The re-signing of Devan Dubnyk is currently a point of contention for fans of the Minnesota Wild. Some fans are worried about spending too much money to retain the services of a relatively unproven goalie. If the price is right, they argue, Dubnyk could be an asset. However, the last thing they want is another large contract for a possibly underachieving player. They’d rather play the market and see what shakes out. There are a few reasons why this argument is short-sighted, and the Wild should try to lock Dubnyk up before he becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent.
The first and most compelling of those reasons is that the Wild have the market cornered on Dubnyk right now. They aren’t in a bidding war with other teams trying to find a magic bullet to revitalize their underperforming teams. If the Wild have to compete with other teams, they run the risk on an inflated contract just because the market will bear a higher salary. The principles of capitalism being what they are, more competition for the services of one individual will drive the price of those services up. There are plenty of teams in the NHL willing to take a risk on a Vezina Finalist, and surely one of the teams in the NHL in need of some depth at goalie would be willing to take a chance on Dubnyk. It certainly wouldn’t help the Wild’s case that Dubnyk is one of the hottest Unrestricted Free Agents of 2015. It doesn’t make sense for the Wild to bid against other teams when they can make a reasonable offer to Dubnyk’s camp before Free Agency.
What constitutes a reasonable offer is the major point of contention for Wild fans. They already have contracts on their roster that are quite large. The Parise and Suter contracts come to mind immediately, but the Kivou, Vanek, and Backstrom contracts are also quite the cap hit. Backstrom especially is a contract of concern for the Wild. Backstrom is a cap hit of $ 3,416,667 and is currently the Wild’s biggest underperforming goalie. He is also currently injured. If the Wild are going to pay Backstrom such a large amount of money, it is only reasonable to expect that Dubnyk would be paid a larger amount. After all, it doesn’t seem sensible for Dubnyk to stay for less money than the backup goalie. A reasonable contract for the Wild is now looking to be between four and five million dollars. This is comparable to what other goalies with good results are making in the current market.
If Wild fans can accept that number, the next concern revolves around term. Dubnyk may turn out to be another failed experiment, they argue. There are two different streams thought around this. One is to look at Dubnyk’s performance this year and past performance. The other is take a chance and hope for the best. Dubnyk may turn out to be a bust, but do the Wild honestly want him to continue to be a Vezina finalist for another team?
Instead of looking at the performance of his team, primarily the Oilers, there needs to be a focus on Dubnyk’s numbers. In the lockout-shortened season, he posted a .920 save percentage on a team that was defensively weak and irresponsible. In contrast, in this last year Dubnyk had a .929 save percentage. While the difference is significant, it also shows that Dubnyk has posted good numbers on bad teams previously. This is not the only good season he has ever managed to put together. It is simply his best season.
The fact Dubnyk was traded from a losing team and did a stint in the AHL is a common argument against offering him term. If he was a washout just last year, it seems foolish to risk so much on the hope that he could live up to the potential seen in the last season. This argument is followed quickly by the argument that Dubnyk played poorly during the playoffs. Looking only to the past and without considering the changes Dubnyk has made to his game, which seem like a good investment, or the fact this was Dubnyk’s first NHL postseason experience into account when passing judgments.
Dubnyk seems to have found a different headspace from what he was in after a long stint in the Oilers organization. He has regained confidence and has proven to be a steady presence for the Wild in the net. He has rebounded from poor games in his 33 consecutive starts for the Wild, putting up good numbers after bad ones this year. He also rebounded from a horrible April 22, 2015 performance that saw him pulled from the net in a 6-1 thrashing by the Blues, backstopping the Wild to a 4-1 victory in the next game. He seems to be learning something from the blowout loses because rarely do two come back-to-back. Dubnyk is showing that he now has the confidence to keep moving forward and improving as a goalie.
As to the second argument – Dubnyk’s poor performance in the playoffs – Dubnyk played poorly in some games. However, it would be remiss of Wild fans not to remember that he also kept them in other games while their anemic offense struggled (and ultimately failed) to find a way to score. Dubnyk had an inconsistent playoff performance, and while this is troubling, it is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. The Wild need to assemble a team capable of making the playoffs before they again become a worry. Besides that, the Wild’s spectacular failure against the Blackhawks was a team effort and not to be blamed on just one player. Furthermore, for his first career appearance in the NHL playoffs, Dubnyk handled the pressure of playing in a hockey-centric market with large expectations well. It looks like his time with the Oilers wasn’t a complete wash after all. If one really wanted to dig into Dubnyk’s past to see how he performed under pressure, it would be prudent to also consider the Spengler Cup in 2012 and the strong performances he put up in that tournament.
The second argument for taking a chance and signing Dubnyk to some term is found in the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning traded Cory Conachar to the Senators for Ben Bishop in 2013. Bishop also saw good season in the NHL followed by time in the AHL. The Lightning, however, saw potential in one strong season for the Senators and one decent one on the heels of a less than stellar time with the Blues. Their faith and willingness to play the odds has definitely been rewarded. While Bishop hasn’t put up numbers to rival Dubnyk’s this year, he has been consistently good. That consistency comes from the Lightning taking a chance based on one really good season despite time in the AHL in Bishop’s NHL career. Looking at his numbers before he was traded to the Lightning, Bishop looks much like Dubnyk. A goalie with a large possible upside but the very real fear of him already having had his one good season dogging him. The real question is do the Wild want to follow a similar path and take a chance on signing a goalie who looks to be a good prospect to put consistently good numbers, even if he never again is a Vezina finalist?
To be frank, the Wild would be stupid not to make an offer before Free Agency starts. Dubnyk is the player around which their second half resurgence and ultimate playoff push centred. He’s been the catalyst for an improved Wild team and has given the "State of Hockey" a lot to be excited about. Besides all of that, he wants to continue to play for the Wild. The power of this factor should not be discounted when it is sometimes hard to lure players to markets where hockey is the most prominent sport. Usually, salaries are bigger because the pressures and expectations are bigger. Players feel like everything they do is watched. And let’s be honest, Minnesota isn’t looking at making a deep Cup run with what they have right now. They still have some tinkering to do.
Look at some of the Oilers' July 1st signings for proof of both inflated salaries in Free Agency and having to pay players more to get them to play in less metropolitan areas. It’s also a good idea of what it takes to lure players to teams that don’t win, something Wild fans had a taste of pre-Dubnyk.
It shouldn’t be too surprising to see the Wild offer something between four and five million for anywhere between three and five years to Dubnyk. After all, if they don’t want to secure his services, there are a number of teams more than willing to take that chance; there’s nothing to stop Dubnyk from leaving, affection for the team notwithstanding. Hockey is a business, and the Minnesota Wild need to take a calculated business risk on Dubnyk and sign him.