It's been a while since I've read an article that has bugged me as much as the one authored by Arpon Basu at the CBC's Stanley Cup Blog titled "The curious case of Tomas Plekanec."
As someone who is opinionated enough that I should be two people, I respect that Mr. Basu is entitled to his take. However, I find the impression the article leaves of Plekanec elicits an inaccurate perception and evaluation of a player nary a bad word has been spoken of this past winter.
Not only did Plekanec lead the club in scoring while missing no games this past season, but he is the team's best two way centerman, most games playing on all three units. He's also extremely defensively conscious, not an easy task through 82 games and playoffs considering what his regular linemates bring to that ideal.
Mike Cammalleri is responsible, but no one will ever confuse him for a Selke candidate. The less said about the other wing, the better.
With a contract situation facing him once again, there's a tendency to judge Plekanec merely on offensive output, and that tends to miss the mark by miles as to his true worth. That he is up for a sizeable raise as he enters his first UFA summer, has gotten everyone concerned and worried, in some parts that he will be lost to free agency, and on the flipside, that he could end up overpaid.
No matter where one might place Plekanec on the Canadiens value chart, one fact remains absolute, and that is that he is a complete player with the second most seniority on the club. If the Canadiens are to build and grow this team forward, it should do so with it's most consumate of professionals leading the way.
At this pivotal time, the last thing that should enter the equation is "the quote." Basu begins his piece with it. I want to bury it once and for all.
Never before had an NHL player written his own headline so well. Two years ago Tomas Plekanec was playing in the playoffs for the first time as an established top-six NHL forward. He was coming off a breakout 69-point season, centring one of the most dangerous lines in the league between Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn. But once the playoffs began, Plekanec disappeared, notching only a pair of assists through the first three games of the Canadiens' first round series against the Boston Bruins. "The last two games," Plekanec said between Games 3 and 4 of the series, "I played like a little girl out there." The Canadiens centre has never really lived the quote down, especially after struggling through a difficult season last year.
The headline Plekanec wrote for himself was a catchy one for sure, but it was a terribly harsh assessment for an honest player to give himself.
As Basu mentions, it indeed was Tomas Plekanec's first time into the playoffs as the team's top line center, but this is a pivotal point in any career where the learning curve is put to the test.
Plekanec could have used a less critical language, but this is how engaged he was in his commitment and how disatisfied he was with his performance through three games against Boston. He understood that more was expected of him, and this may have been his way of letting everyone know he was aware of it. He's notoriously honest with himself that way.
The Canadiens survived the Bruins series, narrowly, and went onto doom and disaster against the Flyers in 2008. In five games, against the tough Philly team, Plekanec notched 3 goals and two assists.
That should have been the end of the story right then and there.
Plekanec endured a terrible 2008-09 season, as did the majority of a Canadiens lineup since given a canyonesque purge. His linemates were the enigmatic AWOL and KO that season, and hardly the clockwork dependables of one year prior. Kovalev was a mess between the ears, sent home at one point, and Kostitsyn was waylayed by completely fabricated nuances concerning his off ice life. Plekanec still managed his regular 20 goal range somehow, but his assist total, and hence his total points, was assassinated along with his linemates mental state.
In that light, his season was rendered abysmal.
To further that Plekanec does not deserve the quote hung on him, he rebounded in stellar fashion this season, leading the team in scoring through half the schedule, carrying the team on many nights, while enduring a rotation of wingers too numerous to list.
Now despite the quote being pushbroomed off the Champlain bridge a good while back, Basu resusitates it in his judgement of Plekanec's playoff thus far in 2010.
Still, questions remained on whether or not Plekanec would revert back to "little girl" status once the playoffs began.
With eight points in 11 playoff games entering Saturday night's pivotal Game 5 match-up with the Penguins in Pittsburgh, Plekanec's production has slowed slightly from the regular season. His numbers so far would give him about 60 points over a full 82-game season.
Thus far, the answer to that question is a definitive...maybe.
Tell me now, who's production doesn't dip slightly come playoff time?
Is this the first time ever that such a happening is unusual?
Plekanec, on a bum hip as Basu alludes, had 8 points in 11 games while playing face to face against the powerful Capitals and Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and in this round his load is "lightened" by having to face the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
So, Plekanec is seen to be failing in this grandest of tests with 8 points in 11 games because the Caps are either golfing or suiting up for the Russian Nationals and the Penguins have been unable to score more than two goals over the past four games.
Mind you, Arpon Basu doesn't tiptoe around these realities, he states them firm, after two dips into the "little girl" quote.
It's just an odd way to set up case for assessing Plekanec's worth in the here and now, and either way, I'm not liking where Basu heads with his arguments.
Plekanec finished tied for 26th in the NHL in points this season with four other players: Eric Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The average salary cap hit for those four players? A cool $7.2 million (all figures in US dollars).
Well there a handy argument for everyone, offered at a glimpse and without a single intangible to offset perceived reality.
For starters, all four are franchise players, or were seen as such when signed to those contracts. Comparibles to Plekanec would generous.
Using this season's point totals are terrible misleading. Did either of these four have a banner year or a disappointing one?
Here's another, deeper way to gauge the comparions, contract and best seasons noted:
Staal - four more seasons at $8.25M / Best numbers - 45-55-100 in 2006
Lecavalier - ten more seasons at $7.727M / Best numbers - 52-56-108 in 2007
Datsyuk - four more seasons at $6.7M / Best numbers - 32-65-97 in 2009
Zetterberg - eleven more (creatively) at $6.083M / Best numbers - 43-49-92 in 2008
If one adds up all those career years, which is in essense what these big contract were paid out for, there is an average of 43 goals, 56 assists and 99 points for those campaigns.
Still in Plekanec's ballpark? Doubtful!
Best intangible of all, each of the four contracts were awarded after the players lead their respective team to Stanley Cups, with the two cheaper deals awarded to double winners.
So this is all out the window, I gather.
He finished 18th among NHL forwards in regular season shorthanded ice time per game. Only one other player on the top 30 of that list also finished in the top 30 in league scoring: Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, who just signed a 6-year, $30 million contract extension with the Canucks. The problem with comparing Plekanec with Kesler and another similar player like Mike Fisher of the Ottawa Senators is that both Kesler and Fisher bring a physical dimension to the game. Plekanec was called "gritty" by Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma prior to the start of this series, but no one would ever call him a banger like Kesler and Fisher.
Want to compare Plekanec to Fisher and Kesler, well why not...there not exactly alike!
Reminds me of an old endearing quote I never forgot, "That Gretzky sure is great, but he's no Tiger Williams."
Yes Kesler and Fisher have it all over Plekanec in the sandpaper category. And Mario can't fight like Nilan. They are a different type of players, in fact, other than playing center, where are the common comparison points?
Some centers use their grit for edge, Plekanec brings some and a bagfull of smarts.
Does that make him less worthy?
Kesler for the record, is two years younger than Plekanec. He earned his current expiring contract ($1.75M) through the graciousness of a Philadelphia Flyers offer sheet that was matched by Vancouver and delivered upon in spades by Kesler. At 24, his next deal give the Canucks strength down the middle, behind the Sedins until he is 30. With the Canucks, he often joins the twins on the powerplay, juicing his numbers greatly.
The comparable is kind of moot, when bringing up that he plays with the NHL's leading scorer.
The Senators second line center is a ten year veteran at age 29, one of only three Ottawa players left over from the 2000-01 teams. While he has scored over 20 goals four times, he's a multi-pronged adversary that brings much more than goals to the table. He earns $4.2M, but up until this season, there was quite a lot of ink spilled in Ottawa that the contract was too rich for the type of player he is. Fisher quieted that notion with a great 2009-10 campaign.
Now Fisher is a closer species to Plekanec than the others listed, but there will be no debate in his lifetime as to whether he is the Senators top line center.
Do they make any sense?
I put no thought into those choices at all so I dunno if we have a better match, but maybe we're getting closer in style!
After throwing all this fish up at the ceiling to see what sticks, Basu decides that Plekanec is not even worth the $5 million everyone perceives would be a negotiation starting point, term notwithstanding.
Is Plekanec worth $5 million a year?
On the open market, he'll probably get it, but that doesn't necessarily mean he deserves it.
What is that kind of production worth to the Canadiens, and what does Plekanec feel it's worth?
The answer to those questions are coloured a murky shade of grey.
I don't see the grey, especially after a season such as the one Plekanec treated everyone to. But if this is an example of the kind of thought that goes into whether he stays and what he's worth, colour him gone.
See why I'm bugged?