My grandfather always used to say a man can be a Jack of all trades, but he'd be a master of none. I look at Tomas Plekanec and I see my grandfather's wisdom.
I should preface this argument with the statement that I have always been a big Plekanec fan. I own not only a game-worn sweater, but also a game-worn turtleneck. (Don't ask me how I got it.) I am a fan of Plekanec's because he's able to do everything well. He can kill a penalty like Carbonneau, score a PP goal like Lemieux, work like a stevadore and bring as much passion to a game as the kid in "King Leary." He does a little bit of everything well, and does it with heart and soul.
The problem, though, is that Plekanec has to be a number-one centre. While it's helpful to be pretty good at lots of things, a number-one centre has to be GREAT at one thing. He's got to score. He's got to be the guy everyone looks to to pound in the winning goal in OT; the guy who can rally a team down by two; the guy who makes the PP potent. Tomas Plekanec can do those things, but he tempers that ability with his desire to prevent goals against his team. He is the consumate two-way centreman.
Every winning team needs a guy like Plekanec, who can anchor an excellent second or third line with his all-round skill. A player like that works best in a supporting role, backing up the offensive-minded top-line centreman. In the case of the Canadiens, Plekanec, by default, has to be that top guy, but he's not allowed to play a purely offensive role. Most teams don't have their top centre killing more penalties than any other forward. The Canadiens do, because Plekanec's the best PK guy on the team and the Habs take a lot of penalties. In the end, that means Plekanec spends a lot of time in defensive situations, which, in turn, means his scoring opportunities are reduced. And 57 points from your number-one centre just isn't good enough for an offensively challenged team.
It appears the Canadiens forward lines are pretty much set for the new season. With no significant changes down the middle, it's up to the coaching staff to change Plekanec's role. As hard as it may be to assign PK duties to a player who's not quite as good defensively, Jacques Martin needs to allow his top-line players to focus on scoring goals.
Erik Cole should help with this. He tends to open space for his linemates and is good at getting the puck into the offensive zone. He also draws a lot of penalties, which will help keep his line on the attack. The other centres can help too. Lars Eller was starting to get the hang of being an NHL player at the end of last season, and if he turns out to be a threat on the attack, the opponent will have to spread defensive coverage more thinly. Scott Gomez can't possibly be worse than last year, but if he's just as bad offensively, he can take on some of Plekanec's defensive assignments. More than one guy has managed to resurrect a flagging career by re-inventing himself as a shut-down player.
While the other forwards can help, Martin will have to take the biggest role in making Plekanec a more productive offensive player. Plekanec is coachable because does what he's told. He's proven he's willing to sacrifice personal numbers when he's asked to focus on a defensive role instead. It's all about the team for him. Martin has to explain that even though Plekanec prides himself on his two-way play, the lack of scoring hurts the team. Then...the hardest part of all...Martin needs to actually loosen the reins and let Plekanec and his linemates loose on offence. He can't give in to the temptation to have them kill penalties or take defensive shadow assignments just because it's safer.
Plekanec has the skill and speed to be the guy other teams try to shut down, rather than the other way around. He just needs the freedom to be able to do it. That freedom has to come from the coach, because, while it's nice to have a guy who's a jack of all trades, it's great to have one who's the master of a skill his team needs badly.