The Calgary Flames have added several new pieces to their roster during the 2021 offseason. Starting with a big UFA signing in Blake Coleman, the Flames also traded for Nikita Zadorov, Tyler Pitlick, and Daniel Vladar. NHL insiders have reported that Brad Treliving and the Flames are not done yet, and are looking to make a few more moves ahead of next season.
Rumoured to be right in the middle of trade discussions with the Buffalo Sabres to potentially acquire Jack Eichel, the Flames should have a backup plan in case an Eichel trade does not materialize (a trade which, frankly, is unlikely). Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak could be that Plan B.
Who is Christian Dvorak?
Drafted by the Coyotes in the second round of the 2014 draft, Dvorak is a 6’0″ 194 lb center from Palos Township, Illinois, and is 25 years old. His most notable connection to the Flames is his junior hockey career, where he played three years for the OHL’s London Knights. In his final season in London, he lined up next to Mitch Marner and Flames star Matthew Tkachuk, and the trio absolutely dominated the OHL. They put up a combined 344 points in the regular season, went 16-2 in the OHL playoffs to win the league championship, and won the Memorial Cup.
Dvorak placed second in OHL scoring that season with 52 goals and 121 points in 59 games, finished third in OHL playoff scoring with 14 goals and 35 points in 18 games, and finished second in Memorial Cup scoring with seven goals and 12 points in four games.
All three members of that line were named first team OHL all-stars (fun fact: Andrew Mangiapane was actually a second team OHL all-star that season).
There’s obviously familiarity with Dvorak and Tkachuk, but Dvorak has also played with Pitlick and Michael Stone (who isn’t a Flame for the upcoming season yet, but they somehow inevitably find a way to sign him so we might as well assume for the time being). Further, Treliving was the Coyotes’ AGM when Dvorak was drafted.
Dvorak’s on-ice production
In the NHL, Dvorak hasn’t dominated like he did in junior, but he’s put up respectable numbers as the team’s second line center.
Over the course of his career, Dvorak has scored almost exactly at 0.5 points per game. It’s not phenomenal by any means, but pretty solid for the second line center of the Coyotes with a severe lack of talent on his wings.
Looking deeper, his underlying metrics don’t paint a very pretty picture upon first glance, but when contextualized, it’s not bad at all. Team rank is shown next to the raw value in brackets.
|2016–17||43.49 (20)||42.95 (8)||43.71 (3)||42.78 (9)|
|2017–18||48.26 (9)||49.07 (9)||46.11 (14)||46.58 (13)|
|2018–19||46.53 (20)||47.55 (15)||49.49 (10)||50.83 (12)|
|2019–20||50.61 (2)||51.18 (4)||54.49 (4)||52.21 (4)|
|2020–21||46.34 (16)||46.27 (9)||45.32 (14)||48.41 (10)|
Among his teammates, Dvorak has consistently been one of the best 5v5 skaters for the Coyotes, especially over the past two seasons. His best season came in 2019–20 when he was a top-four player in every major advanced statistic, and above the 50% mark across the board.
Last season was also quite strong despite the underwhelming totals above. On a very bad Coyotes team, Dvorak led the team in expected goals at 5v5 despite having the eighth most shot attempts. He gets into high danger areas to create quality chances quite well.
If we look at models developed by people much smarter than we are, this strength shines through.
First looking at Dvorak’s isolated 5v5 impact from hockeyviz.com, we see that Dvorak has been a consistent driver of offense and a consistent suppressor of opponent chances at 5v5. This model looks at each player individually, removing all external factors like quality of teammates, quality of competition, and coaching.
Dvorak’s strongest offensive and defensive seasons were the previous two seasons, and he has gotten better as he’s gained more experience and games in the NHL. This is the chart of a very effective NHL player, and someone who can be relied on to play in all three zones. Dvorak has shown that he can drive offense and play solid defense for several seasons now, and appears to be a very good option as a middle-six center.
Looking at another model, this time by Evolving-Hockey, it’s a similar story, though slightly less rosy. This chart takes into account the past three seasons.
There’s a lot going on here, but the Cole’s Notes are:
- Dvorak is an above-average NHLer in both even strength offense and even strength defense.
- On the power play, Dvorak creates a high number of quality chances, but those chances don’t go in nearly as often as they statistically should. A good part of that is likely due to playing for the Coyotes.
- He is not a very good penalty killer and takes more penalties than he draws.
An overall rating of 57 might not seem very good initially, but this isn’t like a midterm or an NHL21 rating. Dvorak is rating as a very good middle six center in the NHL. For reference, here are the same charts for the two current middle-six Flames centers, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund.
Both Monahan and Backlund have lower ratings than Dvorak, and Backlund is highly regarded as one of the better two-way middle-six centers in the NHL.
Dvorak’s fit on the Flames
With Dvorak at center, this helps address a weakness for the team. If he’s able to be a serviceable middle-six center, this will allow the Flames to use Monahan as a winger if need be, or even shift Elias Lindholm back to right wing to fill the roster deficiency there. Alternatively, Dvorak can play left wing as well, and could be a great option on the third line if Monahan rebounds.
It opens up a world of options for the team, and having extra depth on center is never a bad thing. The Flames will probably be relying on a rookie to fill their 4C role, so having another center in the lineup will help.
Giving him the opportunity to line up with Tkachuk once again would be fun to see, and even if it doesn’t work out like it did in London, having already established chemistry will ease Dvorak’s transition to the lineup.
Treliving has done a number of deals to acquire former Coyotes and with Arizona selling the farm this offseason, Dvorak is definitely a player that could be had for a reasonable price.
In terms of money and contract, Dvorak is signed for the next four seasons with a $4.45M AAV. It’s a manageable cap hit, though he would be the Flames’ fourth highest paid center. It’s a little rich, but with Dvorak’s untapped potential he could easily outperform that contract in his first year on a better Calgary team.
What would it take to trade for Dvorak?
It’s tough to tell. Clearly, the Coyotes are interested in trading players for help in their rebuild, so shipping out any big ticket roster players isn’t going to be the answer here. What makes the most sense is a collection of picks and/or prospects which the Flames could definitely do.
Dvorak isn’t a premier forward in the NHL so he won’t garner a return of any blue chip prospects or first round picks. However, a swap of Dvorak and Oliver Kylington might make sense given how it doesn’t seem like Kylington is in the Flames’ future plans. Alternatively, Arizona seems to love acquiring second round picks (they have five in next year’s draft) so sending over the Flames’ second rounder in this trade might work as well.
The price won’t be huge. If the Flames were interested in acquiring Dvorak, they could make it work. It seems like a move that would help this team, especially if they don’t wind up with Eichel.