The connection between Montreal general manager Kent Hughes and new Canadiens defenceman Mike Matheson goes back several years.
Both are from Montreal’s West Island, and Hughes said he has known Matheson since his days playing midget triple-A hockey.
“First-class human being,” Hughes said of Matheson. “The expression you’d always say is: “The kind of guy you’d let marry your daughter.'”
Hughes has brought Matheson back to his roots, acquiring the 28-year-old Pointe-Claire, Que., native and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2023 from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday for longtime Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry and forward Ryan Poehling.
The trade ends a tenure of seven-plus seasons in Montreal for Petry, who was acquired by the Canadiens in a trade with Edmonton on March 2, 2015. He was an effective player on both sides of the puck during his time in Montreal, scoring 70 goals and adding 178 assists in 508 games with the Canadiens.
Petry had said at the Montreal’s season-ending availability that the 2021-22 season had been difficult because his family had stayed behind in the United States while he remained with the Canadiens.
Hughes said in a press conference Saturday that finding a trade partner for Petry was difficult. The Canadiens wanted to get an experienced defenceman in return without retaining any of Petry’s salary.
The 33-year-old Petry has a $6.25-million US cap hit in each of the next three seasons. Matheson has four years left on his deal with an annual cap hit of $4.875 million.
“A player like Jeff Petry, at his age with his contract, is typically going to go to a team trying to compete for a Stanley Cup,” Hughes said.
“It’s difficult for those teams to take money on without money coming back.”
The addition of Poehling sweetened the pot for the Penguins. The promising centre scored 13 goals and added nine assists in 85 career NHL games after being drafted 25th overall by Montreal in 2017.
In Matheson, the Canadiens get a defenceman with offensive potential who can play a mentorship role with Montreal’s youthful defence core.
“Mike Matheson is a defenceman who was playing top-4 minutes in Pittsburgh that brings a lot of the qualities that we lose in a Jeff Petry,” Hughes said.
Matheson had 11 goals and 20 assists in 74 games with the Penguins last season and added one goal and five assists in seven playoff games.
Selected 23rd overall by the Florida Panthers in 2012, the six-foot-two player has 138 points (49 goals, 89 assists) in 417 career NHL games.
“When you’re trading for good players, you’re going to have to give up good players. Mike is a good player,” Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said.
“We just feel like Jeff, at this point, is a little better fit for us. He can play all situations, he can log big minutes.”
Matheson was the second defenceman dealt by the Penguins on Saturday. Pittsburgh also sent John Marino to the New Jersey Devils for defenceman Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round draft pick.
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