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Coyotes banking on improvement with Christian Dvorak’s 6-year extension

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot (33) makes a save on a shot by Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak (18) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Coyotes continued the multi-step process of locking up their young core when they signed center Christian Dvorak to a six-year, $26.7 million contract extension on Thursday that will carry an average annual value of $4.45 million and represent 5.5 percent of the team’s cap hit. Dvorak has one year left on his entry-level deal that will pay him $839,167 this season. The new contract runs through the 2024-25 season.

The move raised some eyebrows, both for the uncharacteristically long-term years Chayka agreed to (only Oliver Ekman-Larsson is signed for longer) and for the annual cap hit given to a player with just two years and 70 points on his NHL resume, but Chayka said he was willing to assume some risk now with Dvorak and his agent Kevin Magnuson, rather than wait until Dvorak became a restricted free agent after the season.

“There’s a few different ways you can go about working with a player coming out of his entry-level deal,” Chayka said. “You can let him play out the three years and make a determination from there, you can look to bridge him, you can look to do term. Our view is this is a player that we want a part of our group for the long term.

“We just think he’s getting better and better. The market is going to continue to rise and we feel like this is a deal that made sense for both sides at this time. Obviously, it’s a bit of a projection deal so we are including that in our assumptions but at the same time, we project the person and player and believe that as a center he’s a very valuable and rare commodity in the NHL, a 200-foot center.”

Coming off a rookie season in which he produced 15 goals and 33 points, Dvorak, 22, had 15 goals and 37 points in 78 games last season. He was second on the team with a face-off win percentage of 51.4 and fourth among forwards in average ice time per game at 16:26. He had a Corsi For percentage of 49.2, per hockey-reference.com, while starting 52.4 percent of his zone starts in the defensive end.

“I thought I got better on both sides of the puck, offensively and defensively,” said Dvorak, the team’s second-round pick (No. 58) in the 2014 NHL Draft. “I want to make sure I produce more and make sure I’m still a two-way center as well.”

The Coyotes have had a busy offseason at the center position, also acquiring Alex Galchenyuk and re-signing Brad Richardson. With Dylan Strome and Derek Stepan also on the roster, the Coyotes have options and depth at that position, but the addition of wingers Michael Grabner and fellow Chicagoan Vinnie Hinostroza caught Dvorak’s attention and inspired his offseason work.

“I’m kind of working on my first three steps,” he said. “We made the additions of some fast wingers and we already had some to begin with so obviously I want to keep up with them. That would be a big improvement in my game.”

There were reports at this year’s draft in Dallas that the Coyotes were shopping Dvorak in a potential deal with the Minnesota Wild, but Chayka said at the time that those reports were inaccurate, with coach Rick Tocchet adding there was “no way” the team was planning to trade Dvorak.

“We’ve all been through trying to find good centermen and it’s a difficult thing to do,” Chayka said. “If you get one you want to keep him long term.

“I think that everyone appreciates that he plays a mature game. Coming in as a young player, we put a lot of responsibility on him. He has played some real tough minutes for a young centerman at a tough position to play. We’ve used him all over the lineup. His versatility is an asset and he’s just a really smart player that can play in all situations. His drive and determination to continue to get better is a big part of what we’re doing here.”

Chayka said the Coyotes are confident Dvorak’s production will improve, but there are already good signs. He had 26 even-strength goals in his first two seasons. By comparison, Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk had 24, Boston’s David Pastrnak had 23 and St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko had 21 in their first two NHL seasons, respectively.

“There’s always a risk when you’re committing to players that haven’t yet done that, but in this situation with this certain player and his fit with our group, we’re comfortable that he’s going to continue to get better,” Chayka said. “We think the offense is just scratching the surface.”

Dvorak was one of six players on the NHL roster that was scheduled become a restricted free agent after next season, joining defenseman Jakob Chychrun and forwards Brendan Perlini, Lawson Crouse, Nick Cousins and Josh Archibald. Chychrun, who has returned to Arizona, is 17 weeks removed from knee surgery and has been cleared to skate. If he shows no ill effects of his second knee surgery in two seasons, the Coyotes could look to extend him this season as well.