There must be a buyout or understanding that he will be an expensive seventh defenseman. Petry certainly did not resurrect his career in Detroit. The downward trajectory of the last two seasons is continuing. But Petry was not a failed signing. He was an upgrade of the third pairing, created a cushion to allow Simon Edvinsson time to improve his game and confidence in Grand Rapids, reduced some minutes from the first pairing, and was a transitional player to the next generation of the Red Wings’ defense corps.