Just over a month ago, on November 29th, Chuck Fletcher decided that the Wild were healthy enough on defense that he could afford to send Mathew Dumba to Iowa for what he felt was much-needed development.
I was of two minds when this happened. At the time, Dumba had made some pretty noticeable mistakes (A Goal-Against vs. Montreal being the most memorable), and his 1 goal, 4 points, and 28 shots weren't what we had hoped to see from him. At the same time, Dumba's underlying numbers indicated that even while struggling he was performing at a level above options like Christian Folin, Nate Prosser, and Keith Ballard. However, with the top-4 healthy, and Dumba struggling, it was an acceptable move to send the 2012 1st-rounder to Iowa to get his groove back.
And, props to the Wild, that move made them look smart. Since Dumba's arrival in Des Moines, he's done nothing but display how dynamic he can be, scoring 3 goals on 24 shots, and adding 8 assists in just 12 games. He also leads the dismal AHL squad with a +4 (which was +8 before a 9-2 beatdown of the Baby Wild). This isn't the best indicator of defense, of course, but it does suggest Dumba has had a noticeable, positive impact in creating offense, even with a bad team.
It's only been a 12-game sample size, but I think it's pretty safe to say that Dumba is too good for the AHL. Which is why when Jonas Brodin went down with a
concussion "upper-body injury", and Justin Falk was sent down to Iowa, that Dumba would get the call-up for another shot at the AHL. Only that didn't happen. The Wild apparently were content to leave Dumba in Iowa while they played face-punching savant Stu Bickel in a crucial NHL game on the road at Winnipeg.
If you have a great reason as to why this happened, let me know.
It would feel redundant to continue to list reasons that Dumba should have played Monday's game at Winnipeg, and tonight's game at Columbus. It's widely accepted that Dumba would give the Wild more options, skills, and flexibility than a player like Bickel or Falk. Dumba's proven himself at the AHL, and deserves the shot. The Wild have points they absolutely need to gain in the standings, and it's very concerning that Chuck Fletcher would willfully handicap his team when they need every advantage they can possibly get.
Chad Graff wrote a pretty good feature on Dumba looking into his time in Iowa. In the article, it's pointed out that guys like Duncan Keith, Ryan Suter, and P.K. Subban all spent extensive time in the AHL. While Suter and Keith's time in the AHL were somewhat prolonged by the 04-05 lockout, Subban's situation has some parallels to Dumba. For one, both players dominated in their time in the AHL, with Subban racking up 53 points (as a defenseman!!!) in 77 games.
The other parallel is not so encouraging. Subban joined the Canadiens for the playoffs, where he scored 8 points in 14 games, helping Montreal on the way to the Conference Finals. But that run could easily have never happened. Montreal made the playoffs by only one point that season. Say Marc-Andre Bergeron doesn't tie up the last game of the season with 90 seconds remaining. The Canadiens would have missed the playoffs. Think that decision to let Subban play 77 games at the AHL would have looked smart, then?
The Wild, who are fighting for their playoff lives in 10th place, may find themselves in a similar position. Would Dumba be developing in Iowa in an ideal world? Maybe. But with Dumba's excellent tear in the AHL standing in stark contrast to current third-pair players like Prosser and Bickel, It's hard to say that he wouldn't be the best option of those three to play NHL minutes right now. And with their playoff odds at less than 50%, the Wild can't really afford to do anything but play the best options they have available to them.