Another stroke of genius by Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin or the harsh realities of today’s NHL marketplace? When you look at the two-year contract extension Tomas Plekanec signed with the Canadiens today, that’s the first question that comes to mind.
First, on the genius side of the ledger. Bergevin, who is rapidly gaining a reputation and one of the shrewdest negotiators in the league, got a solid second-line center who plays both ends of the ice and scored 60 points last season to sign a two-year deal worth $12 million, one that comes without either a no-trade or no-movement clause. On the surface, it looks as though Bergevin was wearing the same mask and carrying the same gun he used three summers ago when he got Max Pacioretty to agree to a six-year extension worth $27 million. (That contract, incidentally, was considered a disaster before the ink was dry and it led to Pacioretty firing his agent.)
If you use the Ryan Kesler contract as a comparison, it looks like larceny. Kesler, who is almost two years younger than Plekanec but looks as though he has a lot more mileage on him, signed a six-year extension this summer worth an average of $6.875 million per year that will kick in next season. Examined through the prism of the Kesler contract, it wouldn’t be outrageous to think that Plekanec could have gotten at least four or five more years at the same $6 million cap hit for which he signed.
And the reality is that might very well have happened. Or not. One thing we do know is that the Kesler deal is an aberration, that teams for the most part are unwilling to throw that kind of money and term at a player who’s at that point in his career. What if Plekanec had gone to unrestricted free agency next summer and found there were no takers? And this is the reality facing a lot of agents today. They looked at the lack of movement this past summer and the dearth of big deals and they’re taking the sure thing. Nothing wrong with that, particularly if the player wants the security of knowing he has a deal.
One agent recently told me that this past summer was the most difficult he’s had in more than three decades in the business. He also said he doesn’t see it getting much better if the salary cap stays stagnant or moves down. The problem is, he pointed out, that the teams that have the money don’t have the freedom to spend it because they’re so close to the salary cap and almost every one of them has a Group II free agent on the horizon who is going to command a monster contract. And the teams that do have the cap space have it for a reason. It’s because they’re budget teams who have no interest in spending up to the upper limit of the salary cap.
We know that Plekanec wanted to stay in Montreal, wants to finish his career in Montreal and would like to win a Stanley Cup in Montreal. So he was dealing from a disadvantage from the get-go. And Bergevin, who appears to be the kind of GM who wants to keep his powder dry to give the big money and long term to goalies and defensemen and not forwards, took full advantage.
Plekanec will be 35 when this deal expires, meaning it will be all that more difficult for him to get a long-term contract because any signing a player for more than a one-year deal after the player turns 35 is on the hook for the entire value of the contract whether the player retires or plays it out.
But that was the risk that Plekanec took, or more accurately didn’t want to take, when he signed this deal. He gets the security of three more years in Montreal – unless, of course, the Canadiens decide to trade him – and if he decides he wants to retire, he can take the almost $48 million he’s earned as an NHLer and go back to play out his career in the Czech Republic. And if he keeps up his level of play, he can try to get another deal, either with the Canadiens or another team. One thing is certain, though. Plekanec would not have signed this deal if he were not happy with it.
But any way you slice it, the Canadiens got a heck of a deal.