Edmonton - October 27, 2014 - As far as starts to a National Hockey League season go, things could not have got off to much worse of a start in 2014 for Edmonton Oilers defenceman Jeff Petry.
Having already had to come to terms with the fact the only organization he has ever known had no real interest in signing him to a multi-year extension heading into the final year of his current contract before hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent, the American blueliner was thrown yet another curve ball early in training camp.
After hurting his shoulder in a scrimmage during the Oilers first on ice session, Petry was essentially nothing more than an observer throughout the entire exhibition schedule. While he did find himself in the starting lineup on opening night against the Calgary Flames, the twenty-six year old would be a healthy scratch for the third game of the season against the mighty Los Angeles Kings.
An odd decision for sure, considering we are talking about a player who had basically been force fed not only top pairing minutes over the last couple of seasons but also handed the toughest matchups on an almost nightly basis during that same period of time. And yet there he sat in the pressbox during what turned out to be a rather humiliating 6-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Not surprisingly, Dallas Eakins decided to put the former second round pick back in the lineup against the Arizona Coyotes but Petry responded with one of the worst games he has played since becoming a regular along the Oilers blueline. Perhaps it had something to do with the shock of being sat out against the Kings but ever since that game, he has been getting better with each and every shift.
So much so that he actually led all skaters in ice-time during Friday’s 6-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and was as physically engaged as we have seen in some time. While his six hits trailed only Jesse Joensuu and his team leading total of seven, Petry also managed to block four shots in what truly was a complete all round effort. Not too shabby for a guy who has been behind the eight-ball since camp broke but has still found a way to be a difference maker.
With his level of play improving with each and every shift and Edmonton in the midst of a three game winning streak, general manager Craig MacTavish has put himself in a situation where he could essentially be forced into making a rather difficult decision in the not too distant future. In my mind, he can go in any one of three ways.
1) Move the player ASAP and get whatever possible for him in return
2) Agree to a multi-year extension and announce it in January when teams are allowed to resign their pending UFA’s to a new deal
3) Sit tight and see how things play out leading up to this year’s Trade Deadline
Options one and two are fairly self-explanatory but option No. 3 isn’t quite so clear. If Edmonton manages to stay in the playoff picture in the Western Conference, you can bet the guy who currently wears the No. 2 on his back will play a large role in keeping them in the hunt. With that said, removing him from the equation would appear to make absolutely no sense.
On the other hand, the longer MacT waits to move him the less trade value he will likely have. With unrestricted free agency looming and the potential return being not a whole hell of a lot, would the Oilers seriously consider keeping him in town for the entire season and possibly lose him during the summer with nothing coming back in return?
You would have to think that scenario would not be overly appealing to anyone within the organization but having these two sides agreeing to some sort of contract extension seems even less likely. Now if MacTavish were smart, he would swallow his pride and sign Petry to an extension ASAP but at this stage of the game, the veteran rearguard probably would not even entertain such an idea.
Meaning it will be up to management to decide what is more important for the long term betterment of the club. Either they fight the so-called “good fight” until the bitter end and bite the bullet in hopes of taking a serious run at the playoffs with their best defenceman leading the way or they can kiss another season good-bye by shipping him out of town.
If they plan on doing the latter, MacT and company should have their heads examined for not doing it in the summer, when they may have been able to possibly get something of worth in return. Unless the Oilers GM were able to use him as apiece in a much bigger deal, something which rarely if ever happens in season, they will basically be giving their No. 1 rearguard away for pennies on the dollar.
When it comes to asset management, letting a player simply walk away is never a good idea but when it comes to Jeff Petry and the Edmonton Oilers, this organization may have no other choice but to sit and wait and hope things work in their favour.