When the Habs parted with a pretty good young defenceman in Alexander Romanov to get Kirby Dach at the draft, they were taking a bit of a risk. With the contract they handed Dach on Wednesday, they’ve taken another one.
At this point in his career, Dach hasn’t done a whole lot. That’s why Chicago gave up on him in the first place. It isn’t as if he hasn’t had a prime opportunity either as he logged over 18 minutes a game in each of the last two seasons including spending a lot of time on the front line.
With the Canadiens, it’s safe to say he will be playing less in an environment that should be quite similar to the one he played in last year with the Blackhawks. That’s basically a polite way of saying he’s going from a bad team to one that’s going to be similarly bad next season; it’s not like he’s going to a contender that’s automatically going to help him elevate his game. While the team and fans hope that head coach Martin St. Louis can bring out a new level of production from this group, the fact is that he hasn’t been around long enough to expect it to happen.
When you look around the league, some recent comparable bridge deals for someone like Dach is a two-year pact around the $2 million range. That’s where Dach should have fallen in as well so they’re paying quite a premium for the extra couple of years. The cheapest season of the contract is $2.5 million which is well above comparable value.
Granted, there is a reward element at play as well. If Dach is able to perform to management’s expectations, the Canadiens will have a bargain on their hands at some point in the deal. Towards the end of the contract is when Montreal should be trying to get back into contention and having him ideally at a below-market rate at that time should help. I get the logic.
But even in that scenario, it carries risk. This contract takes Dach within one year of unrestricted free agency. If he’s set on testing the market, he can simply file for arbitration, get what he gets, and set himself to hit free agency in 2027 in the prime of his career. You might be thinking to yourself that this isn’t a big deal, but try telling that to a Winnipeg fan because it’s the exact same scenario Pierre-Luc Dubois is positioning himself towards with the way things went this summer for him. If all goes well, Dach carries almost all the leverage in 2026 and a shorter-term deal – even by a year – could have avoided that.
If they gave him a standard bridge deal and he broke out, sure, he’d cost more two years from now. But that type of contract would come with more certainty of what Dach can provide and would likely buy out some UFA years at the same time. Now, if he does break out and the Habs can work out a long-term contract with him in 2026, it’s going to cost a whole lot more than a post-bridge deal in 2024. That’s the downside with a medium-term second contract like this, contract number three will cost that much more.
Is the potential for a bargain in the final two years of the contract worth carrying the extra cap hit now and the loss of leverage down the road? Is that bargain potential worth the risk of carrying an underachiever if Dach plays at the level he did with Chicago, one that isn’t worth $3.3625 million per season? It could be but to me, the risks outweigh the rewards. But it’s clear that the Canadiens see more in him than I do. Dach will have four years to prove them right and if he does, he’s going to be the biggest winner in the end.