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.