Rabid Habs

The Curious Case Of Tomas Plekanec

Habs Tomas Plekanec La Presse

At 32 years of age, Tomas Plekanec is the elder statesman among all Canadiens forwards. His 761 regular season games represent a tremendous amount of experience on a club where the average age of each forward projects to be under 25 years.

Tomas Plekanec – Future Montreal Canadien

Plekanec has often been defined as a two-way player, however, his 60 points in 2014-15 was the second highest total in his career and second only to Max Pacioretty among all Habs forwards. Further, Plekanec’s 2014-15 point total was 50th overall in the NHL and 25th among all centre icemen. Although the points don’t jump off the screen as being overly impressive, it is worth noting that only five players eclipsed the 80-point plateau and few, if any, played with a greater combination of wingers.

All this to say, Plekanec remains a valued member of the Montreal Canadiens. As he continues to age, his role may become chiefly defensive and he may project as a third line centre within two years, however, this shouldn’t mask the fact that he is a valued member of the organization and his loss would create a void that would not be easily replaced.

In fact, it is the result of his durability that the Habs have not gotten to know life without #14 in the lineup. In the past nine years, Plekanec has missed a total of 12 games, or an average of 1.3 per season.

Paired with Max Pacioretty on the penalty kill, Plekanec helped to create offensive chances in this defensive role. Only four players had more short-handed goals than Plekanec’s three and only one team (the Rangers) boasted two players (Nash and Stepan) with more points (10) than Plekanec and Pacioretty combined for (9).

Metrics aside, Plekanec remains an excellent skater, however, it is his on-ice vision and anticipation that allows him to sustain his success at even strength and while killing penalties. His quick wrist shot continues to evade goaltenders who have trouble with the release point and subsequently picking up the puck once it has left his stick.

Tomas Plekanec – Former Montreal Canadien

Plekanec turns 33 in October, shortly after the puck drops to open the 2015-16 NHL season. At 33, players traditionally begin a descent as their production begins to decrease. Although Plekanec scored 60 points last season, it is unlikely that he could match or exceed this total going forward.

Although it is likely that Plekanec could adjust to a new role on the third line, it is hard to imagine that his agent will accept a deal that pays him third line money. At 33, Plekanec will be looking for a contract that could exceed five years and $30 million dollars, payment that would be based entirely on what he has accomplished and not what he will accomplish.

Therein lies the greatest issue; pay for performance. Players’ performance is most greatly tested in the postseason, an area in which Plekanec has struggled to find consistency.

Following his 60-point regular season performance during the 2014-15 campaign, Plekanec struggled in the playoffs, notching four points in 12 games. During his career, Plekanec has averaged .66 points per game in the regular season, but only .57 in the playoffs. He has scored five goals in his last 34 playoff games, while his point per game average over this same time frame (last three seasons) has decreased to .50 (during the playoffs), while his regular season average remains almost unchanged (.65 points per game during his last three seasons vs a career average of .66).

These postseason struggles are magnified on a team searching for offence. Should the Canadiens wish to push forward into the Stanley Cup final, they will need greater production from the centre ice position and questions remain as to whether or not Plekanec can deliver in the playoffs.

Ultimately, the fate of Tomas Plekanec may rest upon his contract demands. So much as fans develop a deeply rooted loyalty to a brand, franchise and player, the sport remains a business. Should Plekanec be willing to accept a 2-3 year extension with a salary equal to or less than his existing contract ($5 million annually) then I believe that he will remain a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

Andrei Markov’s recent three-year extension, signed last June, could be a model during this negotiation. Markov accepted a three year term, at the exact same annual salary as his previous contract ($5.75 million annually). A 2-3 year deal would help the organization as the short term structure would allow for payroll balance should Plekanec shift into a third line role. Future contracts could then be adjusted accordingly.

However, should Plekanec wish to push the issue and seek payment equal to or greater than what he might expect on the open market, his demands may ultimately force a trade. I have every reason to believe that Plekanec could command as much as $6 million annually on a five-year term. As much as he may love Montreal, $15 million dollars (the difference between a three-year deal at $5 million annually and a five-year deal at $6 million annually) is a whole lot of money.

I would love to have Plekanec continue his career with the Montreal Canadiens. However, the combination of his most recent playoff performances, his age and his potential salary demands lead me to believe that he could be in play. Much like Markov, I believe Marc Bergevin would resist the urge to move Plekanec if the Canadiens are in a position to qualify for the postseason.

Plekanec’s fate rests almost entirely upon the success of the Canadiens this season. So much as Bergevin has stated publicly that his goal is only to qualify for the postseason, behind closed doors this leadership team has to be thinking big. The organization has established depth and built a prospect pool that is among the 10 best in the league, especially impressive considering the number of draft picks and the position upon which these selections have been made.

With a young core in their prime, the Habs should be among the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Injuries could derail their push forward, but their depth could sustain short term losses to even key members of the forward or defensive group. What role Plekanec plays in this process remains to be seen. Unfortunately for Tomas, despite his body of work, his future could be decided in the boardroom and not on the ice.

Worst Case Scenario 

I have not discussed what could be the very worst case scenario – that Plekanec neither re-signs nor is he dealt. The thought of losing such a valuable asset without compensation is troubling and should not be an option. So much as I may not wish to have Plekanec re-signed for five more years, the alternative (losing him via free agency without compensation) is a worst case scenario. Where Bergevin erred with Markov was by waiting.

Although we aren’t aware of either contract or trade negotiations with Markov, by leaving the file open until June, Bergevin was left with little choice but to concede and yield to Markov’s demand for the third year.

The final consideration will be the pending 2016 class of unrestricted free agents led by forwards Anze Kopitar, Steven Stamkos and Jakub Voracek. These players have the ability to adjust the landscape and could alter a team’s short and long term plans.

The Plekanec file will be very interesting and could provide continued speculation into the new year.

Internal factors, external factors – heck, the lunar cycle – could ultimately decide the future of Tomas Plekanec. I have attempted to provide insight helping to illustrate both the pros and cons of keeping our aging asset. Unfortunately, fans who suggest that I want to retain a player’s services on my terms, as I have done above, are not always factoring all considerations logically.

Sure, I would love to have a pizza, but I can’t determine the price exclusively. Market forces establish parameters and ultimately decisions reside with the buyer based on needs, availability and cost among other secondary factors. Bergevin and the leadership team will have a decision to make and, as noted above, the team’s standing should go a very long way to determining Plekanec’s future as a Montreal Canadien.

Here’s to hoping the Habs can continue their recent success and carry this forward into the playoffs where it matters most. No player may stand to benefit more from an extended playoff run than Tomas Plekanec. And no group of fans may appreciate a Stanley Cup more than those supporters of the Montreal Canadiens. I hope we can all agree on that!

I welcome your feedback. What do you think? Will Plekanec be re-signed or could he be traded? Please consider sharing your feedback with me on twitter @rabidhabs_CJ.

One Comment

  1. djcboyz

    July 27, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    I highly doubt the Habs even try to resign him. Age + his contract demand (by the way he deserves a good contract) will mean he gets traded at the trade deadline. I believe Eller is ready & deserves a real opportunity at the second line centre. I think he could produce similar point totals to Pleky. You should be able to a nice return for Pleky, probably to a Western team.
    Thanks Pleky but at age 33 & declining skills, $6 mil/season on a multi year deal is too much. Good luck, it’s time to get younger & with more upside.