Is Montreal Canadiens’ Tomas “Turtleneck” Plekanec on the move? There are credible arguments to suggest that he may be. He is a proven defensive center in a league where few exist. He still has some speed and offensive upside. He is the kind of depth, complementary player teams need to win a Stanley Cup. This makes him a viable candidate for a shutdown role on any team hoping to make an extended run in this year’s playoffs.
For Bergevin, the calculations are slightly different. Desperate to keep his job, there are at least three reasons to deal Plekanec. First, Tomas will become a 35-year-old UFA at the end of the season. This means he is the “textbook definition of a rental” for a Cup contending team this year. Second, while he is expensive, Bergevin has an embarrassing amount of cap space this year. He can easily absorb much of Plekanec’s prorated $6-million salary.
Third, while no one in the organization is admitting it, this team is in full reset mode. This is apparently something less than a rebuild and something more than a retool. However defined, this means the plan must be to shed older players for picks and, where possible, prospects. It means losing experience, even when those players still have value. But what if Bergevin could do both? That is, what if he could trade Plekanec now and re-sign him when he becomes a UFA at the end of the season?
The Case for Plekanec
The Canadiens selected Tomas Plekanec in the third round (71st overall) at the 2001 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Fla. 17 years later, Plekanec is certainly not the same player who brought six seasons of 20-plus goals and six of 50-plus points to Montreal. He has had a good career, though, and still has value, especially on a team that is a mess at center. He is still offensively capable and defensively sound.
In a career spanning nearly 1000 games, Plekanec has 231 goals and 370 assists for 601 points. This year, he has scored five goals and fifteen assists in 53 games. That he has done so on a Canadiens team that is offensively challenged is even more impressive. As Eric Engels points out:
…he’s managed that offense without playing on either of the team’s power-play units, without starting less than 67 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, and he’s managed to do it without cheating on his nightly responsibilities of having to face the opposition’s best forwards.
The major consideration in any assessment should be Plekanec’s defensive skill set. While the league is moving toward a focus on offense, there is a still role for a reliable defensive center. This year, Plekanec has won 51.9 percent of his faceoffs and has played a key role as part of Montreal’s top penalty-killing unit. Giving up a rare asset for a low second round pick might make sense. While Rory Boylan thinks Plekanec may be moved, he observes something that could complicate a trade.
Assessing the defensive-centre market is tricky because for the most part, there are so few available. While there are all kinds of scoring wingers to be had that are shaping a buyer’s market for that skill, you can count the number of defensive centers on one hand.
Move Now and Re-sign in July
Even if the Canadiens move Plekanec this month, he could return next year to play his 1000th game in a Habs jersey. Nostalgia aside, the best case scenario here would be to trade Plekanec for a decent second round pick and then re-sign him to a one-year deal in July. If you are a fan who thinks treating veteran players like garbage is not a good look (Privet Andrei!), welcoming Tomas back to Montreal in July would just feel right.
Of course, this means rolling the dice. Trading a player with ties to the city and value to the organization could mean saying goodbye to old turtleneck forever. However, not moving him now would be a mistake. As Engels recently suggested: “Bergevin should be fired he doesn’t trade Plekanec.” While most fans agree with the first part of that statement, whether Plekanec is traded or not, this is a rare opportunity for a win-win. As Stu Cowan reported, when asked if he wants to finish his career in Montreal, Plekanec said: “I’d love to. Definitely.”
Giving a veteran player a chance to win a Cup and then signing this player to a one year contract next year would be a classy move. It would also be smart. This is exactly what fans of the Canadiens have come to expect from Bergevin. Am I right? (Sarcasm alert)
Finally, here’s a tip for Tomas’ new teammates. Don’t ask him about the turtleneck.