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Head Trajectory: Panacea or Placebo?

Could the real secret to Dubnyk's success be something other than Head Trajectory?

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Devan Dubnyk has credited Head Trajectory training with the revitalization of his game this year, but what if something a lot simpler was actually the major contributor to Dubnyk's resurgence, and Head Trajectory was acting as some sort of placebo? Now, it's important to note that I'm not saying Head Trajectory had no effect on Dubnyk's game, just that it might not have been the centrepiece of his revival as it has become in the media.

What then has been central to Dubnyk's sudden career revival? The answer is very simple. Renewed confidence.

It's a well-known fact players who are confident in their abilities play better. This seems especially true of goalies, who are often scrutinized as if they were playing an individual sport. Sports psychology teaches that a balance between performance anxiety and self-confidence is key to any athlete performing at their personal peak. A little bit of anxiety can facilitate a good performance, but a lot is debilitating.

In Dubnyk's case, his stint with the Oilers (enough to destroy anyone's confidence), coupled with an unsuccessful period of adaption in Nashville, and finally a rough landing in the AHL would have increased his anxiety to detrimental levels and obliterated his confidence. His lack of confidence can be seen in his abysmal AHL stint. He only managed a .893 SV% despite being a former starting NHL goalie.

This brings to mind a quote from Oilers prospect goaltender Laurent Brossoit while he was still playing in the WHL: "It was essentially "look good, feel good, play good." This idea is confirmed by a quick Google search of the keywords "goalies and confidence." Confidence is an important talisman for goaltenders; confident goaltenders are a talisman for winning teams. The Minnesota Wild's form since acquiring Dubnyk certainly proves the restorative effects of good goaltending.

How Head Trajectory is incorporated into Dubnyk's renewed confidence is simple. It is a tool. Much like the sugar pill in a drug trail, Head Trajectory made Dubnyk believe in what was possible again. This is not to say that Head Trajectory is a system without merit. The human mind is the most powerful tool in any athlete's tool box, and Dubnyk getting his head back in the game could only have a positive effect. The act of learning a new technique increased Dubnyk's confidence in himself and his abilities. This effect is similar to what is seen when patients take a sugar pill and feel better, despite having taken no active medications, which is known as the placebo effect.

At the start of the year, it is probable that Dubnyk's confidence was in what he'd been taught instead of his abilities. He trusted a system to help him improve his performance, and because of that trust, he had confidence. His confidence led to better play, which in turn, led to more confidence in a positive feedback loop. So, though Head Trajectory is the spark that revitalized Dubnyk, the ability was there all along. It was simply smothered in doubt. Looking into Dubnyk's history, it is possible to see that in the lockout shortened season, he posted a .920 SV% with the Oilers. His numbers with the Oilers are actually more impressive than his .916 SV% with Arizona to start the ‘resurgence' of his career. Especially considering that with the Oilers, he was playing with a team that is a sieve for a defence.

In every game, Dubnyk has not been fantastic. He still has those rough starts. In his last ten games, dating to March 6, 2015, he has save percentages that vary from .857 to .974. The difference from previous years is that Dubnyk now has the confidence to shake off those bad starts and rebound from them. This wasn't the case with the Edmonton Oilers. Head Trajectory doesn't stop Dubnyk from having bad games or letting in bad goals, but it does stop him from allowing those things to eat away at his confidence, reducing it to dangerously low levels.

Head Trajectory training has played a part in Dubnyk's return to form, but nothing is possible without confidence. If Dubnyk were not confident in his abilities, all the different training and schools of thought about how a goalie should play would have no effect. The key to Dubnyk's return to top form is that he found a system that worked for him, and it restored his confidence. That restored confidence allowed him to face down any situation without overwhelming performance anxiety and self-doubt, both of which sports psychology indicate have debilitating effect on athletes.

To further elaborate, the Wild have had a moderately successful goalie in Darcy Kuemper. Last year, he finished with a .915 SV%, which is obviously comparable to Dubnyk's resurgent numbers. This year's numbers are less impressive at .904 SV%, but still not horrible. For instance, the Oilers' current starting goalie, Ben Scrivens, can only manage a .896 SV%. However, the difference between Kuemper and Scrivens is the atmosphere of the teams on which they play. The Minnesota Wild are looking to make a deep playoff run this year, following up on last year's successes, and the Edmonton Oilers are looking at another basement finish with attendant high draft pick.

The Wild lost confidence in Kuemper; Kuemper quite obviously lost confidence in his own abilities. It is Dubnyk's story told all over again one year later and without a poorly executed trade. The major question is if Kuemper's story can have Dubnyk's happy ending. Can Head Trajectory be the tool that Darcy Kuemper uses to rebuild his confidence and restore his faith in his abilities? Will this summer see Kuemper joining Dubnyk in learning this new method of puck tracking? Next year, will the Wild have an abundance of goaltending riches?

Head Trajectory is the tool Dubnyk chose to use, but his returned confidence is the real key to Dubnyk's winning ways. Whether or not this is a duplicable feat is something only time will tell, but with possible long-term ramifications and the playoffs looming, the real winners here are Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild.

Hockey Wilderness thanks Shona for the post.