When the Montreal Canadiens lost Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi in quick succession, the decision they made on how to fill the hole at center came with some controversy. Despite some questions about how well the team would play in 2021-22 without the likes of Danault, Shea Weber, and Carey Price, the team used a first and second-round pick to acquire Christian Dvorak from the Arizona Coyotes. While this season’s complete collapse wasn’t expected, spending futures was certainly a risk with the Canadiens’ recent regular season struggles.
Now, less than a full season into his time in Montreal and Dvorak is in the rumor mill once again. Elliotte Friedman writes that some Western Conference teams are considering Dvorak, and the Sportsnet insider then explained further on the recent 32 Thoughts podcast:
Look he’s had a nightmare of a year. It’s just been a horrible nightmare of a year for him. But I think everybody recognizes that he’s a better player than he gets credit for this year. I think there are some teams in the west in particular that have looked at him and are interested in him and are kind of going up and down. On their list of people to acquire, he’s on it. I don’t have specifics yet but I think he’s definitely got some teams out there looking at him.
It was always going to be a tough task to replace Danault’s elite defensive ability but the hope was that Dvorak could represent a more well-rounded player in Montreal and reach a level of offensive production that he had yet to experience with the Arizona Coyotes. In five years in the desert, he had career-highs of 18 goals and 38 points, not exactly first-line-center kind of numbers. Instead, Dvorak has scored at just about the same rate as he always has, recording seven goals and 16 points in 34 games for an 82-game pace of 17 goals and 38 points. Certainly, some of that can be attributed to injury and the depressing state of the Canadiens offense around him, but it’s not clear what kind of drop his value has experienced this season.
Notably, Dvorak isn’t one of those players on an expiring contract that is shipped to a contender at the deadline in order to provide some depth for the playoffs. He is signed through 2024-25 at a $4.45MM cap hit, a contract he signed in 2018 right out of his entry-level deal. That term means the Canadiens obviously don’t have to move him, though new general manager Kent Hughes has hinted that big changes will be coming to the Montreal roster in the coming weeks and months.
The Canadiens don’t really have any centers that are banging down the door to be installed behind Nick Suzuki in the top-six. Ryan Poehling and Jake Evans have been inconsistent through the early parts of their professional careers, while Jonathan Drouin has been used exclusively on the wing for quite some time. Among the team’s top five prospects–ranked by Scott Wheeler of The Athletic–only Jan Mysak of the Hamilton Bulldogs has much real experience in the middle.
There is of course the upcoming draft, which has a pair of centers at the top. Shane Wright and Logan Cooley lead the way as the top two prospects on most lists, a position the Canadiens have a good chance at drafting given their current place in the standings. But Dvorak’s future doesn’t necessarily need to be tied to those two at all, given the fact that even if they step directly into the NHL they would be on entry-level contracts.
Instead, the decision whether to trade Dvorak at the deadline or not would signal more how the new administration views this current group of Canadiens. If it’s just a short retool in order, his contract is still long enough and reasonable enough to keep around. If it’s a full rebuild, trading a 26-year-old with three years left on his deal–and before his value drops any lower–might be a prudent decision.