The Arizona Coyotes have made it clear that Christian Dvorak is going to be a part of their plans for a long time, signing him today to a six-year contract extension. The deal kicks in for the 2019-20 season and will carry Dvorak to unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2025. The 22-year old forward is entering the final year of his entry-level contract, and was eligible to sign an extension on July 1st. CapFriendly reports that the deal will carry a $4.45MM cap hit, meaning the total extension is worth $26.7MM. Arizona GM John Chayka included a statement:
We are very pleased to sign Christian to a long-term contract. Christian is a highly skilled, reliable, two-way center who continues to improve each season. He will be a key player for us in the future and we are thrilled to have him with us for the next seven seasons.
Dvorak was originally selected 58th overall by the Coyotes in 2014, but returned to the OHL for two more seasons to round out his game at the junior level. In those years, paired mostly with Mitch Marner (and often either Max Domi or Matthew Tkachuk) Dvorak became a dominant offense player and recorded 230 points in just 125 regular season games. He added 35 points en route to an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 2015-16 as team captain, before jumping straight to the NHL the following season. While some doubted that Dvorak could produce goals and points away from Marner and the other talented players on the London Knights roster, he scored 15 goals and 33 points as a rookie on a bad Arizona team and performed better admirably in the role that he was given.
Unfortunately Dvorak failed to take another step forward offensively in 2017-18, scoring just 15 goals again and recording 37 points despite increased ice time. While he took substantial strides in his defensive and faceoff work, his upside in the offense zone was capped and his powerplay production was underwhelming even with ample opportunity. No longer a rookie, there were higher expectations of the young forward that he didn’t quite reach in the eyes of many. Apparently not in those of the front office though, as the team has signed him long before it was necessary in an attempt to get him under contract before a potential breakout. There’s little chance he could have demanded a contract of this value next summer given that he would not have been arbitration eligible, though it does buy out two of his unrestricted free agent years down the road for a reasonable price. The breakdown of the deal, provided by Craig Morgan of AZ Sports, indicates that he also has an eight team no-trade clause in those UFA seasons. The full salary breakdown is as follows:
- 2019-20: $2.95MM salary + $300K signing bonus
- 2020-21: $3.45MM salary
- 2021-22: $5.075MM salary
- 2022-23: $3.45MM salary
- 2023-24: $5.725MM salary
- 2024-25: $5.75MM salary
Those are big numbers for a player that still has yet to really have an offensive breakout, though they could look like a bargain down the road if he does. With the salary cap expected to continue to grow (though perhaps not at the same rate), a $4.45MM cap hit might become more than reasonable for a two-way center with Dvorak’s ability. Unfortunately right now it will be compared to some of his contemporaries who have produced at a much higher rate in recent years. CapFriendly’s tool indicates that Victor Rask and Rickard Rakell are the closes matches for the deal, given they each signed six-year extensions in 2016 at the age of 23 (the same age Dvorak will be when the deal kicks in). Rask and Rakell were each coming off 20+ goal and 40+ point seasons, thresholds that Dvorak has still yet to eclipse in his short career, and both come in at substantially lower cap hits ($4.0MM and $3.8MM respectively). Rakell has thrived after being moved to the wing with 67 goals over the first two years of the deal, and while Rask has actually taken steps backwards offensively in consecutive years his point production still sat right around where Dvorak was in 2017-18.
The interesting part of a deal like this for Arizona though, is that the team normally doesn’t really have to worry about cap problems. Even after assuming dead cap hits like Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa, the team still finds itself with more than $10MM in space and one of the lowest salary totals in the league. Giving Dvorak a little bit extra in order to keep him in the desert long-term may have been necessary, and something that the team was obviously willing to do. Other teams around the league will likely feel the effects worse than Arizona when it comes to re-signing their own restricted free agents.