Former Montreal Canadiens centre Tomáš Plekanec recently announced his retirement from professional hockey.
As a Hab, he went through several management changes, top-of-the-league and bottom-of-the-league seasons, but he remained one of the most constant and reliable players, year in, and year out.
In the spirit of recognizing his contribution to this team, here is my tribute to the versatile forward.
Making His Way To The Team
Plekanec was a third-round pick (#71 overall) of the 2001 National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft.
After three full seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs (the Montreal Canadiens former American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate), he joined the Habs in 05-06. He broke out in his third NHL season (07-08) with a tally of 69 points in 81 games, with a differential of +15 on the season.
He had a much more difficult time the following season, with only 39 points in 80 games, which complicated his pending contract negotiations. At the last second, Plekanec signed a one-year deal, avoiding arbitration, but with a contract that would take him to free agency, under Bob Gainey’s management.
“Pleky”, now with his faith in his hands, playing for a contract, would have his best career year, with a team-leading 70 points in 82 contests. The newly appointed General Manager Pierre Gauthier would then have no choice but to put his best foot forward to sign the pending free agent and offered him a 6-year deal, worth 30 million dollars.
The Kladno native was subsequently minted as an alternate captain and would become a team top-five point producer, season after season.
Plekanec was known and loved for a few things in Montreal.
His great two-way play frequently frustrated and angered his opponents.
Ask Sidney Crosby. Or Brad Marchand.
This style of play doesn’t always jump to the eyes on the scoresheet, but his muzzling of the opposition’s best players, night after night, was a key component of the Habs’ many successful seasons during his days.
Then-coach Michel Therrien even campaigned for his nomination as a Selke Trophy nominee.
Plekanec is arguably the best Montreal Canadiens center since Saku Koivu, sitting as the 13th most productive Habs of all time, with 606 points in 984 games.
Many of his goals came in the form of his patented fake slapshots, often freezing goaltenders and creating better angles, before ripping the puck into the net.
He was also heavily relied upon when the special teams hit the ice, notching 178 power-play points, and 31 more while killing penalties, and was the go-to faceoff guy when the game was on the line.
With 1,001 NHL games played in his career (984 with the Montreal Canadiens), it’s a shame he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of the 17-18 season, as he would otherwise have been part of a very select club of players who donned the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge for 1,000 games.
At least he re-joined the Montreal roster after his short Toronto stint, to wear la Sainte-Flanelle on the night he played his 1,000th and penultimate NHL game.
Will Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton offer fans a chance to honour him at the Bell Centre, this season?
Leaving A Legacy
There were a few things that transcended his play on the ice and contributed to his legacy as a Montreal Canadiens.
The obvious one is his style. No one else played with the amazing turtleneck and goatee combo he sported!
And while he was an important piece of the Cinderella 2010 Stanley Cup run (also known as the Halak Spring), many fans will remember his verbal bouts with then-Washington-goaltender José Théodore, earning him the nickname Tomas Jagr.
And the hilarious memes it sparked.
“Pleky” was also a fierce competitor and leader – with a style that did not always mesh with other strong personalities. While they found success on the ice together, it sometimes looked like he and P.K. Subban were not getting along, coming to blows at practice or after games.
But a leader, he was.
The #14, played a great role in mentoring Arturri Lehkonen when he arrived in La Belle Province, as the Finish player’s father himself acknowledged.
He also certainly played a part in helping Philip Danault become a top two-way centerman, teaching him a thing or two in the years they’ve shared faceoff duties.
But ultimately, his greatest legacy – ironically thanks to the trade that sent him to the arch-rival Maple Leafs – could turn out to be that he was the first domino that led to the Montreal Canadiens drafting highly-touted prospect, Lane Hutson!
What is your favourite Tomáš Plekanec memory? Let us know in the comments below.