Friday, September 26, 2008

The Invisible Man

I think it's time for Bob Gainey to offer someone a serious, long-term deal. Not a DiPietro-type deal, but more long-term than Gainey is in the habit of offering. Say, six or seven years. With so many players...important, cornerstone players...heading for various forms of free agency, locking up one of the best of them now would help Gainey in his planning for the next few seasons. And, no, I'm not talking about Christopher Higgins or Mike Komisarek. I think Gainey's first long-term deal should go to Tomas Plekanec.

Two seasons ago, Plekanec was recognized by the NHL as being one of the best bargains in terms of bang-for-buck in a formula averaging points scored per dollar earned. I haven't seen that statistic worked out for last year, but I'm pretty sure it would be tough to find a better bargain than Plekanec's 69 points and 1.4 million-dollar salary. This season, Plekanec will make 1.8 million, and if the first two pre-season games he's played are any indication, he's coming into the Habs' Centennial campaign fit and determined to improve on last year.

The thing is, Plekanec is very often an afterthought when people talk about the Habs' good young players. He's turning 26 on Halloween, and in his three full seasons with the Canadiens has quietly improved from 29, to 47, to last year's 69 points. Maybe it's because he was a late bloomer, or maybe because he was pegged as a small, defensive-minded player and people have trouble changing their image of him that he flies under the radar. Whatever the reason, when the subject of the Habs' pending free agents comes up, Plekanec is rarely mentioned among the players most fans consider priorities for re-signing. Mike Komisarek tends to top most people's lists as the player most needed back next year.

I agree Komisarek is very valuable to the team, and I would like to see him signed to a nice three or four-year deal. The sole reason I wouldn't want him locked up for six or seven seasons is his style of play. He's a beast, without question, when it comes to hits, blocked shots and pure, menacing leadership. But blocking all those shots and hitting all those opponents takes a toll on the body, even one as big and strong as Komisarek's. His style opens him up for broken bones and shoulder and back injuries...the kinds of things that can mean long absences from the lineup. It hasn't really happened much yet, but the hip injury he sustained at the end of last season is the kind of thing that can nag and get worse as the years go on. I'd hate to see him signed to a six-year deal, and go down with a major injury after three or four seasons. As much as he's a long-term asset, he's also a long-term risk.

Plekanec, on the other hand, has been extremely durable. He's missed only two games in the last two seasons, both with flu bugs. He plays through minor injuries and although he plays hard, he doesn't put his body in jeopardy on a regular basis like Komisarek does. So, barring grave misfortune or fluke injury, Plekanec is a good bet to stay healthy and play most games.

Then, there's the matter of what he actually contributes to the team. He's recognized as a player who never quits, who gives his all on every shift and who is a shining example of the work ethic the team wants its younger players to display. He brings speed, skill, strong two-way play, determination, a great attitude and a will to win. And, most importantly, he's consistent, rarely going more than a couple of games without a point. In short...he's the kind of player who would improve any team he played on, and he's just coming into his prime. In seven years, Plekanec would still be just thirty-three years old.

Based on his inherent dedication to playing his best game every night, he's not likely to be a one-year wonder. And, if he continues to improve at the rate he has been, and if the market continues to explode in the way it has been, Plekanec is going to be very expensive if Gainey waits too long to re-sign him. A six or seven-year deal signed now, before this season is over, stands a great chance of turning out a bargain for the Canadiens.

Tomas Plekanec might not be the first name that springs to mind when fans talk about the Habs' bit stars, but hey, Bob! Give that invisible man a raise!


Topham said...

One of the best things Gainey has done has been to manage the team using short-term and very fair deals.

To do an about face and go for Flyers-style economics would be mad.

There is every reason to keep deals short in an envronment where cap limits are set to fluctuate season by season. If, for example, the econmoic crisis leads to difficulties in hockey and the cap goes down, a long term deal could be a real millstone around the neck of the team.

Good, fair, sensible contracts. personally I hope the way Gainey has been showing is the road on which he continues. All his actions from this summer indicate he will adhere to his philosophy, at least for the near future.

J.T. said...

I agree in principle, Topham. And in most cases that's a laudable and very sound principle for team-building. I just think Plekanec is a special case who meets some very specific criteria that make him deserving of a longer deal. I don't want Gainey to run out and throw Flyer term at every decent young player. But if there's one Hab I wouldn't mind locked up for that long, it's Pleky.