Figuring to be sellers at the 2018 NHL trade deadline, the Montreal Canadiens have a few players they could be in the market to move prior to mid-afternoon on Feb. 26. Max Pacioretty is the most impactful player who could go, but there’s another who would fit in a smaller, and very specific place on a contender and end up making a difference.
Even though Tomas Plekanec‘s offensive totals have fallen off a cliff the past two seasons, don’t overlook the value he could add to a lineup. As long as he’s brought in for a bottom-six role down the middle, Plekanec could be just the kind of relatively cheap, complement player for an already strong unit. If you need a penalty-killer, someone who can win more than half his draws, and play in a defence-oriented role, Plekanec is a great target. And make no mistake, he should be traded before he becomes a UFA at age 35.
Assessing the defensive-centre market is tricky because for the most part, there are so few available. While there are all kinds of scoring wingers to be had that are shaping a buyer’s market for that skill, you can count the number of defensive centres on one hand. So while Plekanec comes with a hefty cap hit, declining point totals and has a narrow role, the price could come up if a bidding war starts.
Heck, there’s still a chance GM Marc Bergevin elects to re-sign the centre rather than trade him.
Assuming the Canadiens would be willing to retain any amount of Plekanec’s salary (he has a $6-million cap hit on an expiring contract, which pro-rates to a $1.3-million cap hit at the deadline) to get the assets they want in return, we’re exploring a list of playoff teams that could be interested in adding Plekanec by the deadline.
With the exception of Phil Kessel, if you look at the trades made by Penguins GM Jim Rutherford in his time with the team, most of his acquisitions have been complementary pieces that have worked out very well. There’s Justin Schultz, picked up at the 2016 deadline, who finally established his NHL career in Pittsburgh after floundering in Edmonton. In 2017, Rutherford picked up Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit in the lead-up to and on deadline day to shore up a thin blue line. Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino are other additions who played a role in Penguins Stanley Cup runs.
This season, the Pens may look to add a defensive centre even if Riley Sheahan (acquired earlier this season) has been playing better and getting points lately. Plekanec could be a nice subtle add to the fourth line for own-zone starts and, if injuries hit, some PK time on the NHL’s fifth-best unit. There is a modicum of offensive upside to Plekanec, too, though that’s not his primary purpose anymore. [sidebar]
The Wild allow 32.5 shots against per game, and have the second-worst 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage, per Natural Stat Trick. They could use a guy who excels on the defensive side of the puck.
Minnesota is currently using 21-year-old Joel Eriksson-Ek as its fourth-line centre, which isn’t an ideal role or amount of ice time for the young player. And there are rumblings the team could trade third-line pivot Matt Cullen (maybe even back to Pittsburgh) before the deadline, so either way it could use a player like Plekanec.
The Wild got aggressive at last year’s deadline for a defensive centre and traded a first-round pick and more for Ryan White and and Martin Hanzal. That led to a slide in March and a first-round exit against St. Louis. Still, all signs are pointing towards GM Chuck Fletcher being active to push this team forward again at this year’s deadline and in Plekanec he could potentially fill the same role at a cheaper price.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
With Joe Thornton on the sidelines, the Sharks’ bottom two centres have been Chris Tierney and Danny O’Regan. Because of the uncertainty over when Thornton will return, San Jose is a potential fit for rental Plekanec.
“There’s a shortage of centremen and that’s why Tomas Plekanec is someone of interest,” Nick Kypreos reported on Saturday’s Headlines on Hockey Night in Canada. “Pittsburgh Penguins, of course we know what depth at centre means to them the last few Stanley Cups — and also the San Jose Sharks. A lot of people questioning whether Joe Thornton will be back in time from his MCL injury to play meaningful games down the stretch. Plekanec is a guy who can at least keep them in the race.”
Plekanec might not be a primary need for a team that ranks 26th in even-strength scoring, but would be a band-aid fit for now and a great depth payoff in the playoffs. Think Adam Henrique, who was forced into a top-six role after being acquired by injury-riddled Anaheim and moved down the depth chart into a spot that fits better with his game as the roster got healthy. Now, the Ducks have a great deal of depth in their lineup.
Plekanec could similarly fit with the Sharks, so long as he ends up in the bottom six in a defensive spot.