Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A romantic at heart

Tomas Plekanec burned the midnight oil in his native Kladno today to speak to reporters about his new six-year, $30 million contract with the Canadiens, one that includes some form of no-trade clause that the man wouldn't divulge details on.

He reiterated that his long-stated desire to remain with the Canadiens was not lip service, it was genuine. And he proved it by signing a contract that I remain convinced leaves a significant amount of money on the table, at least on a per season basis in the short term.

"It sounds cliché but it's so true," Plekanec said, "playing in Montreal is special."

A lot of the hockey media appeared pretty surprised on Twitter over the course of the day at how much money Pierre Gauthier threw at Plekanec. I understand being a bit leery about the term, but not the annual salary.

There's two reasons why, the first being Quebec's killer taxes, and the second being a free agent market short on elite forwards, let alone centres. That demand-driven market probably would have seen Plekanec getting a contract with a ridiculous amount of money attached to it, perhaps even virtually tax-free, but he wasn't interested in exploring that route.

"I wasn't thinking too much about July 1," he said. "I knew we would negotiate with Montreal first and that was my priority. I was confident I would stay in Montreal."

As for the money he may have left on the table, Plekanec said he and his agent Rick Curran had looked at the possibilities of what an open-market negotiation - or auction - would bring in. He didn't say it outright, even though I asked explicitly, but it seems like he was comfortable giving the Canadiens a bit of a hometown discount.

"My decision wasn't about the money, my decision was based on Montreal and everything I've done in eight years with Montreal," he said. "Money is obviously a big part of it, but it's not everything."

And that's what it came down to: He likes the city. He likes the coach, who clearly likes him as a player. It's the only organization he's ever known.

He said he wants to take on more of a leadership role, though I find it hard to see how he will do that. Plekanec is not a Rah Rah type personality. He leads by example and always has, even when he stunk it up two seasons ago. He's always first on the ice at practice. He always gives everything he has.

That's usually all you can ask of a player, but I suppose when you pull in $5 million a year you're expected to provide a little more. Though I know a lot of legendary players who made huge dollars, more than $5 million, who did all their leading through on-ice performance. 

Maybe Plekanec can simply continue being that type of leader, maybe he can just be comfortable in his skin as the player that he is and that he's become. Plekanec was never considered one of the Canadiens top prospects until suddenly he became one of their top players. When asked Tuesday whether he feels the contract will motivate him to improve his production, particularly in the playoffs, Plekanec defended himself. 

And he did so legitimately, not as an excuse.

"I'm a two-way player," he said. "I'm asked to play a two-way game and I'll do it. You mention the playoffs, well that was my role...I have to do everything well."

That is true to a large extent, but in order to be a true two-way threat you have to produce at both ends of the ice. Not necessarily in prolific fashion, but it should be in a somewhat consistent fashion, and that's what Plekanec needs to work on next off-season.

But that's a year away. For now, this to me is a great success story for a little-known player who has diligently made his way to the upper-echelon of two-way NHL centres, a very exclusive club that counts perhaps four or five members.

"I've worked through the system, I worked very hard in Hamilton to get noticed," he said. "Everything I've got in my career, I've deserved. I feel very proud."

That may be true, and he should feel proud for signing a contract that should ensure he and his family will never really need to work again.

But now comes the hard part. Now he has to go out and continue earning that pay cheque, continue putting his body on the line to block shots in penalty-killing situations, continue using his speed and deceptive toughness to be effective in the offensive zone. In short, he needs to do everything he did last season, but get even better at it.

It remains to be seen if he can, or if what we saw last season was the best he had to offer. 

But for now, Plekanec should just be appreciated for placing some degree of loyalty ahead of solely looking at money.

This also completes the loop of the Jaroslav Halak trade of last week, what many people felt was Armageddon, but which was really just a necessary evil to allow this signing to happen. So maybe Gauthier too needs a nod here, for making the unpopular trade that allowed this signing to take place. Because everyone who was screaming evil at Halak being traded would have been doing the same if Plekanec were allowed to walk away for nothing. 


Matt said...

do you think the Canadiens should have been in pursuit of Nathan Horton?
He would have been a nice compliment on wing for either our first or second lines. I could imagine him being very productive with Gomez and Gionta.

love your blog by the way. glad you're updating more.

Krons said...

I don't think the Canadiens could have offered as much as the Bruins did... The habs have the 27th pick, which is like a 2nd rounder, whereas Boston gave a 15th pick and an ok defenseman that can play good offense and defense. Which the Habs don't really have to offer up...except maybe Hamrlik 5 years ago...

Andy J Smith illustration said...

i thought they NEEDED horton (or a player like him). i was thinking maybe andrei kostitstyn, 1st rounder, weber (deboer coached him in junior) for horton and a 2nd rounder... but i guess not. now what for the big power forward? and to think horton and lucic could be on the same line!

Andy J Smith illustration said...

so how do they get dustin buff?

Anonymous said...

"Because everyone who was screaming evil at Halak being traded would have been doing the same if Plekanec were allowed to walk away for nothing."

I disagree. Many expected Plekanec to walk away anyway, because he was going to want too much money. I think more people cared about Jaro staying than about Pleky staying.

Anonymous said...

I would have let Pleks walk, and tried to pick up a centre in free agency. I would have traded Price and kept Halak. I don't think Pleks will be any better than he is now and was over paid. I don't think Price will ever amount to being an NHL starter anywhere, even out of Montreal. Halak was consistent, and did a great job and was good with the media and fans, and was even better in front of his team mates. I am still very disappointed and I still believe the Habs will be out of the play offs barring a miracle on ice.

HabsBuzz said...

My one issue with this signing is that it basically handcuffs the Canadiens to two centers that are very similar in their style of play, and not quite big either. Plekanec definitely deserved a contract, and believe it or not but we got him at a discount, but nevertheless the Habs' lack of size up front is worrying.

Paul said...

Price will be a very good goalie (not Brodeur or Roy, but then teams don't need that level of goaltending to win the Cup).

Plekanec could have had 6-6.5 on the open market, given this year's crop of UFAs and any "replacement" for him that is anywhere near as effective as a two-way player simply doesn't exist at any price (the few who are comparable are unavailable). Any available replacement would cost as much and might contribute a bit more on offence, but would likely be more of a liability on defence.

In an ideal world, Price would have already shown the same level of consistency and determination as Halak (which would instantly make him a superstar goaltender) and Plekanec would be 6'3"/ 225lbs and otherwise be exactly as effective as he already is. We don't live in an ideal world.

I think there's room to improve on the wings--if not overly much this year because of cap restraints, then next year. Hamrlik comes off the cap next year. AK46 is likely gone (unless he has a career year this season). We have some youngsters to fill in on the back end that won't cost too much in the near term. Eller is a solid youngster who could prove surprisingly effective (he will at least be worth his entry-level contract).

I don't think the Habs are instant contenders (they still a better coach, in my opinion) but they are not that bad off either.

John said...

The only player we're 'handcuffed' to is Gomez. Plekanec's contract is identical to Gionta's and similar enough to Cammalleri's. To pay Pleks less than Gionta is a disservice to our best center this year. I don't really understand why so many people are critical of Plekanec. He was our top point getter this year while also spending most of his energy on the PK and playing defensively. You can't weigh goals scored against playmaking and a strong defensive mind.

Sliver24 said...

I'm happy to see Plek stay at $5 million. I have a lot of respect for the guy, maybe because he kept his head down, worked hard and earned everything he's achieved.

A good balance of confidence and humility, a healthy dose of talent, all mixed in with a dollup of sticktoitiveness (love that word), and what you get is exactly what you want in a hockey player.

Plekanec is the anti-Sergei.

In any case, I do still stand by the assessment I made yesterday. The only way this makes sense to me is if we can offload Scott Gomez and get a big #1 centre in return.

I'm considering hopping back on the 'Bring Vinny Home' bandwagon, in a straight-up deal for Gomez. He scored twice as many goals as Gomez last year, and with the mess that is the TBL, I'm thinking a change of scenery would do wonders for him.

Paul said...

No way "Vinny" lifts his no-trade clause to come to Montreal. It's not gonna happen.

Chicago is said to want a first round pick and a prospect for Byfuglien. How about the Habs' first, Weber and SK (playing with Kane might revitalize him and he's not expensive--which is what the Hawks need). I know, pie in the sky, but if you can't have a little fun with trade proposals, why be a hockey fan?

Sliver24 said...

Ironically, the fact that the Habs let Guy Boucher leave for Tampa probably does make reduce likelihood of Vinny waiving his NTC.

Chester said...

Unfortunately I don't get to see a ton of Habs games, being stuck in godforsaken New York City, but what I did see this past season from Pleks really impressed me. He may not have scored much in the playoffs, but he was tenacious on the penalty kill and played his head off. He's not very emotional, and that turtleneck is a little odd, but I think he's a great player and the Canadiens are lucky to have him. Oh, and while I'm typing... The trade of Halak was brilliant. Halak is going to be expensive and Price is not, and Lars Eller has sick skills, judging by the YouTube clip linked by Stephen Hindle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSILBIQCwLE