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For Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec Is Front And Center

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TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 28: Steven Stamkos
TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 28: Steven Stamkos /
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With Artem Anisimov missing at center for the Chicago Blackhawks, is there a case to trade for Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec?

Outside of the Cinderella story of Jeff Glass, the Chicago Blackhawks continued to underwhelm on their three-game Western Canada trip.  However, they did show signs of life against the resurgent New York Rangers.

The loss of Artem Anisimov to injury has affected the team’s performance on both sides of the puck, however.  The lack of depth at center is noticeable, and the schedule will be getting tougher.  Could Montreal Canadiens’ center Tomas Plekanec be a good addition to plug some glaring holes?

Anisimov on offense

Anisimov is currently tied for second place in team goals with 13 and is in eighth place for scoring with 18 points.  So he is obviously a top-six forward.  He had been centering for Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane, and that line had started to gain traction.

In five games prior to his injury, Anisimov’s line had scored eight goals and seven assists for 15 points.  In Anisimov’s absence, Schmaltz has slid over from left wing to center Kane and Ryan Hartman.  This new line has been very effective with an uptick in speed from Hartman on the left side.  However, the chain reaction is the concern.

The new third line is comprised of Patrick SharpDavid KampfAlex DeBrincat.  So with the promotion of Hartman to the second line, Kampf slid over to center and Sharp returned to the lineup.

In his four games, Kampf has posted no goals and one assist with two shots, no hits and two blocked shots.  He had the primary assist on Sharp’s goal against the Rangers and showed good recognition and responsibility in the offensive zone.  It’s a small sample size and he’s just getting acquainted to NHL-caliber play, so it’s difficult to really assess what he can bring to the lineup.

Anisimov on defense

It’s no secret the Blackhawks’ second line has a tendency to get outworked in its own zone.  As seen here from HockeyViz.com, the danger zone in front of the ‘Hawks net is pretty dangerous with Anisimov and company.

Where Anisimov excels defensively is on the penalty kill.  He has really stepped up his play this season in playing aggressively up high and using his long stick to break up passes for zone clears.  In his absence, coach Joel Quenneville has increased Jonathan Toews‘ role on the penalty kill with partner Brandon Saad.  And this brings us to the next point.

The loss of Anisimov causes a chain reaction

Chasing the puck on the penalty kill is exhausting.  Add this increased load to Toews’ already tough assignment to shut down opponents’ top lines, and you have a captain who is getting worn down.  While Kampf and Schmaltz did a fine job against the Rangers, you can bet that Coach Q will continue to rely heavily on his captain.  The Rink’s John Jaeckel hit a home run with this analysis of Toews.

Now here’s where the heat chart gets interesting.  When Toews is on the penalty kill, there are substantially more high-danger scoring chances in tight than with others on the kill. Check out the next two heat charts.

So the question is, “Is Jonathan Toews getting worn down from overuse?”  Not only have the ‘Hawks lost Anisimov temporarily, they have lost specialist Marcus Kruger, demi-god Marian Hossa and shot-blocker extraordinaire Niklas Hjalmarsson.  So far, there is no one that can equal what any of these three great players brought to the penalty kill.  You can bet your bottom dollar that Toews is being overused with the loss of these guys.

Where will the relief come from?

Since there is no one to fill the big shoes of Kruger, Hossa and Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks should explore getting help from the outside.  The perfect addition would be a center who can play a shutdown role and help out on the penalty kill.  Enter Plekanec.

The 35-year-old Czech is currently the Montreal Canadiens‘ third-line center.  He has scored just four goals with 12 assists for 16 points.  These stats don’t jump out for you to say, “Yeah, let’s get that guy who is getting paid $6M a year.”

Where Plekanec’s value lies is in his ability to play the shutdown role and excel on the penalty kill.  He was recently lauded for saving a game for the Habs against the New Jersey Devils.  He can also win faceoffs and tilt the ice the other way.  From Corsica, he posts all positive stats while starting only 41.2 percent of zone starts in the offensive zone.

To see Plekanec’s effectiveness in 5-on-5 situations, here are the heat charts for unblocked shots for and against.  He creates offensive chances in close and limits them in his own end.

The big obstacle is that $6M salary and cap hit.  This is a salary that will expire this season, so acquiring Plekanec would purely be a rental.  With the Habs well off the Eastern Conference wild-card race, Habs general manager Marc Bergevin may be willing to deal him involving salary retention for prospects/draft picks.

There are other players who have been the subject of trade rumors.  They include Derick Brassard, Mike Hoffman, Max Pacioretty, Christian Dvorak, Ryan Dzingel and Derek Stepan.  None of these offer the same profile as Plekanec and would be more difficult to obtain via trade.

So imagine a roster that would go into the playoff push with Toews, Anisimov, Plekanec and Tommy Wingels down the middle. Imagine a true shutdown center on the third line who still has high-end playmaking skills.  Imagine a fresher Toews who can exert more energy on offense and the powerplay.

Next: Blackhawks' Hot And Not: Time To Go Streaking?

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  I hope I’m not the only one.  What are your thoughts on adding Tomas Plekanec?

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