by Ryan Skilton, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Tomas Plekanec
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

OAKVILLE, ON. — When picturing Tomas Plekanec, you might envision a sound two-way center who thrives in all game situations; a player who can be relied on to help kill off that untimely penalty, or score that critical goal that turns a game around. Perhaps you see a player whose on-ice work ethic and quiet, humble presence in the locker room just screams leadership. Or, quite literally, you picture Plekanec wearing that all-too-familiar signature turtleneck with the ‘CH’ crest on the top left of the neckline.

Regardless of how you see Plekanec, the 31-year-old veteran has had a lasting impression on both the fans and the team during his nine-year career in Montreal. He has been one of, if not the Canadiens most consistent forward over the past few seasons, and it would be difficult to imagine Plekanec wearing anything but a Habs jersey come October 8.

However, Marc Bergevin’s job is to consider all his options, and part of that is tapping into the trade market. Plekanec is no exception to that. The Czech Olympian brings a lot to the table, but his value as a Hab also needs to be weighed against the value he could potentially bring in a trade. Could dealing Plekanec be the key to a stronger Canadiens future?

The answer is a resounding yes.

It can be difficult negotiating with other NHL general managers. Naturally, to acquire an asset, you must sacrifice an asset of your own. Plunging into the depths of the trade market poses some risk, but calculated risks can turn into long-term successes.

One doesn’t have to look too far back in Habs history for an example of that. In 2007, Montreal traded Craig Rivet to the San Jose Sharks for Josh Gorges and a first-round draft pick, which turned into Max Pacioretty. Bob Gainey took a leap of faith by trading a reliable stay-at-home veteran defenseman in Rivet for an unknown name and a first-rounder. Today, no one debates the success of that trade, and Bergevin has the opportunity to do something similar with Plekanec.

Now, it’s not easy to give up a player like Plekanec. He brings a strong defensive game and flourishes at both ends of the ice. His speed and vision make him a very difficult opponent to play against and his positional awareness allows him to make strong, smart hockey plays. Plekanec typically logs 20-plus minutes per game against tough competition. His puck possession stats (45.5 percent) are deceivingly low because of this, but don’t be fooled. The 31-year-old from Kladno plays an excellent shutdown role and frustrates opponents on a nightly basis. Not to mention, his calm demeanor and work ethic are qualities that fit the mold of a future captain.

All these characteristics indicate Plekanec is a legitimate No. 2 center and should not be dealt under any circumstances. It would be next to impossible to replace a guy with that many intangibles, right? Wrong.

Montreal is fortunate enough to have a system with a lot depth at the center position. Alex Galchenyuk, whose natural position is center, was given winger duties after making the big club in the shortened 2012-2013 season. The 20-year-old has a lot of potential, but his development has been somewhat limited in the third-line role he’s been given by Michel Therrien. Moving Galchenyuk up to second-line center would not only give the youngster the experience he needs to succeed at this level, but would also give the Canadiens a much-needed offensive boost in top-six production as No. 27 continues to establish his game.

Some fans would argue Galchenyuk’s game is not quite there yet and he does not replace Plekanec’s skill set. That may be true, but let’s take a look at a player who could potentially fill the void if and when Plekanec does leave. His name is Lars Eller.

Eller has been with the Canadiens for four seasons, and certainly has had his share of ups and downs. The 25-year-old Dane was not all that impressive last season, notching only 12 goals and 14 assists to go along with a team-worst minus-15 rating. It was a tough year for the young center, but one that can be taken as a learning experience. Eller completely turned his game around in the postseason and proved, to both Habs fans and the hockey world, he can be that go-to two-way center.

Trading Plekanec would mean Eller would have to step up his game immensely, but if the past dictates the present, the third-line forward is capable of doing just that. Plekanec’s production has slowly been decreasing and if the trend continues, it would be hard to consider him a top-six forward in the NHL. Eller has not quite shown the offensive prowess Plekanec has in the past, but trading the ‘Turtleneck Gangster’ while his value is high makes the most sense long-term, especially with Eller waiting in the wings.

It’s reassuring to think even if Plekanec is dealt, there are two very capable young centers able to jump in and replace the 31-year-old veteran; but of course, a trade would only make sense if the return improves the team. So, what would Montreal need in return to consider dealing the Habs’ most reliable checking center?

The Canadiens have not been a particularly strong offensive team in recent years. In fact, heading into the 2014 NHL Playoffs, the Habs had scored the least regular-season goals of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams. The team’s top-six forward group lacks the depth needed to contend year after year. Part of the reason for that is Montreal does not have an elite power forward; an offensively dominant player who can go to the net, wreak havoc on goaltenders and is strong on the puck along the boards.

Rumors have been circulating that Evander Kane may be on the move, and the Winnipeg Jets have been in talks with the Canadiens regarding Plekanec. The 22-year-old winger would fill a much-needed void on one of the top-two lines and would provide Montreal with a skill set the team is in dire need of.

Here’s what Evander Kane can bring, according to The Hockey News:

SCOUTING REPORT

Assets: Is an impressive skater and gritty competitor. Has goal-scoring instincts and ability, and he never backs down from physical confrontations. Is extremely poised and confident in his all-round game.
Flaws: Lacks the high-end vision needed to be a great playmaker at the NHL level, so he’s best served going hard to the net regularly. Is improving his decision-making as to when to shoot or pass.
Career Potential: Talented power forward with good upside.

Kane would not only have an immediate impact, but would be one of the core pieces to a long-term contender. Just think if the Canadiens were to have Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Carey Price, Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Lars Eller and Evander Kane in their primes around the same time, it would be an extremely difficult lineup to stop.

Now, to acquire an Evander-Kane-caliber player, Montreal will likely have to give up Plekanec, along with a prospect and a draft pick. However, the reward far outweighs the risk in a deal like this, and if the Habs can pull it off, the team will only be better for it.

Even if this trade doesn’t pan out, there are other young talented power forwards out there to consider; Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Okposo come to mind. Acquiring a top-six power forward would not only improve the Canadiens, but make the team a contender for the Stanley Cup year after year. Tomas Plekanec could be the centerpiece to a deal that pushes Montreal over the edge.

  • Codo

    Enough of this Kane nonsense. He isn’t the type of character we need, or would succeed in Montreal. A player needs only but a burning desire to win to last in Montreal, not a desire for flaunting cash on balconies.

    • saito

      ‘He isn’t the type of character we need, or would succeed in Montreal.’

      its funny though because these words were so often attributed to PK Subban not that long ago……

  • Laz Apostolis

    Wow! Everything I was thinking, exactly! A very well-written article… very insightful. Ryan is a very skillful writer with very well thought out analysis in this article.

    My only additional comment would be… If a trade does not happen this year it probably will happen next. But, as Ryan so skillfully suggests, Plekanec’s market value is at its highest, right now.

  • tom

    I think its a great idea I would go as far as trading Desharnais to give Galchenyuk a bigger role as he has earned and the earlier he moves to center the less time he has to take to relearn it and eller deserves quality wingers and a bigger role

    • Sid

      I don’t know who you have been watching, but how have Galchenyuk OR Eller earned more responsibility? This season Eller had less points than he did in 2012-2013 but played almost twice as many games. Sure he had a decent playoffs, but so did Rene Bourque. Galchenyuk also had less points per game than he did the previous season. Yet somehow moving him to the position on the ice that demands the most defensive responsibility, something that he struggles with, is going to improve his play? On the top line? Yikes.

      With Malholtra coming in the habs can possibly afford to trade plekcs, especially if the return is a guy like Kane, but trading DD so that an unproven player can take his place is a recipe for disaster.