In a season where the Canadiens lineup was riddled with injuries, the always dependable Tomas Plekanec suited up for all 82 games. After starting the season hot, he earned a two year $6M AAV contract extension, keeping him with the Canadiens through the end of the 2017-18 season.
He would eventually cool off, but he still managed to put up 14 goals and 40 assists on the year, marking the fifth time that he's eclipsed the 50-point plateau with the Canadiens. Considering that he is heavily relied upon to be the team's best defensive forward, that he has put up good offensive numbers as well is a credit to his name.
If there were ever a deserving candidate for the Selke trophy that has been overlooked throughout his career, it is Tomas Plekanec. He eats up big minutes for his team, and is often tasked with shutting down the likes of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin when either of them is on the docket. Every team in the NHL could use a Tomas Plekanec.
Though he has never hit the 30-goal mark in his NHL career, that's not really his game. He usually hovers at or around the 20-goal mark, and when he isn't playing defence, he's often looking to set up his teammates with his superior passing.
Considering that his overall point production is slightly down from what he put up last year, the question of whether he is headed for a steep decline is a valid one. But to properly evaluate what he brings to the team, you have to look at much more than just his offensive totals.
At even strength this year, Plekanec only started 46.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Despite this, his Corsi for (percentage of shot attempts for) was a very respectable 52.7%. He's the definition of a two-way forward, excels at taking the puck from his own end and transitioning up ice, and that is why he can still put up stats like he does.
That even-strength Corsi score is good for +1.6% relative to his teammates. Simply put, when Tomas Plekanec is on the ice, his team is better off for it. The big thing about Plekanec is that he fits in nicely to both offensive and defensive oriented roles, so he can play with almost anyone in the lineup and succeed.
He was actually paired with some of the best linemates he's ever had this season, thanks primarily to significant stretches as the centre for Max Pacioretty. His Corsi QoT (quality of teammates) clocked in at 51.7% at even strength, which is the highest he's ever had as a Hab.
In terms of who he played against, he was right around his career average in that regard, with a Corsi QoC (quality of competition) at 50.3% for the year. So if he had better linemates with his normal level of competition, why couldn't he fill the net a little more for his club?
There is a rather simple answer to that question; he had very poor shooting luck, posting a career-low 6.2 shooting percentage at even strength. Combine that with only 189 total shots on goal this year, compared to his 248 shots the year before, and it is easy to see how he slid from 26 down to 14 goals.
He's on the wrong side of 30 years-old, so it would be easy to call this a natural decline. That said, it seems obvious that he dedicated himself a little more to playmaking this year. The last time he had 40 or more assists was back in 2009-10, which was a career year for him offensively. His most frequent linemate of the season was the best pure shooter on the team, so it makes sense that he gravitated towards that aspect of his game.
Playing with Pacioretty definitely affected the way that he played, causing him to concentrate less on scoring and more on distributing. That explains the decrease in total shots, which combined with the low shooting percentage accounts for his decreased goals. However, he still managed to be a highly effective player, particularly so considering his age.
The big dip you see towards the end of the year is easy to explain. That occurred right around the time that Plekanec stopped playing with Max Pacioretty. On Pacioretty's line with Brendan Gallagher, his even strength CF% was 59.05 for the year, that drops off when you go to his second most frequent line, at 53.16% with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher.
Once Galchenyuk took over as the top-line centre, and injuries ravaged the rest of the lineup, Plekanec had to eat very tough zone starts and had slim pickings for linemates. That adequately explains the big dip towards the end of the season, and generally he can be expected to do better.
The aforementioned extension that Plekanec signed back in October does not include a no trade clause, so notwithstanding concern expressed by some over the dollar amount, it was a very easy deal to swallow. despite his age, he should be able to return to the Canadiens next season and nicely fill either a secondary scoring role, or a shutdown third-line role.
Given that Alex Galchenyuk appears to have cemented himself as the top-line centre for now, that takes pressure off Plekanec next season. He should be a big part of the turnaround if the team is to have a better result in 2016-17.