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Tomas Plekanec has eight points in 11 playoff games entering Saturday night's Game 5. ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press))

Never before had an NHL player written his own headline so well.

Two years ago Tomas Plekanec was playing in the playoffs for the first time as an established top-six NHL forward.

He was coming off a breakout 69-point season, centring one of the most dangerous lines in the league between Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn.

But once the playoffs began, Plekanec disappeared, notching only a pair of assists through the first three games of the Canadiens' first round series against the Boston Bruins.

"The last two games," Plekanec said between Games 3 and 4 of the series, "I played like a little girl out there."

The Canadiens centre has never really lived the quote down, especially after struggling through a difficult season last year.

But Plekanec found his game again this season and had set another career year, with 70 points in 82 games, the Canadiens' only forward not to miss a single game.

Still, questions remained on whether or not Plekanec would revert back to "little girl" status once the playoffs began.

Production slowed

Thus far, the answer to that question is a definitive...maybe.

With eight points in 11 playoff games entering Saturday night's pivotal Game 5 match-up with the Penguins in Pittsburgh, Plekanec's production has slowed slightly from the regular season. His numbers so far would give him about 60 points over a full 82-game season.

But two factors must be taken into consideration when judging those numbers. The first and most important one is the mission Plekanec is being given by head coach Jacques Martin.

Facing the high-powered Washington Capitals in the first round and the equally talented Penguins in round two, Plekanec has been relied on to try and slow down the opposition's top offensive lines.

He's also been dropped to the team's second power play unit of late as Martin has opted to load up the talent on the first wave since Andrei Markov went down to injury in Game 1 against Pittsburgh.

The second factor is Plekanec's health. He suffered a hip injury right around the Olympic break but never took any time off to allow it to heal, finishing the season with 10 points in his final 19 games. He said back then the hip injury is something he will simply have to live with, but after doing so for nearly three months, it's entirely possible it is catching up to him now.

So, why the in-depth analysis of the Canadiens' third-leading playoff goal scorer? Because his playoff performance to date only further muddies the waters when it comes to determining Plekanec's financial value for next year.

With a weak free agent class this summer, Plekanec could be one of the most sought after fish in the sea when he hits UFA status on July 1.

Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier and Plekanec's agent Rick Curran have already held a few preliminary talks, but both decided to hold off on further negotiations until after the season ends.

Uncharted waters

They are treading in practically uncharted waters, because few NHL players exist that would serve as a proper comparison for Plekanec's next contract.

Plekanec finished tied for 26th in the NHL in points this season with four other players: Eric Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The average salary cap hit for those four players? A cool $7.2 million (all figures in US dollars).

Of course, Plekanec is not worth anywhere near that amount, and he's probably not quite as good as those other four players. But that is an argument that Curran could use in negotiations.

In addition to Plekanec's offensive numbers, he has emerged as one of the most defensively responsible forwards in the game. He finished 18th among NHL forwards in regular season shorthanded ice time per game. Only one other player on the top 30 of that list also finished in the top 30 in league scoring: Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, who just signed a 6-year, $30 million contract extension with the Canucks.

Is Plekanec worth $5 million a year? On the open market, he'll probably get it, but that doesn't necessarily mean he deserves it.

The problem with comparing Plekanec with Kesler and another similar player like Mike Fisher of the Ottawa Senators is that both Kesler and Fisher bring a physical dimension to the game.

Plekanec was called "gritty" by Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma prior to the start of this series, but no one would ever call him a banger like Kesler and Fisher.

Finally, while both Plekanec and Gauthier have said they want to come to an agreement, finding a common ground in terms of a salary will be dictated by the Canadiens salary cap situation for next season.

Scott Gomez, Michael Cammalleri, Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik and Brian Gionta currently take up $29.6 million in salary for next season. With the $56.8 million salary cap expected to remain relatively stable next season, the Canadiens will only have about $12 million in space left after the expected buyout of Georges Laraque.

Within that amount, they have to fit in a new contract for either Jaroslav Halak or Carey Price (or both, though that's extremely unlikely), plus Plekanec and another five or six players.

Plekanec has scored at least 20 goals for four straight years and has only missed four regular season games over that period. Since making his "little girl" comment two years ago Plekanec has eight goals and seven assists in 23 playoff games, which would make for a 28-goal season if stretched out over 82 games.

What is that kind of production worth to the Canadiens, and what does Plekanec feel it's worth?

The answer to those questions are coloured a murky shade of grey.