Bob Gainey made headlines during last year for not negotiating with his pending free agents before the end of the season, but it appears the Montreal Canadiens general manager won't go that route with soon-to-be free agent Tomas Plekanec.
In his annual mid-season scrum with reporters on Tuesday, Gainey said the club intends to keep their leading scorer beyond the 2009-10 campaign.
"We would like to keep all our good players and I think you have to mark Tomas Plekanec down on the list of players we would like to keep," he told reporters prior to the Habs' game in Washington. "There isn't only one player that we want to keep. There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle. We'll work to fit them together before July 1."
Plekanec, 27, avoided arbitration with the team last summer by signing a one-year, $2.75 million contract. After a lacklustre 2008-09 season that saw him tally just 39 points - a 30-point drop from the previous season - he leads the Canadiens in scoring this year with 46 points and is on pace for an 80-plus point campaign.
The Canadiens committed about $45 million to 13 regulars next season and are hard pressed against the salary cap, but Gainey explained that it was something the team would have to work around.
"We see the cap in terms of hard numbers but things shift," he said. "Whether it's the cap going up or the cap coming down. Whether it's a player who leaves through a different fashion to open up space or an opportunity to acquire another player that closes up space. It's a shifting target. Right now, we're really tight against the cap. There's no question we're already working with all our dollars on the table, but there's always a way."
Gainey also addressed reports last month that goaltender Jaroslav Halak was looking to play more and had asked for a trade.
"I heard it as: 'I'm at a point in my career where I need to test myself. I need to have an opportunity where I have more access to the No. 1 position,'" said Gainey.
"I can't really blame him for having that sense. When it comes to a player's career, his livelihood, I think I have to be attuned to that. It's not that everybody will be traded or nobody will be traded. It's part of the way we do business."
Halak was a key part of Montreal's success on their recent seven-game road trip, earning five of the team's six wins and winning the Molson Cup for December.
"At this point, I think that Jaro has helped our team on the ice," said Gainey. "He's helped himself individually by garnering attention for himself from other teams and, should the right situation arise, both parties will be happy to consider it."