Hanging The Turtleneck

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Sunrise Florida, June 23rd, 2001. With their first round pick, the Montreal Canadiens are happy to select… from the University of Michigan, Mike Komisarek. With their second first round pick, the Canadiens select… from Avangard Omsk (Russia), Alexander Perezhogin. Quebec National holiday, the St-Jean Baptiste is in full course, June 24th, 2001, same location. The 37th overall pick belongs to the Montreal Canadiens who select… from the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, Duncan Milroy. All this time, there’s a young Czech wondering if his name will be called to fulfil his dream to play in the highest caliber league in the world, the National Hockey League, in North America.

He had to wait to pick number 71 in the third round, before his name is finally called. With their third round pick, the Montreal Canadiens select… from HC Rabat Kladno in Czech Republic, Tomas Plekanec. For those who are curious, the Canadiens also selected in this draft, Finnish defenseman Martti Jarventie, center Eric Himelfarb (Sarnia, OHL), defenseman Andrew Archer (Guelph, OHL) and another Czech, right-winger Viktor Ujcik. Who would have thought back then that Plekanec would be not only the longest serving Canadiens, but the one playing the most NHL games of that group? As a matter of fact, Plekanec played more NHL games (1,001) than the seven other players combined by a wide margin (685)!

“It’s great in many ways. He scored the goal, it’s his 1,000th game. We win the game. There’s all the reasons in the world for him to be happy and have a real good souvenir about his 1,000th game. He looked like a guy who had drank from the fountain of youth tonight. He was really skating well. He had lots of energy. You could see he was excited to play his 1,000th game and he wanted it to be a real good memory for him. So I really liked his game.” ~ Claude Julien

We’re not going to put you through his career highlights, plenty of other blogs and/or media outlet have done so or will do so in the next little while. Here, I simply want to thank Plekanec for the person that he is, the true and true professional that he is, and what he stands for. Over his long NHL career, he has had a multitude of different wingers ranging from high end Alexei Kovalev, to some grinding forwards. He was asked to play an offensive role and always did so by being very reliable in his own end. As a matter of fact, had the definition of the Selke Trophy not changed to become yet another offensive award (Pavel Datsyuk won it while not playing on the penalty kill), Plekanec probably should have won a few.

Never a peep about him in the media which, in Montreal, is almost unheard of. One of the first guys at the rink, on the ice, one of the last off the ice. He has always taken good care of himself. Quiet leader, he cherished teaching the ropes to young players. Plekanec took Artturi Lehkonen under his wing when he broke into the league and just recently, Charles Hudon was praising his return to the organization after a stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season as Plekanec was a mentor to him last year. Pleky1000

There was (and still is) a mutual respect between Plekanec and team General Manager Marc Bergevin and many believe that when he was traded to Toronto at the trade deadline last season, there was a verbal agreement that Pleky, as his teammates call him, would return this season to play his 1,000th game in a Habs’ uniform, a game in which he will have scored his last goal in the NHL. Fun fact: new Canadiens’ sensation Jesperi Kotkaniemi was born the year Plekanec was drafted.

It is with mixed feelings that I watch him retire in mid-season. Part of me is thrilled that he was brought back to play this milestone in a Habs’ uniform. Part of me is sad to see him fade away without winning a Cup with the team where his heart has been since June 2001. So long Pleky. On a team so rich in history, you may not have accomplished enough to get your jersey number 14 retired in the rafters in Montreal, but your blue turtleneck will be hanging in the hearts of Habs’ fans for a long, long time. Go Habs Go! 

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Top Cheese: June 2018 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the NHL Draft is fast approaching and the Canadiens are set to make a splash, whether it be by trade or by drafting up to 5 times in the first two rounds. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Rumours, rumours and more rumours and that, both from our traditional nameless rumouroids and by more reputable hockey insiders. What will John Tavares do? If not Tavares, who will play at the centre position next season? Will Shea Weber finally have a defense partner worthy of logging quality minutes on his side? Will the Habs start the season with the same captain? So many questions, all of which should be answered within the next few weeks. Exciting times to say the least.

But before we get too deep into the Canadiens’ situation, the shameful presence of an expansion team reaching the Stanley Cup finals is now over and Alexander Ovechkin‘s liver is taking a major league beating as he and his Washington Capitals have ended the 2017-2018 season on a high, taking away the Cup from Gary Bettman. Whoo-hoo! Who cares?… aside from a few who still hold a grudge against Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin that is.

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Yes, some attention-seeking media personalities and constantly disgruntled ‘fans’ have ensured to point out to whoever would listen to their cries, that former Habs Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly have raised the Cup and were key contributors in the finals. One can see the point in regretting losing Eller, due to the fact that the Canadiens are looking for centres but Smith-Pelly? Really folks? The guy who was released by the New Jersey Devils not all that long ago? The guy who, while in Montreal, enjoyed the nightlife a little too much, along with a few young quality players? The guy who managed eight points in 24 games in the playoffs and 16 points all year in the regular season? If you genuinely think that this guy is missed in Montreal, give your head a shake.

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And onto the beloved Canadiens… Unless you live under a rock, you have certainly heard or read Montreal reporter Mathias Brunet speculate on his beliefs that perhaps the Habs should go after Milan Lucic. For the record, Lucic managed 10 goals with the offensively gifted Edmonton Oilers last year. Further, he carries a contract on which he is still owed five more years with a cap hit of $6 million… and some people in Montreal complain about Andrew Shaw?

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Milan Lucic

Even if the Oilers sweetened the pot by adding value to the trade and/or taking back a ‘bad contract’, what good would Lucic, who can’t keep up with today’s fast paced NHL, bring to the team? The Habs need centres, not left wingers. I don’t have a problem with overpaying for a player but if you overpay, at least do it to fill a team’s need! In other words, I can see overpaying for a Ryan O’Reilly or a Oscar Klefbom, but not for Lucic. It makes absolutely zero sens.

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But wait… what if Bergevin managed to talk Peter Chiarelli to, in addition to Lucic, include the 10th overall pick at this year’s Draft? If you keep Lucic, it doesn’t change that his contract is an albatros and should not be touched. The only way it might make sense is if the Canadiens managed to use that 10th overall or their own 3rd overall to get a quality centre. For example, if the Oilers’ 10th overall pick was included in a package to land O’Reilly? After that, be creative and find a way to trade Lucic for a bag of puck. See NOW you’re addressing a need and now it’s starting to make some sense. But folks, don’t read it as a rumour because as of now, it’s only an idea thrown out there by Mr. Brunet.

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There are a few NHL insiders worth listening to and Bob McKenzie comes at the top of the crop. So when he came out to say that the Canadiens had some sort of interest in pending UFA Jack Johnson, one should listen… although how often does information leaks from Bergevin and his crew? It makes me wonder where that came from. But seriously, is Johnson really the solution for the Habs?  Wouldn’t it be preferable to find a mobile defenseman instead? I’m hoping that Johnson is not Bergevin’s target. As mentioned in a couple of previous articles, there are plenty of choices out there either via free agency or even by trade. But for for me, Johnson is not one of them.

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For some odd reason, it’s all over Twitter: Habs’ fans wishing for the team to draft left-winger Brady Tkachuk, in hope to turn him into a centre. Yes, you’ve heard it right folks. In all due respect, Those people must have a very short memory. The team still has a player that they drafted in hope that he would become a top-notch centre and they had to scrap the experiment. Yes, we’re talking about Alex Galchenyuk. But then again, there is another one, Mike McCarron, who is trying to turn into an NHL player, let alone a top-end centerman. Last but not least, people were all over Bergevin for trading Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, only to ask him to learn to play centre. When do we stop with the experiments and pick players who are used to their position? Lets hope that the organization has learned.

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Tomas Plekanec

There is no denying that Tomas Plekanec would like to return to the Canadiens. He loved his time in Montreal and would like to finish his career in his notorious number 14. Plekanec is 35 and will be turning 36 by October so his next contract will count against the cap no matter what happens. The Czech only managed six goals and 24 points in 60 games with the Habs and the Leafs last season, but he was one of the few players on his team to have some pretty good playoffs.

Beyond the points, Plekanec is only two games away from reaching the prestigious plateau of 1,000 NHL games and what better story than to see him do it with the Canadiens? While he has lost his offense, he knows Claude Julien‘s system to a tee and he is still very reliable defensively and on the penalty kill. Many fans would like to see him back for one last season if he is willing to take a substantial pay cut from the $6 million he was making.

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Something else made the news recently: the infamous ‘concussion protocol’ and the Canadiens were named as one of the teams fined for not respecting the NHL’s protocol in that regard. Of course, those who have an agenda against the current organisation took full advantage of the situation to run with it, conveniently forgetting that George Gillett was the owner and Bob Gainey the GM back then.

That aside, anyone who has had concussions and/or have coached or played a competitive sports will tell you that it’s very easy for players to fool the coaches, even the medical staff. More often than not, a concussion is not easy to diagnose, particularly in pro sports when players are so competitive that they will go to great extends to get back on the ice, on the field, on the track, on the bull… and that, even with the baseline tests. You need an MRI to determine the gravity of the brain injury and teams don’t have one readily available. So let’s take a deep breath before accusing anyone. More often than not, players are driving the bus here.

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Last week, I created a poll on both this website and on a pin on my Twitter account. The question was simple: I was asking the fans what they thought the future of Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty was, in their opinion. Here’s what you guys think:

I guess we will see…

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Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman

We like to complain about the Habs but come to think of it, this organisation is in great shape… particularly if you compare it with what’s going on down the road in Ottawa! The team’s downward spiral after a great playoffs run is worse than what the Canadiens have done… There have been rumours up to the trade deadline surrounding team captain Erik Karlsson‘s future with the team. Then former captain Daniel Alfredsson comes out and publicly states that the Sens need a new owner, a direct shot at Eugene Melnyk. Not judging if he’s right or wrong, but coming from Alfredsson, that’s a statement that stirred the pot for sure. As if it wasn’t enough, assistant-GM Randy Lee was arrested in Buffalo and charged with second-degree harassment after allegedly inappropriately touching and making lewd comments toward a hotel employee. To top it all up, there’s the story of Karlsson’s wife, who filed a protection order against her husband’s teammate Mike Hoffman‘s girlfriend. I will spare you the details but that one is very nasty. So before you complain about your favourite team, Habs’ fans, look around you a little bit.

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The Canadiens and their fans are all-in, perhaps more than they were over the Stanley Cup finals, as the future of the team – and perhaps GM Bergevin – will be played in the next few days, or weeks. Here are some of the key dates coming up:

  • June 15-30 – Last chance for NHL teams to buyout their bad contracts
  • June 22 – The NHL Draft. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy the excitement!
  • June 24 – NHL players scheduled to become UFA’s can talk to other teams
  • July 1st – The UFA market officially opens, and players with one year remaining to their existing contracts can sign an extension (Pacioretty, OEL, Karlsson…)

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, take your seat, buckle your seatbelt and hang on to your hat and your popcorn as the next few weeks promise to be filled with excitement… something that has been lacking all season long with the Canadiens, let’s admit it. Enjoy the ride! Go Habs Go!!!