Friday, September 24, 2021

Habs Preview: Christian Dvorak: Two Autographed Cards

(team and product links go to sponsored Amazon products, player links go to related pages on my blog, news links go to source pages)

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: I liked doing last year's format, so I'll be doing it the same way this season as well, partly because of that but also because as a father of a toddler and a baby, I just do not have enough time to write two separate posts per day on each blog. I'll copy these on each one instead. Like last year, the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written.

Caveats: At this point, despite training camp being set to start, several players haven't found a team yet, many RFAs haven't signed with their respective teams, and a few clubs are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.
Key exits: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (C), Phillip Danault (C), Corey Perry (RW), Jordan Weal (C), Cale Fleury (D), Jon Merrill (D), Tomas Tatar (LW), Eric Staal (C), Erik Gustafsson (D)

Key Arrivals: David Savard (D), Cédric Paquette (LW), Mathieu Perreault (C/LW), Jean-Sébastien Dea (C), Mike Hoffman (LW), Chris Wideman (D), Sami Niku (D), Samuel Montembeault (G)

Top prospects: Cole Caufield (RW), Cayden Primeau (G), Kaiden Guhle (D), Mattias Norlinder (D), Jordan Harris (D), Jan Mysak (LW), Ryan Poehling (C), Oliver Kapanen (C), Luke Tuch (LW), Logan Mailloux (D), Gianni Fairbrother (D), Rafaël Harvey-Pinard (LW), Joël Teasdale (LW)

I don't buy that the Montréal Canadiens played in the weakest division last year, because they didn't: the West had the three California teams, which were essentially 30 free wins for the Vegas Golden Knights, while the Habs had to contend with Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko and Connor Hellebuyck in any given game while the rest of the league faced much easier matchups down the middle and in net.

What makes their odds look good:
The team gained a lot of experience during last season's playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final, and many of the returning faces up front (Nick Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli, Caufield, Josh Anderson, Joel Armia) have room to grow their game, the leadership rock remains stable with Brendan Gallagher despite Shea Weber's probable absence, and the defense is a brick wall only the Tampa Bay Lightning can pierce... year after year.

Question marks: Will Weber's health force him to retire? Which is the real Carey Price: the regular-season bottom-dweller of the past four seasons, or the quality playoff starter from last year's run? Will the team actually keep Jonathan Drouin, or is he off to clear his mind with former teammates in Colorado, or adding to a top-six in Edmonton?

The Atlantic is stacked. The Bolts remain the gold standard, the Florida Panthers finally delivered on par with their talent, the Toronto Maple Leafs can outscore their uncertainty between the pipes, the Ottawa Senators are on the rise, and the Boston Bruins, although older and stating to see core pieces retire, can still hold their own; the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres don't matter in the playoff conversation, but finishing ahead of the fifth-place team in the Metropolitan does, as the team with the most points in slots 7 and 8 in the Conference make it to the dance, so the Bs, Sens and Habs may cancel each other out in the end.

Tied for 4th in the Atlantic Division, outside the playoff picture.

Going by comments on social media, Montréal fans do not seem to have a fucking clue how important Danault was to this team. His line with Tatar and Gallagher was the most potent for goals and shot differentials at five-on-five for the past three years combined, and in any given year also held their ground and were top-three, matching favourably with the likes of McDavid/Draisaitl/whoever, Brad Marchand/Patrice Bergeron/David Pastrnak and Gabriel Landeskog/Nathan MacKinnon/Mikko Rantanen. Even when they didn't score, their 60-point pace mixed with defensive acumen made them a better a more effective unit than any other unit in the league, including those with multiple 100-point players. In last year's playoffs, Danault even took most draws when his line wasn't on the ice.

Acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, Christian Dvorak is a 25-year-old centre who wins faceoffs, scores 15-20 goals a year and collects some 45-60 points (pro-rated) at $4.45M per, for four more seasons. He covers 80% of what Danault brought, with added net-front presence in the offensive zone and is the epitome of "cost certainty", which is nice to have under a salary cap. He cost more (a first-rounder and a second-rounder) than the Habs received for Kotkaniemi (a first and a third), who could hit the 50-point mark this season and be a very good player five years from now - although that is no certainty, especially to those who saw him fall to the ice five times per game for the past three years. Like Price and Alex Galchenyuk before him, "KK" was rushed to the Big Show way too soon for his own good.

The Canadiens' centre depth took a big hit this summer, and I'm afraid Dvorak has big shoes to fill, although casual fans might not realize just how clownesque they really are - it's a good thing McDavid and Draisaitl are in the Pacific Division this year. Dvorak has evolved nicely from the 2016 World Juniors' bronze-winning Team USA squad as a much more complete 200-foot player, but he is not the player who accumulated five more points than Mitch Marner (121 to 116) when both were teammates in their final year of Juniors playing for the OHL's London Knights.

This is what he looked like in recent years, wearing the Coyotes' purple and black (home) uniform on card #156 from Upper Deck's 2019-20 Series 1 set:
And here he is wearing their correspondig white (away) uniform, on card #144 from the 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee collection by UD:
He signed them in (fading) black sharpie before Covid-19 hit.

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