Canadiens Need Plekanec… for Now

It’s an annual tradition at this point, wondering aloud whether or not Tomas Plekanec has a future with the Montreal Canadiens. He won’t be around forever, that much is for sure. And, based on his significant drop in production last season, the end of his career is probably closer than that it is far away.

Plekanec Won’t Stay a Hab Forever

Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec – (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

What seemed like a distinct possibility at last year’s trade deadline, i.e., trading Plekanec, has to seem a lot less likely now. That isn’t to say Plekanec will stay a Hab. The smart money is still on the opposite being true, but, for the immediate future, he has a place on this team.

Assuming the Canadiens do the logical thing (which is hardly a given, considering recent history) and keep Alex Galchenyuk at center this season, Plekanec projects as the team’s third-line center, behind Phillip Danault. That’s still a pretty important role to fill, and, considering the team’s depth on the wings, his offensive totals shouldn’t take that much of a nosedive (at least not as much as they have already).

After scoring 54 points in 2015-16 (23 of which came in the first 23 games), he scored just 28 in all of 2016-17. So, for all intents and purposes, this wasn’t an off year for Plekanec, it was a continuation of a downward trend that started two Novembers ago.

Plekanec Still Has Value

After peaking in terms of shots on goal with 248 in 2014-15, he suffered his second straight jump off a cliff in that department, going from 189 to 139 this past season, which is just more of a sign that he’s on the decline. Still, with potential linemates like Arturri Lehkonen and Ales Hemsky, Plekanec should realistically be able to continue to put up point totals consistent with what a third-line center should produce. That’s the hope among Habs fans, though.

The 1:58 per game he spent on the penalty kill (tied for most among forwards, with exception to Jacob de la Rose, who played just nine games) is proof he can still contribute in a meaningful way. Similarly, in spite of starting 37.47% of his five-on-five shifts in the defensive zone (according to Puckalytics), he still managed to drive possession with a 53.07% Corsi for rating.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Karl Alzner
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Karl Alzner – (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

There is no way Plekanec is worth $6 million per year right now. Most would agree with that, based on a glance at his stats. That’s simply due to the very understandable notion that you shouldn’t give a huge payday to players who can’t put up points. Kind of like how no one in their right mind would pay Karl Alzner, a defenseman coming off a 13-point season, well… you get the point, which is the following:

Plekanec vs. Alzner

If Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin can justify paying Alzner $4.625 million a season (on average), he certainly can keep Plekanec in the fold for his $6 million, at least for this coming season. Whether it was with the Alzner signing or the Carey Price extension, Bergevin has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that this team is not rebuilding, and contenders don’t typically unload assets, especially ones with expiring contracts.

Plekanec obviously fits into that category. And, unless guys like either Michael McCarron or Charles Hudon can prove themselves as being capable of taking over as a dominant third-line center, Plekanec isn’t going anywhere.

That might change by the end of the season, and if the Habs are smart(er than they’ve been), they’ll have given some kind of thought to a succession plan and maybe tried to put one in action by then. That’s because Plekanec is only coming back past that with a new contract that makes financial sense to Bergevin (as his negotiations with Alexander Radulov would hint at).

The Most Sense

Tomas Plekanec and Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty
Tomas Plekanec and Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty – (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

With the buy-out period having come and gone, it obviously makes more sense for the Habs to see this thing through right now. Granted, it would have been hard to justify buying out a player with one year left on his contract and then dealing with the resulting cap hit(s) over two times that time period without obtaining any services in exchange.

Seeing as the Canadiens have plenty of cap space left this year (~$9 million) and would probably like to keep as much free as possible for next summer to attract free agents, Plekanec is clearly more valuable to the Habs where he is. There are far worse situations to be in, in other words… for either party.

That will undoubtedly change, but Plekanec is staying for now. Talk again this time next year?