Just last month, it appeared that there was nothing brewing between the Habs and Tomas Plekanec in terms of a new contract but that changed last week when he agreed to a two year, $12 million extension. Having had some time to ponder the contract, our writers offer up their thoughts as to whether or not it’s a good one.
Gordon Black: I really like this extension and think the benefits far outweigh the risks, but am a bit surprised by both the terms and the timing of the deal. It was not that long ago that Plekanec responded to questions during the preseason about a possible new contract by saying that talks had not yet begun and that he had not heard from management on the issue. The fact that only six games into the season, a two-year extension was finalized can only mean that both camps were fairly close on what they wanted.
For Marc Bergevin, this certainly seems in keeping with his narrative of having a plan in place and indicates that he believes that the Canadiens’ window has opened and will remain so for at least two more seasons. By the time Plekanec’s contract is done, the team will have had to make a serious decision regarding Alex Galchenyuk’s status as the long-term 1C of the team and with the money due to Carey Price that summer (whatever he wants if he continues to play at this level), any additional years beyond those signed could potentially end up as a an albatross on Montreal’s cap flexibility.
In terms of value for money, this contract is more than fair to both sides. Plekanec gets rewarded for his hard work and loyalty, to stay with a top contender that he has stuck with through lean times, and to remain its highest-paid forward. He may have left significant cash on the table, as even a season similar to last year (60pts, top PK and PP duties) could have netted him that much on a deal with more term as a UFA.
Why I really like this deal is the upside; Plekanec has always shown the ability to contribute more offensively when given the chance to play with elite players. Having moved into the 1C role and getting first line power play minutes, there is a good chance he could see a significant increase in his totals this year, especially if the team continues to drive possession and push the attack the way it has so far. If that were to happen, his strong two-way play would be augmented to a point where his contract comparables would begin with deals like Ryan Kesler, Derek Stepan, and Patrice Bergeron (and of those only the latter I see as having more value than Plekanec).
Finally, the fact that Bergevin somehow managed to get him signed to such a reasonable term with no movement or trade restrictions is nothing short of masterful. That kind of flexibility is in itself worth a healthy chunk of change in the current cap culture. The cherry on top is the structure of the deal; in the second year, his $5 million salary will represent even better value to a small market/budget conscious contender – should a major injury or some other form of misfortune cause the Canadiens to be out of the race.
It is those kinds of little details that will add up to ensure the Habs are making decisions from a position of strength and options for years to come, as well as being a testament to what the braintrust have done in Montreal for the first time in a long time: created a team culture and atmosphere of success where players are willing to take less to be a part of it.
Matt Dilworth: It came as no surprise that Bergevin extended Plekanec’s contract for another two years; Bergevin has made a point of locking up his core guys, and although Plekanec is definitely in the latter half of his career, he still fits that bill. The timing was a little unusual, but it’ll be nice to avoid needless (and often distracting) speculation that Plekanec might have opted to test the open market at the season’s end. Plekanec’s cap hit is a little high in my opinion, but when you factor in the Montreal taxes and lack of a no-movement clause, there isn’t too much to get upset about.
I’m a fan of the 2-year term as well, since it will give Montreal the opportunity in three years to properly assess Plekanec’s role on the team; you don’t want to have to pay him first-line centre money if his role has been significantly reduced by then. I’ve been a fan of Plekanec since Day 1, so I’m happy to see him get the chance to raise the Cup with the Canadiens.
Brian La Rose: The money seems a bit high, especially if you’re like me and expect a drop in production as Galchenyuk should ascend into the #1 role sometime during this contract. However, in this day and age, you pay more for flexibility.
There aren’t any cheap years tacked on to the end to drive the cap hit down and asking Plekanec to potentially forego one last long-term deal with a big pay day comes with a price of a few bucks more on this contract. Having no restrictions on movement elsewhere also likely cost a bit more in the AAV so the higher price tag is largely justifiable.
The deal also makes sense from a roster perspective. This allows them to continue to be patient with Galchenyuk and not rush him into the top role while ensuring they have someone that can shut down the opposition while providing an offensive threat at the same time for a few more seasons as well. It’s a bit of a pricey contract but it’s still not a bad one for the Canadiens.
Alex Létourneau: All in all, not a bad bit of business with a fair salary and term, coming with clear benefits and some question marks. I drank the Kool-Aid a few years ago when Lars Eller started the season on a tear and Plekanec looked tired and incapable of filling a top six two-way centre role with heavy minutes on both special teams. I wrote that he should be moved; the future was now. I was horrifically wrong as he found his legs and still hasn’t looked back.
Plekanec is probably the most underrated two-way centreman in the NHL over the last few seasons and his early season form, as well as his career consistency, merits the extension. Also, being a contract year, it takes a load off the player and the organisation while giving less ammunition to the talking heads around the NHL, who would likely focus on it throughout the season, creating needless conversations for the sake of airtime. Finally, it ices a core piece to Bergevin’s salary cap puzzle giving realistic scope to the team’s cap space in the near-term.
The other foot coming down on the extension so early in the season is that while Plekanec often excels during the regular season, he has been known to take steps back in the playoffs – with no critic harsher than himself, at times. His stats aren’t a huge drop off from his regular season stats, and generally that’s accepted given the intensity of the playoffs. It’s more his seeming to disappear at times altogether.
There’s a lingering feeling in my mind that when the chips are down and something big needs to happen, Plekanec is not the guy you turn to in the playoffs. And I suppose that’s fine to some extent – not everyone’s a game breaker, but when you’re paying someone $6 million, you want him to be front and center when it counts the most. Bergevin said it himself that there’s players that get you to the playoffs and players that get you through the playoffs. Obviously he believes Plekanec falls into the former category, but I’m not completely sold. Then again, Plekanec delights in proving me wrong and the sting of me admitting it would be lessened if he were holding a big silver cup by year-end.
Paul MacLeod: I am running out of adjectives to describe Bergevin’s work as a GM. Canny, astute, understated, and underrated come to mind as they also fit the player under discussion. Signing Plekanec to a two year extension right now is a brilliant piece of work by Bergevin as it removes any possible distraction for the player or the team as to Plekanec’s status. He is a player who does all of the little things right, but in an understated way which leads to him being underrated by media, fans in general, and even Montreal fans – who should know better.
What he does for the team is score key goals, shut down the opposition’s best, kill penalties, and generally aggravate his opponents to distraction without taking penalties. So far, he has also been amazingly durable. Without a clear-cut replacement in the system it would have been foolish for the Habs to let him become unrestricted so Bergevin did the smart thing and signed him now for reasonable dollars and term. This is one more key piece in Les Canadiens’ quest for the Cup. The right move, at the right time.
Craig Scharien: By taking care of a little housekeeping and locking up Plekanec for two more years, Bergevin has sent a message – the transition period is over.
With 504 points, the 32 (nearly 33) year old Plekanec is the active leading scorer for the Habs and has spent his entire career with the team, but he brings much more than that to the table. He is an excellent two-way centre that does it all: takes on tough defensive assignments, takes important face offs, kills penalties, scores big goals, and gets under the opponents skin on a nightly basis.
His new contract is reasonable. Is it cheap? No. But when compared to the likes of Ryan Kesler’s six year, $41.25 million extension, it’s a steal. It looks especially good knowing that there are no NTC’s or NMC’s, giving Montreal flexibility to trade him if things go unexpectedly south. These factors, combined with the fact that replacing Plekanec would be extremely problematic for the Habs, make it an even smarter signing. There is no one in the system that is ready to take on the sort of responsibility that he shoulders every game. Additionally, replacing him via trade or with a UFA signing would be difficult and very expensive.
The Canadiens are a team that is looking to win now. Price, Subban, and Pacioretty are in their primes and locked up; Galchenyuk, Gallagher and Beaulieu are growing into their roles; and the supporting cast is solid. Plekanec has put in his time and deserves a chance to go for it all with this group and the Montreal Canadiens should be extremely happy that he wants to.
Norm Szcyrek: The Plekanec contract extension to me seems very fair overall. Tomas’ consistency in offensive and defensive situations is well documented. He’s been a solid player and leader for this team, and he’s a home grown player that has not shown any desire to play elsewhere. It’s arguable that he hasn’t been a good playoff performer but actually his points per game average is very close to the value he’s had during the regular season for his career.
Plekanec’s hot start to this season may have helped get the discussions going sooner since it’s a strong tactic that player agents’ will use. It’s also debatable that he may have got a higher salary if he had tested the free agent waters next off season. However, I believe this signing helps to show how much loyalty he has towards the team and the team in return showed it back both in terms of the raise from his current salary and the length of the contract.