While they may not have provided fans and media with good hockey in some time, the Montreal Canadiens’ organisation has been very generous in issuing statements and analogies that are sticking to people’s mind. Whether it’s the comments by GM Marc Bergevin about taking 100% of the blame or his fox hole comments about his coach, or Michel Therrien’s comment about how he would like for all of his players to go home after games to eat milk and cookies, we have been pretty spoiled.
Well one of those players who we know is going home to eat his milk at cookies, a guy who is known as a true professional on and off the ice and who never gets any press for the bad reasons, it’s Tomas Plekanec. Heck, many will agree that he doesn’t even get enough press for what he does well, even.
The Canadiens’ top centre has scored at least 20 goals in seven of his last eight full seasons (not counting his 14 goals 47 games in the lockout-shortened season) and he has only missed 12 games to injuries in nine years.
However, his 46 points in 81 playoff games with a minus – 18 differential isn’t anything to brag about. The playoffs are a time of year when you expect your top players to elevate their game and Plekanec has consistently disappointed, especially when your team is counting on you as heavily as the Habs do on him. He basically seems to disappear when the game gets rougher or the checking gets tighter instead.
For some reason, Bergevin decided to re-sign Plekanec early in the season instead of waiting after the holidays. A brand new two-year, $12 million contract which, thankfully, comes without a NTC or a NMC was agreed upon on October 16, 2015. Prior to signing his extension, Plekanec was playing on the top line and had five (5) goals and seven (7) points in his first five (5) games. Since then, he has added only four (4) goals and 21 assists in his next 45 games played. Six (6) of those points came in two games, a three points performance against the Buffalo Sabres on October 23rd and three more points against the New York Rangers on November 25th. This season, he is on pace for 14 goals and 40 points. Further, he has a minus – 8 differential in his last five games.
On a team struggling to put points on the board, look no further. Plekanec leads all forwards with 18:46 of ice time per game, including 2:52 per game on the powerplay, placing him third on the team amongst forwards behind only Max Pacioretty (3:13) and Brendan Gallagher (3:10).
We keep hearing fans, particularly those who have always hated coach Michel Therrien’s guts, claim that he preaches a “defensive” system which prevents offensive creativity. Ironically Plekanec, who happens to be inside the dressing room, in meetings and on the ice during practices, disagrees. He says that he has never played a style of hockey that was as aggressive on puck recovery as the one the Canadiens have played under Therrien.
“If we make plays at the right time, we have all the freedom in the world. I never heard the coach saying you can’t beat your guy 1-on-1, but if you make a turnover at the blue line and get scored on, that’s not how to make a play. If you look at all the guys like [Jonathan] Toews, [Patrick] Kane and those guys, they make those plays, but you don’t see too many turnovers from those guys. When there’s no play, they just chip it in. There’s nothing wrong with chipping the pucks in the zone and wait for the right time to make that play. I don’t think we have any structure of not making those plays.”
Considering that Plekanec has also been a part of multiple international competitions, which include the World Junior Championships, the World Championships and the Winter Olympics, it says a lot folks.
Now what is Bergevin to do with Plekanec considering the team’s poor performances? Does he have any value on the trade market? Would someone agree to take on the 33 year-old $6 million per season contract over the next two years? Time will tell, but as I’ve been saying for a long time now, this team must improve down the middle if they hope to become a serious contender, Carey Price in or out. And there are only so many players to turn to if the team needs to shed some salary…