MONTREAL — Marc Bergevin is well within reason to consider signing Tomas Plekanec to a new contract. But if he doesn’t trade the 35-year-old by this year’s Feb. 26 deadline, it should be the last decision he makes as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
You can see the merit in paying Plekanec a couple million bucks to return to Montreal on a one-year deal. The Canadiens have arguably the weakest centre line in the NHL — and he’s the best they’ve got on the defensive side of the puck. But that’s a decision for July 1; not one for right now, when Bergevin should be working as hard as he needs to in order to redeem a second-round draft pick for Plekanec’s services.
He’s worth at least that.
“I think his production may have diminished a bit, but his intelligence and his experience is still there,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien following his team’s 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
Plekanec’s speed is still intact, too.
It makes him a viable candidate for a shutdown role on any team hoping to make an extended run in this year’s playoffs — and a real good fit on a couple of the teams considered to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
The market could be considerable for this player.
We could see the Pittsburgh Penguins taking a swing at Plekanec, pushing Riley Sheehan down a line and giving them the four-pronged strength up the middle that has been instrumental in helping them win consecutive Cups.
We could also see the Vegas Golden Knights paying the price to add his experience to the mix, as they prepare for their opportunity to become the NHL’s first expansion team to win in its inaugural season. Ideally they’d like to keep all their draft picks, but giving up their only second-round pick this season might be a sacrifice they’re willing to make knowing they own three second rounders in 2019.
The Tampa Bay Lightning might take a chance on Plekanec. He offers them the flexibility to play Matthew Peca or Cedric Paquette at wing and helps mitigate the loss of their best defensive forward in Ondrej Palat, who’s slated to miss at least five more weeks — and as many as seven — with a lower-body injury.
You can probably add the Columbus Blue Jackets to the mix, too. They could use some depth up the middle and perhaps that’s why two of their scouts took in both matinees at the Bell Centre over the weekend.
And the San Jose Sharks are sitting in second place of the Pacific Division, having to fend off the Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks without centre Joe Thornton available to them — possibly for the remainder of the regular season after undergoing knee surgery on Jan. 25. If Plekanec could help them stem the tide, they could get Thornton back and roll into the playoffs with a centre line that could have them viably compete with any Western Conference opponent.
That Bergevin has enough room under the cap to eat as much of Plekanec’s prorated $6-million salary as any acquiring team would want him to should only help him redeem the return he’s after in a trade.
“He’s a very reliable player, and from time to time he’s capable of giving us some production, too,” said Julien.
He’s not wrong.
No one would argue Plekanec’s still the player who managed seven seasons of 20 goals or more and six of 50 points or more, but he has five goals and 20 points in 53 games on a Canadiens team that can’t score. He’s managed that offence without playing on either of the team’s power-play units, without starting less than 67 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone, and he’s managed to do it without cheating on his nightly responsibilities of having to face the opposition’s best forwards.
Plus-minus is rarely a representative statistic, but it certainly is in Plekanec’s case when you consider all of the above. That he’s in the black at plus-2 speaks to his reliability.
Plekanec has also won 52.1 per cent of his faceoffs this season and done an admirable job on Montreal’s top penalty-killing unit with Paul Byron.
The Kladno, Czech Republic native was selected by Montreal 71st overall in 2001. He has played 974 regular-season games and 87 playoff games in a Canadiens uniform, and on Sunday he recorded his 600th NHL point by setting up Artturi Lehkonen with a brilliant pass before hitting 601 with a goal of his own against Senators goaltender Mike Condon.
Only 12 other players in the rich history of the Canadiens — most of them Hall of Famers — have recorded more points than Plekanec has.
“Whoever told me that, I would not believe it and I’d think they were crazy. But it’s definitely nice and I’m really happy about it,” said Plekanec on Sunday about reaching 13th on the Canadiens’ all-time scoring list. “I’m not a numbers guy. I’m not big on stats, but it’s a good feeling.”
It doesn’t have to be the last one he enjoys in a Canadiens uniform.
Perhaps Plekanec will have one or two more over the coming weeks. And if he wishes to return in July, there’s reason to believe he’ll be welcomed back with open arms.
But if the Canadiens — who are playing out the string of a lost season and are in desperate need of futures — don’t take advantage of Plekanec’s trade value between now and Feb. 26, Bergevin should be the one sent packing.