What Dvorak Can Do for the Ducks

Does Radek Dvorak make the Anaheim Ducks a better hockey team? After joining the Ducks for their game versus Detroit March 24th, a contest he did not dress for, he got his first chance in the lineup on the 27th, in San Jose. He then did not dress versus Chicago, did against Columbus, did not against Dallas on Monday, and did at home to the Stars Wednesday.

So that’s seven games as a roster player but only three appearances. Before he played his first game, he had to clear waivers because prior to his appearances with the Ducks, he was in Switzerland playing with Davos. Their season ended, but the NHL rules demand that any player who has played in Europe after the start of the NHL season must be placed up for grabs before he can be signed.

All of that’s ancillary to the question of how good he is and what kind of a fit he makes in the Ducks’ lineup. Wednesday night, his incentive to do well might have been magnified since he was playing his former team. The 36 year-old was with Dallas last year, notching four goals and 17 assists in 73 games. He was previously with the Thrashers, Panthers, Blues, and others. He has had two long stints with Florida.

Over the course of his career, he has, to make round numbers, about 1200 games played and about 600 points to his credit, so you might think that he’d make a contribution to any team that picked him up. His contract, according to media reports, is a pro-rated $675,000, so if you figure that’s young rookie money for a guy who averages 40 points a year when the schedule is full, it’s not a bad deal.

Wednesday night, he played with Koivu and Daniel Winnik on what has been the third line thus far this season. That line, frequent readers will recall, has been completed by Andrew Cogliano many times. With Dvorak in there, Cogliano was with Selanne and Emerson Etem on a line that generated a lot of speed in the early going.

One notable play came in period two, with the shots even at 13. Dvorak took a puck behind the net and wheeled out with it to make a pass. From the press box, Dvorak looks big, or at least, he did on this play, moving to the net unimpeded. In fact, he’s tall at 6’2”, but Anaheim lists him at just 195 pounds. He is slight, but he looks bigger than that up close.

His contribution for the evening was highlighted by his first goal in an Anaheim uniform, the first one for the team on the evening in what eventually became a 5-2 contest. (Anaheim’s last was scored into an empty net.) The goal came at 11:44 of period one on a play that highlighted the passing skills of the Ducks.

Winnik was set up behind the net on the right side. He tic-tac-toed the puck with a player in the slot, then sent it out to near the point to Ryan Getzlaf. He fired a shot-pass toward the net, diagonally, heading right to left. Dvorak picked it out of the air and redirected it in. He later called the goal an easy tap-in. Sure, you can say that when you’ve got the kind of skill this guy has.

After the game, IH noticed that he had a hardhat sitting on the shelf above his locker stall and asked him about it. “Every team, they do the same thing, and I got my first goal. But everybody should get that hat, because everybody played hard. But they gave it to me. It’s nice. It shows that you had a good game, but everybody had a good game. I was just the lucky guy who gets the hat, but everybody should deserve it.”

OK, so he’s a veteran who long ago bought into the code which says that you don’t put yourself above the team in a situation where you’re the new guy.

He also explained that “it is [good to get the first goal], but the win is better. We knew they would be coming hard tonight. They’ve made a lot of changes on their team . . . . They’ve got a lot of young guys on their team, but they’ve handled it pretty well.”

Well, that’s being generous. The Stars, as everyone knows, have semi-gutted their roster. The people that are left are so young that Matt Beleskey of the Ducks, sporting what he called “just another black eye for the season” along with five stitches underneath the eye, said that the Stars are a young team. He is just short of 25 years old himself.

Dvorak also commented, “Sitting on top of the league, nothing’s better than that. But we’ve got eleven games left, and nothing’s going to be easy. I’m enjoying every minute being on this team.”

The Ducks see Dallas for the third straight time in this absurd season’s schedule Friday.

But you still want the answer to the question of whether he makes Anaheim better. Well, think of it like this: the Ducks have made a lot of smart moves of late, but very few dumb ones. Having Dvorak, if he sticks with the third line, allows Cogliano to move up to play with Selanne, giving him the center he needs. And even if Dvorak is a luxury extra, as he might become when either Staubitz or Steckel plays, he’s cheap as far as luxury goes, coming for no cost in players and little in dollars.

One thing to note is that despite being a veteran of nearly 20 years’ experience, his first season being 1995-96 with Florida, he has been to the playoffs just four times. He has, however, made them count, or nearly so, playing to the Finals in both that first year and in 2005-06, with Edmonton.

So there’s the angle for you who are into the fairytale side of sports: veteran with one more kick at the can goes to Finals again. Third time’s the charm.

Follow me on twitter @growinguphockey. Please read my books, the newest of which is My Country Is Hockey.

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