The Montreal Canadiens have a lot of cap space tied up in 12 players going into the Free Agent Frenzy and they have some high-priced decisions to make before the Frenzy actually drops on the calendar. This really leaves a guy like Tomas Plekanec, the team's leading scorer in 2010, in limbo until some of these factors can be ironed out and dealt with.
With $43.4 million already tied up, the goaltending situation likely the team's top priority, I would have to imagine that the team's management is waiting for the new salary cap ceiling number to be passed down from the league's head office before they can hammer out the actual numbers for everyone who's looking for new money starting in the 2011 season.
Plekanec, being an unrestricted free agent, has to be a bit of a concern for the Habs, as they don't have a lot of time to hammer out the details, when you think the Free Agent Frenzy is just over three weeks away and the salary cap number doesn't usually drop until a few days before the Entry Draft, but there has to be a plan of attack in there somewhere I'd imagine... from both sides.
My expectations of a new deal for Plekanec sits in around $4.5 million per season, since he's only had one really big year in the scoring columns and he's really only starting to find his stride. Of course, if the Canadiens are going to try and lock him up long-term, there could be an argument for a little bit more money down the road, possibly back-loading the deal, keeping his cap hit relatively affordable, helping the team build. That would be very helpful on Plekanec's part to agree to something like that.
Expectations may change if he hits the open market on July 1st, if the Canadiens cannot put pen to paper before then. Plekanec really established himself as a good two-way centre with a good scoring touch, finishing 27th among forwards in scoring last season. That may be a hot commodity in this weaker free agent class, which could fetch him $5.5 million a year or a longer-term deal which is around $5 million per season. Comparable players in the league now would be Mikko Koivu (1 year remaining at $3.25 million) or Derek Roy (3 years remaining at $4 million), multiplied by the demand of the position.
So, let's say he hits the open market, playing a little Devil's Advocate here, where does Plekanec go, signing at $5 million per season, likely in a 3-to-4-year deal? Now, Plekanec is only 27 years old, so his absolute desire to win may not be as strong as the 35+ free agents looking to win a Cup right away, so I would imagine Plekanec will take a big deal where he can get it. I think that puts a good number of teams in play, including a lot of the basement rung teams, like Atlanta, Long Island and Tampa Bay. If Patrick Marleau happens to leave San Jose, I could see the Sharks making a play for Plekanec as a 2nd line centre, he'd be an interesting fit there, but he'd be a 3rd priority to a couple other marquee free agents.
Plekanec is definitely going to be one of the better UFAs on the market this Summer, if he isn't re-signed by the Canadiens before July 1st. I have him down as the number two centre on the market, behind Marleau, and we all know teams like to have good options at centre. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the top end teams signs him and moves players around to get him to fit in their scheme.