PLEKANEC ENDS LONG RUN IN MON­TREAL ‘WITH MY HEAD UP’

Long­time Cana­di­ens cen­tre to re­tire from NHL af­ter be­ing placed on waivers

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - Ph­ickey@post­media.com twit­ter.com/zababes1 PAT HICKEY

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. He was a 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 didn’t know that draft choice Kotkaniemi would win a spot in the lineup. And he wasn’t aware that Matthew Peca would be­come a reg­u­lar af­ter get­ting lost in the talent-rich Tampa Bay lineup.

All those de­vel­op­ments ren­dered Plekanec re­dun­dant.

Plekanec might be picked up by an­other team, but he said 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 US$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.

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,” Plekanec said.

“The fans were great and I hope they re­mem­ber me as a guy who al­ways gave 100 per cent,” Plekanec added. “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.”

Af­ter meet­ing with Bergevin, Plekanec talked to his team­mates and coach Claude Julien.

“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 full­time 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 guy 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.”

ALLEN MCIN­NIS

To­mas Plekanec scored Oct. 15 against the Detroit Red Wings in his 1,000th NHL reg­u­lar-sea­son game, the vast ma­jor­ity of those in a Cana­di­ens sweater. The team has placed the vet­eran on un­con­di­tional waivers this week and Plekanec says he plans to re­tire from the NHL.

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