The Montreal Canadiens will need to build an addition to their team infirmary as the 12th player this season has been added to the long-term injured list. The club announced on March 15 that forward Christian Dvorak had undergone successful knee surgery in New York and will miss the remainder of the season. He is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for the 2023-24 season.
For a team decimated by injuries, losing another player has further strained the system, causing a trickle-down effect that has hurt the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate’s hopes at a playoff spot as the Laval Rocket have dropped to sixth in the AHL North Division Standings with 58 points in 59 games, two points back of the Belleville Senators, who have played 60 games. The playoffs aren’t out of reach, but losing six players to the Canadiens has made it more difficult.
Losing Dvorak will be felt in other ways as well. He provides value to a young team in need of veteran support and defensive play. However, his abscence also demonstrates his trade value in the long term may be more impactful than what he provides on the ice.
Dvorak is a serviceable middle-six center who is best suited for a third-line role on a playoff team. The 27-year-old winger is in the fourth year of the six-year contract signed with the Arizona Coyotes in 2019. That contract expires in 2025 and pays him $4.45 million per season, with a modified no-trade clause (eight-team no-trade list) that comes into effect on July 1.
Related: Canadiens’ Injury Issues Need to be Solved for Future Seasons
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Dvorak is one of the veterans who head coach Martin St. Louis relies upon most, especially defensively. With Nick Suzuki playing an average of over 21 minutes per game and relied upon for over 25 minutes in several games since the All-Star break, Dvorak’s role in alleviating Suzuki’s defensive responsibilities was essential, especially now that Suzuki is the only bona fide NHL center on the roster.
When Dvorak is playing a strong two-way game with a focus on transitional play, he fits in with the the style of play head coach St. Louis is working on building in Montreal. This season, he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, however, with 10 goals and 28 points in 64 games, averaging 16:52 in ice time per game while leading the Canadiens with a 52 percent faceoff success rate, he has provided full value for his cap hit and in the role of a third-line center.
There is a contingent that considers Dvorak expendable. With a healthy roster and some progression from prospects growing into legitimate NHL players, that may be true. The Canadiens’ center depth includes Suzuki, Kirby Dach, and Jake Evans. In the pipeline, Owen Beck could challenge for a spot, and there is uncertainty about the return of Sean Monahan. Even if all of them return or are added as centers, Dvorak could still be useful as a two-way winger. Former teammate, Mathieu Perrault, spoke about Dvorak on the French language TVA Sports:
“He (Dvorak) isn’t a guy that the Canadiens would miss. He’s someone that is being overpaid for what he brings to the team.”
He went on to describe Dvorak as lacking intensity or a certain energy, someone who is very quiet and introverted, especially in the dressing room.
Canadiens Trade Market
With the Canadiens in a rebuild, Dvorak can support the team by taking on tough assignments, allowing young players to be eased into their roles. But, as Perreault makes clear, that isn’t an essential piece of the puzzle either.
NHL insider Frank Seravalli put him on his trade target board at the NHL Trade Deadline, and interest in Dvorak won’t end simply because the deadline has passed.
“Dvorak is a bit of a surprise name. He hasn’t been talked about much, but the Canadiens have received a couple calls on Dvorak in the weeks leading up to the deadline. You might look at his production and see that it doesn’t jump off the page, but Dvorak is still just below 0.50 points per game on a team that has really struggled (27th) to score this season. He has two more seasons on his contract, so that means that Dvorak isn’t likely to move – this would wait until summer – but the Canadiens didn’t plan to move a couple of the guys that they did last year, too.”
With general manager (GM) Kent Hughes still in search of a third first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Dvorak might be able to get that type of return from a contending team. Clubs such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, and Minnesota Wild are all searching for a reliable and affordable middle-six center.
But one team that might be active on the draft floor and surprise a few fans are the St. Louis Blues. They have three first-round picks in this draft, two of which will be later in the round, and are looking to retool on the fly. Dvorak would be an interesting addition to their roster as his style fits with the Blues, and he could replace some of what they lost in Ryan O’Reilly (to a lesser degree) at a more affordable cost.
While the injury to Dvorak will hurt the Canadiens’ depth and even impact their ability to win some games, it isn’t detrimental to the overall direction of the club. With only a dozen games remaining this season, the team’s youth has stepped into a larger role and allowed management to assess their development and get a glimpse of their potential. With the rebuild ready to take the next step, Dvorak’s value to the club may be lower than on the market.
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I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.