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Exposing veteran Tomas Plekanec in the expansion draft is just business

Tomas Plekanec has been left exposed by the Montreal Canadiens for the upcoming expansion draft, in a move that surprised very few fans. In a case of “what have you done for me lately?” past contributions to the team are distant foggy memories in favour of the difficulties of the previous season.

The unfortunate reality is that the Canadiens had to protect their best assets headed into the future, and despite a long and loyal stint with the organization that lasted 13 seasons, the Canadiens were simply not in a position to repay the favour and ensure that Plekanec finish his career (or at least his current contract) in Montreal. The same can be said for veteran Alexei Emelin.

This is not spiteful or unusual in any way by the Canadiens, it’s just business. And it has happened many times before.

During the very first expansion draft in 1967, 12-year veterans Jean-Guy Talbot and Claude Provost were left unprotected initially. Although the Canadiens were able to use the rules to add Provost to the expansion list after the third round, Talbot wasn’t so lucky and was plucked by the Minnesota North Stars in the sixth round. He told La Presse after the draft that he wasn’t surprised to have been picked. “The way I was used by the end of the season was enough to convince me that I was no longer in the team’s plans going forward”. As for Provost, he was thrilled to remain a Hab: “What a great surprise! I learned about it on the radio. I was listening to one station, and my wife another. I wanted to know as soon as possible which team I went to. We were resigned that we would be leaving Montreal, but now we are thrilled to remain.” But players back then rarely had multi-year contracts, meaning Talbot and Provost were exposed not for onerous contracts, but simply because their careers were coming to an end.

A more recent example, relatively speaking, happened during the 1993 expansion draft where the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks would pluck players from the existing teams. Mere weeks after guiding the team to their 24th Stanley Cup, Canadiens captain Guy Carbonneau was left unprotected by the team, in favour of younger assets such as Paul Dipietro and Gilbert Dionne. General Manager Serge Savard was betting that Carbonneau’s age and contract (two more seasons at $700,000) would dissuade the drafting teams from picking him. “It would shock me if Anaheim or Miami pick me. But I would accept to go, no problem”, said the captain, “If I was the general manager, I wouldn’t protect myself either. Savard and I talked about it at the end of the season and we agreed that it’s best for the team that I not be protected.” The Panthers decided not to take Carbonneau in the end, but went with Jesse Belanger, the player who was coincidentally dubbed “the Next Carbonneau”.

No one else embodies the exposed veteran more than Mats Naslund. Even though he was the best European to ever play for the Canadiens, and the highest scoring winger after Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Steve Shutt and Bernie Geoffrion, Naslund was nonetheless exposed three times, in 1991, 1992, and 1993 expansion drafts. He was never picked, leading to the notion that expansion teams do not pick based on what you did, but rather on what you can do.

And this is why fans, despite their wishes, shouldn’t expect the Golden Knights to pick Tomas Plekanec during the expansion draft, but rather to go with a younger asset who doesn’t come with a heavy price tag. Even then, the fact that Plekanec is exposed will certainly be an indicator as to his remaining longevity with the Canadiens.

Of course, if Marc Bergevin so inclines, he can send an asset Vegas’ way to make sure they pick the player of his choice.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.

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