A resurgent Tomas Plekanec could be the boost the Canadiens need
The play of the long-time Hab will be under the microscope when the new season begins.
Marc Bergevin is nothing if not eminently quotable, so it was no surprise that he dropped a few choice nuggets at his most recent press conference regarding Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov.
Perhaps the best cut was concerning whether players should feel indebted or attached to organizations, especially when getting the chance to re-establish as an NHLer.
“If you want loyalty,” said the GM, “get a dog.”
The hard line was a precursor to Radulov leaving for greener pastures in a green jersey, joining the Dallas Stars on a five-year deal. Markov’s fate remains undecided.
In considering things canine, it’s fair to question if Bergevin may see some doglike qualities in Tomas Plekanec, to whom the organization has shown a great deal of loyalty indeed.
Plekanec, a career Hab, has given all he has to the CH. The long-time underappreciated forward has done whatever’s been asked of him on a team that needs him to be a jack-of-all-trades. Plekanec’s reputation as a defensive centre betrays his own scoring lines, though he is still expected to score.
He was rewarded with a two-year deal at $6 million per to start last season. He played well beneath it.
For the second consecutive year, Plekanec posted a shooting percentage of below 7.5%. The league average is about 9%, and while Plekanec’s deviation isn’t dire, it’s significant.
That difference is exacerbated by the Czech forward’s rapidly dwindling shot count. Plekanec fired 139 pucks on net this season, good for 199th in the league in that category; between Connor Brown, who scored 20 goals, and Mikko Koivu — another 34-year-old defensive centre — who put up 18.
Plekanec scored 10. His shot totals have declined since 2014-15 when he had a career-high 248, to 189 in 2015-16, to 139 last year.
He’s still the defensive expert he always was, with a Corsi-for percentage of 52.6% and mostly defensive zone starts. And he’s a serviceable faceoff man.
But is serviceable enough for a player that could be looked at to fill a key role come fall? The Habs’ dearth of top-end centres is an issue well documented and much discussed. At his pay grade and ice time, you’d expect Plekanec to be a second-line centre, behind Philip Danault, and barring an opportunity for Galchenyuk or Drouin to shift over from a position on the wing.
The frank appraisal of the situation is that Plekanec should have been bought out this year, freeing up cap space to improve the offence. Or maybe he could have been traded in a salary dump for future prospects, or moved to Las Vegas in a side deal during expansion.
That would have freed up some cash for Montreal. What that freedom might have looked like is debatable. A play for Matt Duchene from Colorado? An offer sheet for Leon Draisatl? A move to Arizona or Las Vegas or another cap floor team? A returning Radulov?
Those are all blue-sky ideas, because the foremost question from management and fans alike would be who would play centre in Plekanec’s absence.
The answer would be brutal and businesslike: a centre who could contribute more than 10 goals a year for $6 million. There are plenty of those. Hopefully Plekanec can become one again for the Canadiens next season.