About a year ago, I had the opportunity to ask Tomas Plekanec a few questions about his life and his hockey philosophies. As an afterthought, and out of curiosity, I asked him to whom in the Canadiens' room he feels the closest. He said, "I have no problems with anybody on the team, but I'd say I'm probably closest to Spacek."
Spacek just seems such a likeable sort of guy. He's never scowling or unpleasant. He works hard, and during the miracle playoff run last year, he raised his game a couple of notches, providing stellar coverage of some very tricky forwards. He also gives great quotes, whether he means to or not. (Anyone who's seen those "Get to Know Your Canadiens" videos on the team website and recalls Spacek saying his worst-ever Halloween costume was the pink Teletubbie...including purse...can vouch for that.)
This summer, Spacek reached a crossroads in his career. About to turn 38 in February, he's not quite as fast as he used to be. He's not putting up the points like he did in Buffalo or Columbus either. And sometimes when he's got to race for the puck on an icing, he takes the kind of hit that makes a 37-year-old slow to get up. So it must have been disconcerting for him to see Yannick Weber developing into an NHL defenceman and the arrival of Raphael Diaz and Alexei Yemelin from Europe, just as he's about to enter the last year of his contract.
Suddenly there were too many defencemen looking for too few jobs, while the prospects for a somewhat pudgy 37-year-old on the downslide weren't looking great. Spacek could have decided to collect his very generous paycheck and let the chips fall where they may. He didn't do that, though. Instead, he took a look at himself and his training regimen and saw room for improvement.
He says he improved his cardio with some extra running this summer, and he was on skates six weeks before camp, which is quite a bit earlier than in previous off-seasons. The result is a leaner, fitter Spacek who looks determined to hold onto his job, despite the younger competition.
All of this is good news for the smiling defenceman who's doing everything he can to revitalize his career and make his contract year a strong one. It's also very good news for the Canadiens. With the health of Andrei Markov's knee still uncertain and the departure of Roman Hamrlik's vetern workhorse abilities, the Habs have a need for an experienced D-man who can step up when needed. When contemplating possible replacements in case Markov's recovery is slower than expected, or if another big-minutes guy like Josh Gorges or P.K.Subbban gets hurt, most fans don't even consider Spacek, but if his better conditioning enables him to play a tighter game, he could be very valuable as the season progresses.
Spacek has been playing his off-side since his arrival in Montreal, during which time he was most often paired with Hamrlik. Now, with two right-handed shots in the lineup in P.K.Subban and Yannick Weber, there may be an opportunity for Spacek to play his preferred left side. One would imagine a fitter player working in his comfort zone would have a better chance to put up points. If Spacek is able to work the second wave of the PP effectively, it would increase the efficiency of an already-strong power play unit.
You have to admire a guy who's proud enough to want to make what's probably his last season in Montreal the best it can be, and who's determined enough to do the work to make that happen. While it might be strange to see Spacek without his accustomed second chin, it's easy to see why Tomas Plekanec likes him so much. I like him too.