Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin announced yesterday that Habs center Tomas Plekanec has re-signed with the team and will earn a six million dollar cap hit for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. His new agreement will be a one million dollar raise on his current number, but it is the term that is a big win for Bergevin and the Canadiens on this deal.
Early in his tenure with the Habs, Bergevin was prone to inking depth players to lengthy contracts. One of his first signings was a four year deal to Brandon Prust and he followed that up be re-signing gritty fourth line winger Travis Moen to a four year extension. While recovering from knee surgery, Alexei Emelin also signed a four year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.
Bergevin found another team to take on the final year of Prust and Moen’s deals and would love to do the same with Emelin, though he is only in year two of his pact. Even Andrei Markov might have one too many years on his three year deal signed last summer, but the same mistake won’t be made with Plekanec.
Plekanec is still at the top of his two-way game, but at the age of 32 he will be approaching his late thirties by the time his two year extension expires. As a valuable member of a team that looks like a Stanley Cup contender early in the season, an October extension removes all distractions about what to do with a pending unrestricted free agent who is currently centring the top line between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher and also taking first unit shifts on the power play and penalty kill.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 16, 2015
Speaking of linemates, players often see their offensive production take a dip around Plekanec’s age, but he consistently played with top six players all of last season and reached 60 points for the first time since 2009-10. After being saddled for long stretches with Mathieu Darche, Travis Moen, Rene Bourque and an aging Brian Gionta, Plekanec finds himself centering one of the best goal scorers in the league and could very well reach the 60 point mark again.
Looking around the league at other two-way pivots, in becomes increasingly clear that the Habs are taking next to no risk and got a huge bargain in Plekanec. Coming off a 47 point season last year, the Anaheim Ducks signed Ryan Kesler to a six year deal that will cost them $6.875 million until he is 38 years old.
After a 44 point season, the Colorado Avalanche traded a late draft pick to the Boston Bruins for Carl Soderberg and inked him to a five year deal that pays him $4.75 for the next five years, at which time he will be 35 years old.
The list of mediocre centres who are signed for far too long goes on and on. Dave Bolland with the Florida Panthers, Tyler Bozak with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Travis Zajac with the New Jersey Devils. All score significantly less than Plekanec and have signed lengthy contracts for at least five years.
Sure, six million is a large chunk of the cap. However, when you can signed a 32 year old first line center on a short term deal, it greatly reduces the chance for the contract to become an albatross. You can overpay a player for a year or two and get away with it, but you can’t get away with locking up a player for six years when he only has two or three good years left in him.
Just ask the Los Angeles Kings about Mike Richards and Dustin Brown or the Boston Bruins about Zdeno Chara.
Plekanec gets $1M/yr raise in 16-17 but key for MTL was 2-yr term. Leaves door open to transition to younger players if they're ready.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) October 16, 2015
Plekanec’s contract will also end at the same time as Carey Price’s current deal. There is no question that if Price continues to be anywhere close to the goaltender he has been that he will be looking for more than ten million dollars per year. This means there won’t be room to bring back Plekanec at that time, but there is plenty of time for him to pass the torch to youngsters, and plenty of young talent ready to accept it by then.
With Alex Galchenyuk making the full time shift to center this season, it seems logical he will take over as the first line center in the near future. At that time, Plekanec’s power play and offensive role will be lessened, but he would be at worst an excellent third line center by the end of this contract and likely still a solid two-way second liner.
The Canadiens can also take their time with prospects such as Charles Hudon and Michael McCarron and not rush them to the NHL level before they are ready. At the same time, when they are ready, they won’t be stuck behind an aging 38 year old center who is being handed ice time because he is still making big money.
It appears Bergevin has learned a valuable lesson in the past few years. After giving out four year deals like they were mini chocolate bars on Halloween, he has dialled back on the Plekanec contract and guarantees he will have him for his best years and won’t be stuck with him for longer.
(Photo Credit: Francois Lacasse/NHLI)