Centre Tomas Plekanec takes part in the pregame skate Monday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Plekanec was about to play his 1,000th NHL game. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
Tomas Plekanec was a good soldier throughout his career with the Canadiens and he was a good soldier when his 17-year association with the organization ended.
The Canadiens will place the 36-year-old centre on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of terminating his contract.
Plekanec had been practising with the Canadiens for the past three or four days and was preparing to return from a lower-back injury. But he sat down with Bergevin earlier this week and the result was what both parties called a difficult decision.
“I really appreciate Marc and the approach he had the last couple of days,” said Plekanec. “It’s obviously hard but Marc talked to me about the situation and with (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and Max (Domi) doing well and with guys in Laval knocking on the door, I’ve been around long enough to know these guys need a chance.”
Plekanec was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the deadline last season but Bergevin brought him back when he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. After making $5 million, he was relatively inexpensive insurance policy for a team that was thin at centre.
As Bergevin explained, he didn’t know that Max Domi, who had been acquired from Arizona, would become the team’s offensive sparkplug. He did know that draft choice Kotkaniemi would win a spot in the lineup. And he wan’t aware that Matthew Peca would be become a regular after getting lost in the talent-rich Tampa Bay lineup.
Plekanec might be picked up by another team, but he said that he had no interest in continuing his career in the NHL.
“I always said I wanted to retire as a Canadien,” said Plekanec. He did say he wants to play a few more years of hockey and the most likely destination is his hometown of Kladno, where the local team is owned by his good friend, Jaromir Jagr.
Plekanec has a contract worth $2.25 million with the possibility of another $1.25 million in bonuses. He will leave most of that on the table and the Canadiens will recover about $1.79 million in cap space. That means general manager Marc Bergevin has $7.9 million in unused cap money.
Plekanec said there were too many highlights in his career to choose one, but the night of Oct. 15 has to be one of them. That was the night he faced Detroit in his 1,000th regular-season NHL game. Two nights later, he was joined on the ice by his mother and his sons when he was presented with a silver stick to commemorate the milestone.
Montreal Canadiens Tomas Plekanec is greeted by hockey great Guy Lafleur, left, and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin (wearing a turtleneck for the occasion) during a ceremony to mark his 1000th NHL hockey game at the Bell Centre on Oct. 17, 2018. Graham Hughes / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Plekanec played 1,001 games — 984 with the Canadiens — and he collected 233 goals and 375 assists.
“I’m happy with what I accomplished here and I can go out with my head up,” said Plekanec.
“The fans were great and I hope they remember me as a guy who always gave 100 per cent,” added Plekanec. “Unfortunately, I never had a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but I’m so proud of the way I played in the NHL.”
“I met with the guys about an hour ago and it was harder than I thought it would be,” said Plekanec. “I’m gonna miss the guys.”
Julien and Plekanec go back a long way. When Plekanec made his North American debut with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2002, Julien was his coach. And Julien was coaching the Canadiens when Plekanec made his full-time jump to the NHL in 2005.
“We talked and he said I was his first coach and his last coach,” said Julien. “I was pretty proud to coach a guy who was a true professional throughout his career. He was a good team who brought lots to this organization. We all remember that he was not only a good two-way centre but he also put up points and won faceoffs. I didn’t like coaching against him as much as I liked coaching with him.”
After playing 1,001 regular season games in the NHL, including 984 games with the Montreal Canadiens, general manager Marc Bergevin announced today that Plekanec will be placed on unconditional waivers Saturday in order to terminate his contract.
The native of Kladno, Czech Republic, known for his turtlenecks and feisty two-way play, recorded 233 goals and 375 assists.
On Oct. 15, Plekanec suited up for his 1,000th NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings, scoring his lone goal of the season.
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