Canadiens fans might not recognize Tomas Plekanec now that he’s with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s not because of the new jersey, but because Plekanec had to shave off his goatee to comply with team rules set by old-school Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello that don’t allow facial hair.
Plekanec’s goatee was as much his trademark as the turtleneck he wears under his equipment. Luckily for Plekanec, the turtleneck doesn’t break any of Lamoriello’s rules.
The Canadiens traded Plekanec to the Toronto on Sunday and he was scheduled to make his Leafs debut Monday night in Tampa against the Lightning (7:30 p.m., TVA Sports).
“It’s going to be weird around here without Pleky,” Brendan Gallagher said after the Canadiens’ morning skate Monday in Brossard before facing the Philadelphia Flyers Monday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN Radio 690). “I think it was 981 (career) games for him to do what he did for so long for this team. They went on a lot of deep runs (in the playoffs) and he had an important role where he was on the ice against the best players in the world and he still put up pretty good offensive numbers.”
Plekanec ranks seventh on the Canadiens’ all-time list for regular-season games played at 981, during which he posted 232-373-605 totals. This season he had 6-18-24 totals in 60 games.
“To understand the impact he had, I think you talk to players who played against him and they’ll really tell you he doesn’t really make mistakes,” Gallagher said. “He’s always on the right side of the puck, he doesn’t cheat. Playing with him, you understand he thinks the game really well. I definitely learned a lot from him in my six years. Got to spend a lot of time on his line and it’s something that I think I’m better for.”
Said Alex Galchenyuk, who is also in his sixth season with the Canadiens: “From my first year, there’s not that many guys left and he’s one of them. He’s always been a big part of this leadership group and helped me whenever we played together on the same line. He was a great player to play with and I wish him all the best in Toronto.”
Artturi Lehkonen, in his second season with the Canadiens, said Plekanec played a key role in his development as a rookie last season when he posted 18-20-38 totals in 73 games.
“It’s always a big help when a young guy comes in the first year and a more experienced guy helps you out,” Lehkonen said. “Pleky did it to me. He knew I liked soccer, so he took me to watch the Montreal Impact play and pretty much that way I got to know him.
“If you follow him closely, you see how good he is,” added Lehkonen, who has 5-6-11 totals this season and missed 16 games with a lower-body injury. “That’s why he’s been able to play against the best players in the world year in and year out. He’s always been matched up against the best lines. I don’t see why someone would want to play against Pleky’s line when he’s out there because he can produce on offence, but still he’s always going to be in the defensive end, too.”
Lehkonen added that he sees a 200-foot game the same way as Plekanec, realizing the importance of combining offence and defence. When asked what his reaction was when he found out Plekanec had been traded, Lehkonen said: “Of course, it’s not a great feeling. Obviously, he’s a good friend of mine. But I understand it also at the same time. I hope all the best for him in the future. It’s part of the business … you can’t let that affect your game.”
The Canadiens and Leafs have two more games against each other this season, both in Toronto, on March 17 and April 7, the last game of the regular season.
Lehkonen said he got a chance to speak with Plekanec after Sunday’s trade.
“I just said when we’re going to meet, hopefully he’s going to bring his A game,” Lehkonen said with a smile.