What to Do With Plekanec

Other than the 10-0 beat down by the Columbus Blue Jackets, which we’ll discuss at a later date, there hasn’t been much for Montreal Canadiens fans to be upset about through the first part of the 2016-17 season. The Habs currently sit first in the NHL and the new faces in the lineup have fit in seamlessly. However, as much as things are going right, there’s one player that’s had an extremely disappointing start to the year.

Over the course of his career, Tomas Plekanec’s best month of the season has been October. He has some of his best statistical output in October and the quick starts help him carry that production throughout the season. What’s alarming about this season is he doesn’t yet have any production to build from. If you aren’t an avid watcher of the Canadiens, you’d think he had retired.

He played in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto as captain of Team Czech Republic and didn’t have a great showing. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, it seems that the poor play has carried over to his NHL campaign.

The First Month

The Canadiens enjoyed franchise record-breaking success in the month of October. They finished with a record of 9-0-1 and collected 19 of a possible 20 points. The same can’t be said for Tomas Plekanec, who hasn’t had any success so far.

Tomas Plekanec (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Tomas Plekanec (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Through 11 games, Plekanec has three assists and no goals. That stat line just isn’t going to cut it as a second-line centerman on a team that wants to contend for the Stanley Cup. Of course, there’s been some bad luck involved and you could say Plekanec is ‘snake-bitten’, but with the much improved surrounding cast, there should be no excuses.

“This would be a rapid fall from grace but one can’t hide too much longer from the statistic: 10 goals in 86 games”. (Brian Wilde, CTV)

The Habs have begun to move him up and down the lineup to try to get him going. He’s seen time on the second and third line with many different wingers and still no results. It’s early I know, but Plekanec has given Habs fans reason to worry. Not only does he seem to drift away as the season progresses but in the playoffs, he’s virtually invisible. If he can’t start scoring at the beginning of the season, what’s he going to look like when April comes around? It’s something the Canadiens are going to have to start to think about if this offensive slump carries over to next month.

What Needs To Be Done

At this stage in Plekanec’s career, I don’t see him more than a third line shutdown center — in fact, I think that’s the role he would excel in. His excellent two-way game gives him all the attributes to be successful in that position.

The problem with saying that is the Canadiens have too much invested in him. They have $6 million tied up with his contract this year and next and need to presumably re-sign players like Alex Galchenyuk,  Carey Price and possibly Alexander Radulov in the near future.

Bishop's future was up in the air this offseason. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)
Bishop’s future was up in the air this offseason. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

To have a third line player making that much money simply isn’t economical in a salary cap era. For the duration of the season Plekanec can fit in, but where it gets dicey is what happens later in the year with free agency and the expansion draft. If the Canadiens want to make a push for the Cup they need to add offense. Defensively they’re more than capable with shutdown centerman Torrey Mitchell and Phillip Danault to handle the bottom-six if need be.

It will be interesting to see where this goes as the season progresses and no one other than Marc Bergevin and his staff knows exactly what they want to do with Plekanec. With the future being uncertain, here’s what I predict will happen with the underachieving forward.

My Prediction

I expect the Canadiens to go after a scoring forward at the trade deadline, and specifically a centerman. Wingers like Radulov, Gallagher and Pacioretty need to play with other offensive players. At a $6 million cap hit for this season and next, Tomas Plekanec doesn’t look like he will be able to justify that salary or fit the role of an offensive centerman that the Canadiens need.

I’m not saying Tomas Plekanec is a bad player — I’m saying he suits the role of a third line center and if that’s where he is in his career then he is overpaid.

It wouldn’t shock me to see Plekanec left exposed for the expansion draft later in the year, but as for now, I don’t expect anything to be done until we go deeper into the season. For now, here’s a video of what Tomas Plekanec scoring actually looks like. Enjoy.