Tomas Plekanec has been a member of the Montreal Canadiens organization for 16 years, ever since he was drafted in the third round of the 2001 entry draft, 71st overall. He’s approaching a very rare milestone for the team, but there is serious doubt on whether he will attain it.
After getting drafted in 2001, he played one more season in the Czech Republic with HC Kladno before signing a three-year contract with the Canadiens on April 22nd, 2002. Once in North America, he spent the majority of his first three seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. He graduated to the Canadiens for good during his fourth year in 2005-06, on the heels of a new two-year contract extension.
Since joining the team, Plekanec has been an absolute constant for the Canadiens, rarely missing any games for the club. Last season he missed four games due to injury — the most he has ever missed in a season. He counts a remarkable eight seasons of 80 or more games played, and has only missed a single game during the 48-game shortened 2012-13 season.
He played as a top-line centre for many years along with Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev, (who was later replaced with Michael Cammalleri). He was also frequently paired with offensively-talented players who needed someone to cover for them defensively, like Richard Zednik and Sergei Samsonov. His penalty kill abilities were lauded as the team’s best, made even more notable by his shorthanded goals, which rank-tied with Bob Gainey for second of all-time with the Canadiens. In recent years, he has transitioned to a more defensive role on the team at even-strength, responsible for shutting down the opposing team’s top lines.
Since playing his first NHL game on December 31, 2003, Plekanec has counted 962 games and is on track to play his 1000th game with the team on April 1, 2018 against the New Jersey Devils.
If he hits the 1000-game milestone, he’ll be the sixth player in the franchise’s illustrious history to do so, and the first in 30 years. His name will be added to the following exclusive list:
- Jean Beliveau (1969-70)
- Claude Provost (1969-70)
- Henri Richard (1970-71)
- Larry Robinson (1985-86)
- Bob Gainey (1986-87)
Injuries, which have spared Plekanec’s career, have caused other Canadiens greats to miss the 1000-game milestone.
Maurice Richard suffered a severed Achilles tendon during the 1957-58 season, a broken ankle (1958-59), and a broken cheekbone (1959-60). As a result, he missed a total of 89 games during those last three years, ultimately leaving one of the greatest players in Habs history at 978 games played.
Yvan Cournoyer was limited to only 15 games in his final season with the Canadiens in 1978-79 due to a chronic hip injury, halting him just 32 games shy of the mark.
Guy Lafleur was at 961 games played when his relationship with former linemate, and current head coach, Jacques Lemaire became so toxic during the 1984-85 season that he decided to retire from professional hockey just 19 games into the season. He could have easily played the additional 39 games required to make the 1000 club had the team been able to resolve the dispute.
Most recently, there was the case of Andrei Markov. Unable to come to an agreement on a new contract with the Canadiens this past summer, he left the Canadiens an agonizing ten games shy of the century mark to continue his career in the KHL.
On the eve of his 1000th game on January 5, 1987, Gainey told La Presse “my style of play demands consistency, and the team expects that from me regardless of sickness or injury. Given that, I think the 1,000 game count speaks for itself.”
That quote probably resonates with Plekanec as well who, throughout his career, has been one of the most dependable players for the Canadiens night-in and night-out, making the 1000-game milestone a fitting tribute to his contribution to the organization.
That is, of course, if he doesn’t get traded first.
The trade deadline this season is February 26 and if the season continues as it has gone so far, General Manager Marc Bergevin may consider being a seller and trade players on expiring contracts for future assets. A category in which Plekanec would fall. If Bergevin has no plans to renew Plekanec’s contract for next season, then trading him might be a viable options to receive value in return rather than losing him for nothing to free agency like we saw happen with Alex Radulov and Markov.
Plekanec remains an elite shut-down centre and would certainly be sought after by teams that are hoping to make a deep Cup run. The public outcry to focus on building for the future has grown in volume and intensity in recent weeks as the team continues to flounder, rarely showing any signs of a team capable of producing a late-season miraculous run. Bergevin knows that he doesn’t have too many trade chips for high draft picks and promising prospects. He’s also been meeting with his lieutenants to, at the very least, discuss the possibility of moving some players prior to the deadline with Plekanec being at the forefront of that group.
Should Plekanec be moved to another team, it will be Carey Price — who joined the organization four years later — who will become the elder statesman.