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2016-17 Canadiens season review: Tomas Plekanec’s offensive struggles overshadowed his defensive contributions

The veteran forward can still be useful, but his price tag means patience is running out

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game Five Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Patrice Brisebois, 2000-01. Scott Gomez, 2011-12. Tomas Plekanec, 2016-17. Just a few of the Montreal Canadiens who incurred the wrath of the fans due to a contract that they were not able to live up to.

Plekanec started the season as the captain of the Czech team at the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey. In three preliminary games he led his team in goals with three, and was tied with five other players in the tournament who also scored at a goal-per-game pace. The team defeated favourites Russia and the young-gun Team North America. Once the tournament kicked off, however Plekanec failed to register a point, and despite a heroic win against the United States, the Czechs failed to qualify for the semi-finals.

The goal drought carried on into the start of the regular season, where Plekanec would only score a single goal and add just three assists in the first 25 games, despite starting the season on the second line with Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Radulov.

As his struggles persisted, many other line combinations were attempted to spark his game. It was once he was paired with Paul Byron — about halfway through the season — that things began to click for him, relatively speaking. By season’s end he found his place centring the third line, with Byron and Brendan Gallagher as his wingers, which ended up the most successful period for him this year.

Plekanec was forced to miss four games with an upper-body injury in early March, which was more games than he missed in the preceding five seasons combined. He ended up with 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points, all his lowest totals since his rookie season, even fewer than a lockout-shortened, 47-game campaign in 2012-13.

Stats via Corsica, G60= goals per 60, A60= assists per 60, P60= points per 60, Rel. = impact relative to teammates, CF% = Corsi for, SCF%= scoring chances for, xGF% = expected goals for

His positive impact on the Canadiens has mostly vanished, especially offensively. After reaching his production peak in a remarkable 2014-15 season, Plekanec’s offensive contribution has faded, but his defensive game has improved over time in relation to the rest of his team.

As the Canadiens struggled to score, Plekanec focused more on the defensive side, and helped his team out in that category. He remained a stalwart on the penalty kill, which was among the best in the league. His offensive-zone starts were the lowest in four seasons, and, not so coincidentally, his defensive-zone starts were also at their highest. Plekanec is failing the eye test because good solid defence is not as memorable over time as a zero stat line, and at $6 million per season expectations are rightfully elevated, especially in a time when cap management is key.

One has to wonder what Bergevin can possibly do to beef up his centre depth that counted Phillip Danault as the top player, followed by maybe-centre-maybe-winger Alex Galchenyuk, and suddenly-centre-again Andrew Shaw. Obviously the Habs are in dire need of an overhaul down the middle of the lineup, and it may start with parting ways with the man who has called Montreal home for the past 12 years.

With the expansion draft coming up, it will be very interesting to see if Bergevin decides to protect Plekanec in a show of loyalty to the lifelong Hab, or if he will leave him exposed in order to protect a younger asset. It is a delicate situation that the general manager needs to navigate delicately, because losing Plekanec to the Vegas Golden Knights would decimate the centre depth even further, forcing him to turn to the free-agent market to fill the gap.

From a purely asset management point of view, perhaps this would be the best-case scenario, as he can focus on spending $6,000,000 on a centre who can be a true #1, while letting Danault go back down to the second or third line where he fits best.

It certainly would be nice to see Plekanec retire as a Canadien, especially in an era where a player rarely spends his entire career with a single team. Unfortunately, with the organization desperate to add punch to the forward group, his contract is a major barrier, and one that Bergevin will have to seriously give a lot of thought to on whether he can overcome it.

In the meantime, as we await the expansion draft and for Bergevin to put his off-season plan into motion, we will be left to wonder whether the series-ending save that Henrik Lundqvist made on Plekanec in the dying seconds of an elimination game will end up being his final shot on net as the longest-serving forward of the Montreal Canadiens since Guy Lafleur.


Grade Plekanec’s season

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