No one knows what the trade deadline holds in store for the Montreal Canadiens, maybe not even General Manager Marc Bergevin. As the Habs GM tries to navigate them through March 1 and make out what the Habs’ mediocrity means for this team’s short-term future, the only thing that’s clear is that Tomas Plekanec shouldn’t factor in.
Buyers or Sellers?
More and more, the Habs are looking less and less like contenders after their 13-1-1 start (now 32-21-8…so 19-20-7 since). While going all-in now would most likely improve the team, Bergevin has to be asking himself if there is any point in giving up futures for little more than a puncher’s chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Of course, he may also be asking himself if it’s worth it to him to play it safe when he might not be safe himself or around to see many of his top prospects become NHL regulars. Even if he should be good for now, there’s little denying the immediate aftermath of Claude Julien’s hiring hasn’t been as rosy as he would have liked. The team is 1-2, with one shutout (against) and the one win coming in a shootout.
That’s hardly inspiring.
So, the Habs aren’t sellers and shouldn’t be buyers, which makes moving Plekanec probably the best bet for a GM who is likely eager to keep up appearances right now. Plekanec has become a waste of cap space, with just 23 points to his name this season. Consider that his cap hit ($6 million) is more than those of Phillip Danault, Paul Byron and Alex Galchenyuk put together, with each of those having scored more than the Czech centerman this season.
Reputation and Intangibles
As a result, Bergevin won’t be able to get much in return. However, when you may be secretly hoping he gets taken in the upcoming expansion draft, getting anything at all for the 34-year-old would certainly be an impressive coup. It’s just a matter of selling the player’s reputation and intangibles over the actual player.
Simple enough. After all, veterans like Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan are potentially going to get moved, maybe even for 150 cents on the dollar. And both are older and have fewer points to their names this season.
Admittedly, you may be thinking something to the effect of, “You can’t lump in Plekanec with those two. They’re proven competitors.” That may be true (emphasis on the may), but what’s just as true is this: Not one of them has ever won a Cup and Plekanec is the only one under 35 and under contract for next season. The question is whether that works for the Habs or against them, considering Plekanec’s meager offensive contributions this year.
How Far They Fall
When Plekanec signed his latest two-year, $12 million extension in 2015, he was in the midst of one of his usual torrid starts to the season. He scored 23 points and seven goals in his first 23 games. He scored 31 the rest of the way. So, even though Bergevin’s intentions were good, to lock up a Habs lifer who had still been producing, his timing could have been better.
Coincidentally stuck on those exact same numbers (23 and 7) at Game No. 61 heading into Saturday night’s action, it’s become clear that Plekanec just isn’t the same player. That’s even taking into account how he’s been notoriously inconsistent. In 2007-08, he scored 69 points. In 2008-09? Just 39. He then rebounded for a career-high 70 in 2009-10.
Because of his age, it’s almost inconceivable this is just another one of those down seasons. It’s definitely not for lack of opportunity. In fact, he’s seen more total ice time than the team’s current No. 1 center, Phillip Danault. Ironically, one can logically surmise his struggles are indirectly related to the degree at which the Habs lean on him, or, more accurately, have leaned on him since 2005-06.
Anything Else But a HabAs such, it will be sad to see Plekanec go. However, whether it’s at the trade deadline, during the expansion draft, or, in a worst-case scenario, the end of next season when the Habs inevitably opt not to re-sign him, he will be going.
By the point at which his contract runs out, Plekanec will be set to turn 36. There’s still a market for players of that age. Iginla (39) and Doan (40) can attest to that. So, what once might have seemed inconceivable—Plekanec retiring from the NHL as anything else but a Hab—will most likely become a reality.
That would be less than ideal, but only because moving him right now might facilitate the acquisition of alternative assets, perhaps even the Arizona Coyotes’ Martin Hanzal, to whom the Habs have been linked.
Now, in spite of his 6-foot-6 frame and defensive awareness, Hanzal is far from a stud and would only serve to replace Plekanec as a rental. When the time has come though that the status as a rental relative to Plekanec can be seen as an asset, you know it’s time to cut bait.
Bergevin has a lot of hard decisions coming up, not the least of which will be whether or not to move Plekanec, but only from a sentimental standpoint. It would actually be one of the easiest moves…provided he can find a taker.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.