Pacioretty, Plekanec may not return from road trip with Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault opens up about dealing with vertigo during recovery from his concussion, and about Zdeno Chara’s great gesture to check up on him during his recovery.

BROSSARD, Que. — You have to wonder if either one — or both — of Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec have played their last games at Bell Centre as members of the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens are on their way to Denver, where they’ll take on the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday. Then they’re off to Arizona, Las Vegas and Philadelphia before returning to Montreal on Feb. 21, just five days ahead of the NHL’s trade deadline. There’s a chance both Pacioretty and Plekanec will still be members of the team by then, and there’s a chance both will remain through to the end of the season — and perhaps even beyond.

But there’s also a chance either one of them will be traded between now and Feb. 26. It’s a distinct possibility both will move, considering the Canadiens are 10 points out of a playoff spot and in such desperate need to accumulate assets that can help them avoid being in a similar position at this time next year.

It’s the end of an era if things end up playing out that way. We’re talking about two players who were drafted and developed by the Canadiens, and two of the three longest-serving, active members of the team (goaltender Carey Price is the other).

Plekanec was selected 71st overall in 2001, spent three full seasons with Montreal’s AHL affiliate, and has now appeared in 976 regular-season games with the Canadiens. It was just a week ago that the alternate captain breached 600 points in their uniform, becoming the 13th-highest scorer in team history.

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Pacioretty was chosen 22nd overall in 2007, and he has since become Montreal’s most prominent goal scorer over the 617 regular-season games he’s spent in a Canadiens uniform. He was named captain in September of 2015.

Both players have had their triumphs with the only NHL club they’ve ever played for. Plekanec registered seven seasons of 20 goals or more and six of 50 points or more. Pacioretty has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last five full NHL seasons (and he had 15 in the lockout-abridged 2012-13 season).

Both players have had their tribulations, too.

Plekanec’s struggles in the 2008 playoffs, when he famously quipped he was, “playing like a little girl,” after posting a career-high 29 goals and 69 points in the regular season, certainly come to mind. And Pacioretty’s career will forever be marked by the events of March 8, 2011, when he was left concussed and two fractured vertebrae in his neck after Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara slammed him into a Bell Centre stanchion.

But both players came through those bouts of adversity with flying colours, and both of them have served the organization exceptionally well — on and off the ice — ever since. To think this could be the end of the road for either one of them in a Canadiens uniform is a sad reality to for them and their fans to face.

It’s a tough one to consider for their teammates, too.

“It would be weird if Pleky left, for sure. I grew up watching him,” said Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin. “Just having him here as a veteran and as my teammate has been special. It’s weird, in general, having a guy as a teammate one day and then next day he’s gone. Same goes for Patch. It definitely would be strange if we go on a road trip and our captain doesn’t come back from it.

“But anyone can get traded. I’ve gotten traded (from Tampa Bay to Montreal in June of 2017). If Wayne Gretzky was traded, anyone can get traded at some point. You try not to think about it, but it’s just how life goes.”

It can’t be easy living with the uncertainty.

Both Plekanec and Pacioretty have admitted as much over the last number of weeks, with their names cycling through the rumour mill since November. Neither were available on Monday to discuss the reality that their days with the organization could be numbered, but you can imagine how distracting those thoughts might get for them as we edge ever closer to the deadline.

“From my end of it, we’re all pros and I’ve said that before,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “Whether you’re a coach or whether you’re a player, there’s times where that kind of comes along the way, so you have to be able to manage it in a way where you focus on what you can control. And as far as a player is concerned, he’s got to focus on controlling his game and doing everything he can because the other part he has absolutely no control on. So I think it’s to their benefit to really focus on that because a lot of times they stress out and then at times the trade deadline goes by and nothing happens, so they wasted a lot of time stressing out.

“So if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Very seldom have I seen a player go from one place to another and say, ‘Oh, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.’ Everybody adapts to where they are and they find ways to make themselves happy and proud to be playing for that team.”

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