The Montreal Canadiens made a splash at the 2022 NHL Draft by selecting Juraj Slafkovsky, then only minutes later, making a trade that could jumpstart the rebuild. General manager (GM) Kent Hughes moved a popular player in Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders in exchange for the 13th overall pick, which was then packaged with a later pick to acquire centerman Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Like Romanov, Dach is a restricted free agent (RFA) who has yet to receive a contract. There has been discussion online as to what his salary and term should be on his next deal. So what is his potential and who is comparable for Dach’s future contract?
What Can Dach Become in Montreal?
The value of bringing Dach in was the central core of a debate on THW’s affiliated podcast Habs Unfiltered. In the end, the consensus was that being a potential second-line center capable of playing in a first-line role when called upon outweighed the value of the 13th overall pick (which became Frank Nazar) or impact that Romanov could have on a second pairing.
As the third overall pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, Dach was seen as the future replacement on the top line for Jonathan Toews. Unfortunately, Dach struggled over the course of his entry-level contract (ELC) and Chicago chose to trade him as part of their complete teardown under new management.
At only 21 years old, it would seem that the Blackhawks sold low on the potential of the 6-foot-4, 200-pound center, as he provided a disappointing overall production rate with just 26 points (9 G, 17 A) in 70 games last season. It was also an underwhelming season since he had to be shifted to the right-wing due to his 32.8 percent success rate on faceoffs. The fact Dach was still not fully recovered from a significant wrist injury, and that the Blackhawks were a team riddled with injuries and suffering a free fall leading to a complete fire sale and rebuild didn’t help him either.
Having a down year for a young player is not uncommon. That being said, Dach hasn’t yet had his breakout season in the NHL – so it isn’t all doom and gloom. The Canadiens’ coaching staff under head coach Martin St. Louis have also shown that they can improve a young player’s game in a short time, just look to Cole Caufield as one example. Also, the analytics staff played a big role in helping Hughes decide on Dach but can also be used to provide St. Louis supporting material to decide what area of his game to focus on first.
Dach is working on his shot this summer. Having come off of a season that saw him shoot only 116 times, averaging only 1.6 shots per game, strengthening the injured wrist and becoming comfortable handling the puck more will help his meagre 7.8 shooting percentage.
Knowing that Dach is getting a fresh start could help his overall performance this season, but before he can do that, he will need to sign a new contract. Because of his struggles, Hughes will most likely have him sign a two-year bridge deal, which allows Dach to prove his value but also retain his rights as he would still be an RFA.
Understanding the likelihood that the term will be short, what would be the value or cap hit of that contract? Using comparables could help provide some insight. For Dach, there are several comparables that come to mind.
Also a former third-overall pick, Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer sheet that was far too high, which left then-Habs GM Marc Bergevin to choose not to match. Kotkaniemi was coming off of a poor offensive performance and seemed to have his progression stalled from a lack of usage and being brought into the NHL too quickly, but also from a lack of compete that led to his being scratched during the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup Final run in 2021.
Kotkaniemi’s second contract, however, could be seen as what a long-term deal would look like if Hughes were to choose to gamble on potential. At $4.82 million over eight years, it would be a very team-friendly contract if (and that’s a big if) the player becomes a top-six center. But this type of contract is highly unlikely to happen for Dach until after a two-year bridge deal.
Casey Mittlestadt completed his three year ELC in 2021. The former eighth overall pick in 2017 had a difficult start to his NHL career as well. While he is now seen as being back on track and progressing towards becoming a top-six center, he did suffer some setbacks having had low offensive production, culminating in a drop in that production during his third year. Also, he had suffered a major injury causing him to miss significant time. This led to the Buffalo Sabres having him sign a three-year bridge deal worth $2.5 million. At the end of that deal, Mittlestadt will still be an RFA, but having been given a larger role to play on the roster, the Sabres will have enough data to decide on his value for their next round of negotiations.
Nolan Patrick is another former top-three pick in the NHL Entry Draft, going second overall to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017. Like Dach, the Vegas Golden Knights center has had injury concerns that have affected his performance. Both players also saw a significant dip in production in their third season and neither has had a breakout season yet. Even more uncanny is that both were traded at the end of their ELC.
Due to all of that, Patrick was signed by the Flyers to a one-year bridge deal worth $875,000, which was basically done to help facilitate a trade. That trade may not have occurred if not for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, though.
Possible Dach Contract
Looking at the comparables above, two of which were top ten draft picks dealing with injuries, there is a window from $875,000 to $2.5 million. For Dach, joining a new franchise and having the underlying metrics show that he can have a breakout year and reach his potential in the right environment.
That hope, yet uncertainty, will lead to a bridge deal being selected instead of a long-term one. It could also lead to matching the cap hit in the Mittlestadt range. So Canadiens fans shouldn’t be surprised if the money goes slightly higher due to the tax differences, however, a possible deal could see Dach signed to a two-year $2.5 to $2.75 million contract.