Tomas Plekanec had been a staple in the Montreal Canadiens’ core since breaking onto the roster full time in the 2005-06 season.
The Kladno, Czech Republic native bleeds the bleu, blance, et rouge and made it clear that he was saddened to be traded away from his home on February 25, 2017 to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, at the time, many pointed out that the trade did not close the book on Plekanec retiring in a Habs uniform, as he could still re-sign with the club on July 1. As predicted, there have been rumours that general manager Marc Bergevin may be looking to sign his former alternate captain.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old defensive specialist is on a natural decline, and as such there are both positives and negatives to a potential reunion with Plekanec in Montreal.
This is for those with high moral character. Tomas Plekanec is near the top in many all-time categories with the Canadiens.
One example is that Plekanec is just 36 points away from tying his former captain, Saku Koivu, for 10th in all-time points. But maybe most important to Plekanec, and his followers, is that he is just 19 games away from becoming the sixth player to reach the 1000-games-played milestone in a Canadiens sweater.
Plekanec is also second all-time in short-handed goals and 13th in assists. Any time spent with the Canadiens would only push him further up the stat sheets.
Potential trade chip
If the Canadiens struggle again next season, then they could use Plekanec as a trade piece for the second straight year. Last season Montreal traded Plekanec and Kyle Baun to Toronto for prospects Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev, and a second-round draft pick that turned into Swedish centre Jacob Olofsson.
Plekanec proved that he could still be an effective centre for the Maple Leafs in the playoffs, and barring injury there is no doubt another team would be interested in Plekanec for their own 2019 playoff run.
Goals don’t come easy
There is a perception of Plekanec that, especially in the latter part of his career, he is a black hole when it comes to helping offensive players score.
The following tables will suggest that Plekanec is not that bad when it comes to converting expected goals into real goals, but they may shine a light onto why he has that perception, and why he shouldn’t be trusted as a top offensive contributor.
There were three line combinations that Plekanec played over 50 minutes on last season. Each of these lines produced very strong shot-generation numbers and converted their expected goals into real goals at the expected rate.
There may be a perception with Plekanec that because he produces so many shots his line should be converting more. While that could be true for an above-average offensive player, Plekanec wasn’t holding his linemates back as much as some would believe.
With the Maple Leafs, Plekanec played more than 15 minutes with three combinations last season. This is admittedly a very small sample size, but as you can see, his conversion rate is about the same. Both charts also show that his relative goals-for percentage is mostly strong as well.
So what is the con?
Well, adding up his expected goals for and actual goals with his most common linemates you get a total of 31.68 expected and 25 actual goals.
The Canadiens starve for offence on all four lines and just can’t be successful in that area without a centre that hits about average.
There are good centres on the market who could potentially help the Canadiens turn in above-average goal-production. Under the same circumstances as Plekanec, Paul Stastny turned 30.25 expected goals for into 44 actual goals. Riley Nash — a player whom I’ve been clamouring for the Habs target since mid-season — turned 20.19 expected goals into 26 actual goals.
Hypothetically, with the same linemates, Stastny or Nash could help the team produce more goals.
Filling up a roster spot
Plekanec could come in and just take a bottom-six spot on the roster. He would likely be a better option than whomever they have slotted on the fourth trio right now.
However, if the Habs do decide to sign Plekanec, that means they are taking away money and a spot from better options like the ones mentioned above, or a young forward who can be given an opportunity at the NHL level.
It depends on what the Canadiens decide to do. If they think it will take a few years for some of their prospects to develop but they still want to try to compete right now, then they should sign Stastny as a legitimate top-six option. If they are just trying to balance out their roster and are looking for value to stay on as a depth player later or as a solid trade chip when the younger forwards develop, then Nash would be the better option.
Either way, the Canadiens should not sign Plekanec as a player who will only clog up a spot for other assets who would better maximize the team’s chances at a future Stanley Cup.