With the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21st, the Montreal Canadiens writers on Last Word on Hockey are going to go in depth to see which players the Habs should expose or protect from the Vegas Golden Knights. Here are the rules of the expansion draft if you need a refresher. For the sake of this series, the Habs will follow the eight skaters and one goalie protection list. With Carey Price and Jeff Petry having no movement clauses in their contracts, they are automatically included in the protected list. Here is the list of exempt players in the Canadiens organization:
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) May 1, 2017
Now, with all that out of the way, lets take a look at captain turtleneck himself, Tomas Plekanec.
Protect or Expose: Tomas Plekanec
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 196 pounds
Cap Number: $6 million – one year remaining
Why to Expose
The very quick answer is his age and salary. Tomas Plekanec will be turning 35 in October and carries a significant cap hit of $6 million. The Canadiens signed Plekanec to be the teams second line center, however he is no longer able to fill that role. He had a disappointing 2016-2017 season with a career low 28 points. Plekanec started the 2016-2017 by scoring one goal and four points in the first 25 games, despite being on a line with Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Radulov.
Trying to get Plekanec going offensively was a running issue throughout the season. He ended up settling on a third line with Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher. Not what the Canadiens were expecting from a player making his salary. His playoff production has also been an issue, scoring 16 goals and 49 points in 87 games over his career.
The Kladno, Czech Republic native saw his average ice time dip to a 10-year low at 16:49 this past season. While Plekanec is an excellent defensive forward, the Habs seem to have an over abundance of defensive forwards on the roster as it is, at a significant lower salary. On a team that struggles to score, the Habs were expecting Plekanec to be a significant contributor, which is no longer something he is able to do.
Why to Protect
While his offensive numbers fell off a cliff, Plekanec still adds value to the Canadiens as a defensive forward. He had a career best 51.2% faceoff percentage while taking the most faceoffs on the team, 1,352 – over 300 more than the next player, Phillip Danault. He was also tasked with taking 60.3% of those draws in the defensive zone. He plays in a shutdown role with the Canadiens, tasked with limiting the production from the opponents’ best line or player.
His 52.6% Corsi rating last season was the second best of his career. He is the Habs best penalty killing forward, averaging two minutes per game on the penalty kill. The Habs also have overall depth issues at the center position. So the risk of losing Plekanec will make the weakest area of the team that much worse. Plekanec is also one of the leaders on the team, serving as an assistant captain and has logged 921 games with the Habs over his 12-year career.
Even though losing Plekanec would create a hole at the center position, his best playing days are behind him. Couple that with his high salary; it shouldn’t be that difficult of a decision to expose him. With the Habs looking to extend Carey Price and re-sign Alexander Radulov, the idea of having Plekanec’s cap hit off the books has to be extremely appealing, should he be selected. The Canadiens management would be thrilled if Plekanec was selected, just to free up salary. While Plekanec is an excellent defensive forward, Phillip Danault emerged last year and has effectively made Plekanec expendable.