MONTREAL, QC. — At 33 years of age, having spent his entire NHL career with the Canadiens, Tomas Plekanec is signed to a two-year extension which will expire at the end of the 2017-’18 season. With the likes of Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon and possibly Nikita Scherbak developing in the wings, the Czech center’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed for eternity. As Plekanec’s contract is fading, his utility to the team that drafted him is not as crucial as one might think.
Plekanec, the longest-tenured Canadiens’ core forward, has been a member of the organization since 2002, playing in the NHL on a full-time basis since 2005. The Czech’s $12 million contract extension was agreed upon early on last season, preceded by constant fan discussion regarding the centreman’s future in Montreal. With the farm system slowly developing centres as his contract comes to an end, the debate on Plekanec’s usefulness could be reaching a precipice.
Seldom having offensively-minded wingers, the 33-year old has been a mainstay atop the organization’s point total since his beginnings in the NHL. Since 2007-08, Plekanec has been within the team’s top three point-getters six times, including last season, leading centres in points five times. He led the team in point during the 2009-’10 and 2010-’11 seasons.
Despite mal-sentiment aimed at his way from certain sources about his playoff performance, Plekanec has led Habs centres in points during three out of the last four post-season runs, Detractors of the Czech forward often overlook his defensive prowess and the role that he is assigned by the coaching staff.
In recent years, Plekanec has spent the majority of his time on the team’s second line, with David Desharnais superceding him on the roster. However, in 2015-16, Plekanec occupied the team’s number one center position for an elongated period of time prior to the emergence of Alex Galchenyuk.
With Plekanec playing out of place a good deal of the time, unrealistic expectations surfaced about the 5-foot-11-inch, two-way forward. Among forwards that played at least 65 games last season, Plekanec recorded the second-lowest scoring chances against per 60 minutes (SCA/60) at 8.56, with Lars Eller being the only one to best him. Plekanec is also the team’s premier offensive shot-blocker with 46 last season, nine better than Max Pacioretty. Since 2007, Plekanec has the organization’s second-lowest Corsi-against per 60 at 58.92. Utility-man Glen Metropolit is the only one to have superior numbers in that category.
However, Tomas Plekanec might not be as defensively astute as one might presume from watching him play on a nightly basis. In several advanced analytics categories, the former 71st overall pick is constantly ranked in the bottom portion of the team. In addition, despite the glowing numbers last season, Plekanec’s SCA/60 has been among the worst in the organization for nine years prior to 2015-16.
As for the category of shots against per 60, Plekanec has been among the worst in the organization over the past three years with 31.75 SA/60. Interestingly, Alex Galchenyuk has been better than Plekanec in the aforementioned categories since 2013-14.
The Team Czech Republic captain also has other stats that call into question his defensive prowess. Since the first full season following the lockout, Plekanec has the organization’s worst expected goals against. Even when weighing it against ice time, he is still among the worst on the organization, in the realm of Rene Bourque, Ryan White and Daniel Briere. Once again, Galchenyuk is superior in this category.
These porous defensive stats can be attributed to his quality of competition. Over the past three years, Plekanec has the second-highest TOI QoC trailing only Brian Gionta in that category. However, Lars Eller, whom the Canadiens traded to Washington for two second-round picks this off-season, is exceedingly more proficient than Plekanec in almost all defensive categories. Alex Galchenyuk has better number in many categories as well, however, one must take into account Plekanec’s elevated TOI QoC. Galchenyuk’s is TOI QoC is .45 points lower than the Canadiens’ assistant captain with Eller’s being .81 points lower.
The transaction that sent Eller to the Metropolitan division may have a massive impact on the future of the Canadiens. With a main defensive contributor gone, Plekanec might be seen as crucial, as there is truly no other player who can fill his role and match the number of minutes he plays. Jacob de la Rose has the profile defensively, however picking spots where to insert primarily offensive and primarily defensive players might become tricky.
Plekanec will be 34-years-old at the termination of his current contract. In my opinion, it would not be prudent to commit six million to him again, especially not on a two-year term. Should he re-sign to a costly, multi-year deal, it would severely handicap Montreal.
Both Max Pacioretty and Carey Price are in line for salary increases from their respective $4.5 and $6.5 million cap hits. In addition, Alex Galchenyuk, who is poised to continue his path towards becoming an elite offensive talent, will be in need of a new contract at the end of the upcoming season.
Some may see Plekanec, the former 70-point man, as irreplaceable. However, as we examine of all of the variables surrounding the longest-tenured Canadiens forward, it’s becoming clear to me that it’s increasingly doubtful we’ll see Tomas Plekanec in a Montreal Canadiens jersey past the 2017-18 season.