There was little surprise when Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens announced that they came to terms with centre Tomas Plekanec.
This possibility was something that was mentioned as soon as he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and its likelihood just continued to ramp up as July 1 approached.
The one-year contract at a cap hit of $2.25M is a very reasonable contract, and does not carry the weight of his previous contract’s cap hit. It will also mean that Plekanec will play his 1,000th NHL game as a member of the team he started with, which is a fantastic milestone.
The contract also does not come with a no-trade clause, which means that if the Canadiens struggle again coming up to the trade deadline, they can stockpile even more assets. Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev, and Jacob Olofsson are all in the Canadiens organization in exchange for two months of Plekanec in a Leafs uniform.
But there are some very real questions for what Plekanec’s return does to the rest of the roster.
As we stand right now, the four centres on opening night seem to be Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Plekanec, and Matthew Peca. Peca was signed to a one-way contract and Marc Bergevin has said he expects him to be an NHL player next year. That means that Byron Froese, Michael McCarron, and Jacob de la Rose are out of a spot down the middle. To make matters even more complicated, all of them will require waivers if they should go to the American Hockey League.
That doesn’t even factor in other forwards who will require waivers like Nikita Scherbak, Rychel, and Nicolas Deslauriers.
Now, Plekanec’s return isn’t the cause for all of this, but it does make for a fascinating training camp. I will also put out an additional caveat that there is a lot of time left in the off-season to fix some of these logjams, with many of the players mentioned even requiring new contracts (although they are restricted free agents).
Let’s start with de la Rose. As a younger player, you want him to be able to play at the NHL level. With Plekanec and Peca down the middle, he seems out of a spot. However, the team can have a rotation where someone will sit out and give an opportunity for others to play. However, this isn’t necessarily ideal if you want Plekanec to garner interest at the deadline.
Another factor is the possibility of injuries. If Paul Byron and Andrew Shaw do miss the beginning of camp or the beginning of the regular season, this delays any decision the Canadiens will have to make regarding their roster. It also means that by the time they come back, other injuries or moves may have occurred to open up additional roster spots.
Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad problem to have. All teams have players they will try to pass through on waivers, and even if the Canadiens do lose one of their players, they will have the chance to grab another team’s player as well. As last year showed, you need to have depth to deal with any injuries that may occur over a season.
I have no issue with Plekanec returning to Montreal. It gives the team a nice milestone, and adds a veteran who wants to play here and it is a minimal contract.
But his arrival could provoke a trickle-down effect that may or may not resolve itself by the start of training camp. The Canadiens added a lot of depth on July 1 this year and they weren’t the only team to not qualify players who contributed at the NHL level.
It could end up being a game of musical chairs, but there are still several months before the music will stop.