Tomas Plekanec will never be a member of the pantheon of great Montreal Canadiens. But in an era where the Habs struggled offensively and searched relentlessly and in vain for a number one centre, Plekanec performed consistently and professionally.
The news out of Montreal this past Friday came as no surprise to Habs’ fans, pundits and media. Plekanec’s signing this past summer was a bridge to the Kotkaniemi-Poehling era (with Nick Suzuki being acquired two months later to add to their future depth). The early emergence of Jesperi Kotkaniemi as an NHL centre and Max Domi’s outstanding play simply made Plekanec expendable earlier than anticipated. His status as a healthy scratch the first few games proved to be a harbinger of Friday’s news that Plekanec was placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. That same day, Plekanec announced he was retiring from the NHL as a Montreal Canadien.
Even though the decision is the right one for the Canadiens at this time, Tomas Plekanec has more than earned the respect and accolades that have been directed his way after the news was announced.
In an era where players understandably sign on with the highest bidder (after tax in the case of Alexander Radulov), Plekanec was always a loyal soldier for the Canadiens. The 2001 third round pick (71st overall) was drafted and developed by the Canadiens. He made his debut in 2003-04 and, after spending the lockout year in the minors, Plekanec’s rookie season was in 2005-06, registering 29 points (9G, 20A). He then emerged as a steady, consistent, two-way centreman on a team with little depth down the middle.
As the best available centre for much of his career with the Canadiens, Plekanec often drew the assignment of shutting down the opposition’s top line. Even with those key defensive responsibilities, Plekanec had seven seasons of 20 or more goals and eight seasons of 40 or more points (topping out at 70 points) and also registered a plus-57 for his career. Over fifteen years, Plekanec’s career numbers (233G, 373A, 606P, +57) may not be Hall of Fame worthy but they are impressive. And those numbers are all the more noteworthy since they were achieved while often being matched up against the opposition’s best players.
And these impressive statistics may not even fully reflect Plekanec’s true value. Every game, every period, every shift, the Habs’ coach of the day knew what Tomas Plekanec brought to the table. How many players deliver that level of consistency? And how many coaches, faced with specific game situations, can look down their bench and be confident about how a player will perform? During his career, Plekanec was a fixture for the Canadiens late in tight games because the coaching staff could count on him never to take a shift off and to perform consistently and responsibly. Tomas Plekanec played the right way.
All the while, playing under the glare of the hockey-mad Montreal market for almost his entire fifteen-year career, there was never a scandalous story or a negative article about Plekanec. Tomas Plekanec is a class act and a Real Pro. Thank you, Tomas.