Christian Dvorak will bring a few more guarantees than Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and that’s valuable for Marc Bergevin


About an hour after announcing that he would not match the hostile offer submitted by the Carolina Hurricanes to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens made a deal with the Arizona Coyotes to get their hands on the forward. Christian Dvorak.

In videoconference, a little later, the GM of the Coyotes Bill Armstrong confided that Marc Bergevin had approached him about Dvorak even before the most recent draft, thus well before the Hurricanes took action in the Kotkaniemi file. . Today, the proximity of the two transfers means that it would be tempting to consider the acquisition of Dvorak as a way of compensating for the departure of Kotkaniemi, but Bergevin’s approach, undertaken long before the Canes sent a paved in his pond, reveals that Dvorak comes much more to compensate for the departure of Phillip Danault than that of KK.

It’s in the volume of work he’s done in recent years, similar to that of Danault, that Dvorak has demonstrated he can be reliable in a second center role. The 25-year-old center has shown in the past that he can hold his own against the best opposing lines. He’s not a center with the same defensive instincts as Danault, but he’s part of what the Habs have always wanted, which is reliable 200-foot forwards who can be employed in all situations.

« People talk about his production, but you have to remember how good he is in the face-off circle. He can play both sides of the puck, he’s a scorer and he can play defensively well as well, » said Armstrong said earlier in the evening of Dvorak, who since his rookie season has posted a 52.9% success rate in the face-off circle.

“He is someone who has already performed, but he does a lot of little things, I come back to that. He may not have played with the highest caliber linemates at times, but he was able to score on the power play. You give him the puck in the middle and he will put it in the net. He’s a good finisher.

« And then there’s the way he is like nobody else in the dressing room and the way he prepares. He’s a pro among the pros. »

Armstrong and Bergevin spent the second half of the summer passing the buck, and the Coyotes had been very clear that if they were to part with the 25-year-old center, it would be in return for a asset capable of moving the organization forward. It came in the form of a first-round pick in the next draft, the higher between the one the Canadiens already held and the one he inherited from the Hurricanes as compensation for Kotkaniemi. In the event that at least one of the two choices ended up in the top-10, it is the lowest ranked of the two who would then be sent to Arizona.

Never mind, it could be a big price paid for a forward who has never tallied more than 38 points in a season.

It’s the first time since leading the Canadiens that Bergevin has traded his first-round pick in an upcoming draft. The scarcity of center players being what it is, and the need to replace both Danault and Kotkaniemi, forced him to take drastic measures. But at the very least, he will look for something in Dvorak that he might not have had from Kotkaniemi, which is a certain level of certainty and security in his player’s performance.

Bergevin likes to remind people that there are never any guarantees, but when a team can move forward knowing what to expect from a player, there is more predictability in that he brings, it is reassuring for managers and coaches alike.

Kotkaniemi was not there. The GM spoke more than once about his lack of consistency and he openly doubted that he was ready to take on the position of second center. At a salary of $6.1 million for the coming season, this uncertainty was going to cost a lot more, and it was certainly one of the factors that motivated the Habs not to match the offer.

Dvorak comes with a contract in his pocket valid for four seasons (including this one) and he will give the Canadian the best years of his career. Again, cost certainty is attractive. The Habs add a top-6 forward at a very friendly price ($4.45 million) in a fixed salary cap environment that could prevail until the end of his contract.

Taking the more conservative route and assuming the Hurricanes will have a better regular season than the Canadiens, Bergevin has essentially just traded Kotkaniemi, an as-yet-undetermined number of first-round spots in the upcoming draft as well as a second-round pick in 2024 for Dvorak and a third-round pick in 2022. And by the way, the Habs are saving $1.65 million from what they would have paid for Kotkaniemi this year.

Dvorak appears to be more of a finisher – especially when playing in the middle of the slot on the power play – and his performance suggests that his performance at 5-on-5 will depend a lot on the quality of his wingers. However, since the team is rich in good wingers, it has a chance of taking the American’s game to another level.

That said, the risk-benefit ratio is not the same for Dvorak and Kotkaniemi. The Canadian’s newcomer is currently the better of the two players, but the potential to be reached is higher in Kotkaniemi, and that’s what the Hurricanes have bet on.

We heard left and right this week that the Canadiens were somehow paying for their decision to submit a hostile offer to Sebastian Aho two years ago, and that they should have expected that the Hurricanes are looking to respond when the time comes. It’s a somewhat simplistic vision that is easy to convey after the fact. The fact is that, in the past, hostile offers have not often been followed by a response from the team that had been assaulted. It was more the personality of owner Tom Dundon that came into play in this case more than a typical action-reaction effect in the NHL.

At the time, the Habs may have meddled with forcing the Hurricanes into a new contract for Aho, but two years later, given star player inflation, they must be content to have their star center under contract during his best years at a competitive salary. Somewhere, the Canadian did them a favor by settling the file in this way. Not sure if we can really say that Bergevin reaped what he sowed by losing Kotkaniemi in this way.

On the other hand, if the Canadian made a mistake to reach this unfortunate conclusion, it was not to have been able to maximize the development of the third universal choice in the 2018 draft to a level that would have allowed him to be at the comfortable giving him a lucrative long-term contract. The fact that the Canadiens weren’t sure if they wanted to make Kotkaniemi their second center going into his fourth NHL season told us what to know about the doubts surrounding his progression.

The net result is that of the Canadiens’ seven first-round picks between 2012 and 2018, only Ryan Poehling is still in the organization. Admittedly, the team was forced to rush its decisions in Kotkaniemi’s case due to the hostile offer, but the management of his development has not had the expected result in the three years since his selection.

“I always come back to development. It’s a word that I think is used very cheap, objected Bergevin during the regular season. The day that we will lose a young person who will go to another organization and really become the key player we expected, there will be a problem. But all players develop at different levels and all of these same players are given the same tools. (…) Often, it is the player himself who, for one reason or another, does not develop or stops developing. We draft players at 17, it’s not an exact science to draft players. I don’t blame anyone for that, that’s the draft. You draft players, you give them the best possible environment, and the rest will depend on them. »

The GM could very well use the same justifications and apply them to Kotkaniemi, but after three years in the NHL, he has found a team to believe in Kotkaniemi more than him and dare to engage with him.

« His age and natural abilities suggest a very high potential, and the opportunity to acquire players like that doesn’t come up very often, » said Eric Tulsky, assistant general manager for the Hurricanes. Jesperi is a smart player who sees the ice extremely well; it seems like every time he touches the puck, he puts his team in a better position. »

Nothing says that the Hurricanes will have been right to hold this speech, the same as the CH held when claiming it. But for Montreal, the inability to turn their first-round picks into meaningful players is a heavy trend that Cole Caufield will hopefully help change.

In the end, the Canadian probably doesn’t form a better team, but it was practically impossible to do in the situation in which he found himself. The projected center line for next year (Suzuki-Dvorak-Evans-Paquette) isn’t as strong as last year’s (Suzuki-Danault-Kotkaniemi-Evans), but Dvorak’s coming at least comes absorb some of the shock.

(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today)



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