Plekanec contract comes with no illusions for player, team

Watch as the Montreal Canadiens celebrates another season and home opener with the great tradition of passing the torch to teammates.

BROSSARD, Que.— Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien bristled at off-season speculation that Tomas Plekanec wouldn’t be part of the team’s long-term plans.

“For us, the management group and the coaching staff, we knew where we were going with this particular case,” Therrien said Friday. “If you don’t have a player like [Plekanec], who do you replace him with?”

If general manager Marc Bergevin had a name in mind, the two-year extension worth $12 million he gave Plekanec Friday might not have been presented. The deal will keep the Kladno, Cze., native from testing unrestricted free agency in July.

The announcement came 15 days shy of his 33rd birthday. He was notified of the details as he was lacing up his skates to hop on as the only veteran participating in a very optional practice Friday morning.

Plekanec was quietly going about his business on the ice when captain Max Pacioretty rushed from the massage therapist’s table to the players’ bench to spread the news of his teammate’s signing.

“He’s so sneaky,” said Pacioretty. “He’s walking around here all morning, he doesn’t say a word, doesn’t show anything about it, so I’m going to go out there and embarrass him. … I yelled it on the ice and he got all red. He’s so humble.”

Humility is only one aspect of Plekanec’s worth to the Canadiens. His consistency as a seven-time 20-plus goal scorer, his versatility as one of the league’s best defensive forwards, and his leadership are the qualities that have kept him with the team that drafted him 71st overall in 2001.

There’s nothing flashy about Plekanec’s game, nothing overly creative, either. But the 2014-15 season was one of four in which he’s recorded more than 55 points.

Five games into the 2015-16 season, Plekanec is tied for the team lead with four goals.

“Play the odds, give yourself an opportunity,” said Pacioretty of his linemate’s simple style of play. “If you get in tight and have a chance to score, why try and make the extra move when you can get a shot off? He’s a good role model for that.”

Therrien agreed with the captain’s assessment, saying he’ll often use Plekanec’s work in video analysis to identify good playing habits for his younger pupils to abide by.

Obviously he’s a fan, but if the coach was hoping this new deal would nullify uncertainty regarding Plekanec’s long-term future with the team, that’s unlikely to happen. The contract extension does not include trade protection in the form of a no-movement or no-trade clause.

“We can’t control speculation,” said Therrien.

With the Canadiens looking more and more like Stanley Cup contenders, the possibility they eventually parlay Plekanec’s value into acquiring a more proven playoff performer is one that must still be considered.

Plekanec hasn’t found a way to raise his game to the level expected of him in hockey’s spring season. His one-goal and three-assist performance in last year’s playoffs despite averaging 20:16 in 12 games was a continuation of a career-long pattern.

“I’m comfortable here, and if ever Marc [Bergevin] comes in and asks me something, we’ll talk about that,” said Plekanec, who also stated he didn’t request any trade protection be included in his new deal.

Whether or not a trade happens this year, a conversation between the Canadiens general manager and one of his most tenured players is more than likely to occur before this extension runs its course. Emerging centre Alex Galchenyuk will be due for a major pay raise after his two-year, $5.6-million contract expires in June of 2017. And with Plekanec in the fold, the Canadiens already have $45 million committed to just 10 players for the 2017-18 season — the last year on superstar goaltender Carey Price’s contract.

Plekanec’s under no illusions about what the future may bring, but he won’t waste his energy thinking about it. Whatever happens, he’ll be $12 million richer by the time he turns 35.

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