If Devan Dubnyk gets something just north of $5 million a year on a long-term deal with the Minnesota Wild, he’ll be 19th in the NHL when it comes to salary cap hit among goalies. That doesn’t seem outrageous or unreasonable, considering his performance this season and the fact he’s 29 and this is the first time he hasn’t played behind a terrible team.
But if you’re Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, do you really want to offer a big-money, long-term deal to a player with such a checkered past when you’ve already got five contracts that have at least five more years remaining?
Oh vey, what a conundrum for the Wild. In Dubnyk, the organization has finally found a goalie, it thinks, can give it the kind of goaltending it needs to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. And it’s all well and good to talk about the plethora of capable goaltenders out there and caution against overspending on one. But when you don’t have one it can be the undoing of your organization.
There are only seven days until the window for speaking to prospective free agents opens, so Fletcher has a lot to think about over the next week. The courting period has effectively moved free agency up a week because even though teams are not permitted to make offers during that time, suffice to say most free agents get a pretty good idea of what they’ll be making once they speak to a team.
And here’s where Fletcher’s problem lies. He’s not even certain he has a proven commodity in Dubnyk. It would be unfair to say that Dubnyk was a complete bust before last season because he has had some stints of solid play, even behind the Edmonton Oilers. But it would also be a stretch to say that there’s no doubt Dubnyk’s run with the Wild in the regular season was undoubtedly a portent of things to come. And it’s also fair to say the Wild played much better as a team in front of Dubnyk than before he got there.
It was just over a year ago that Dubnyk posted an .853 save percentage in the AHL. And if you want to bookend this season, you could probably point out that Dubnyk was not near as good for the Wild in the playoffs as he was in the regular season. He helped get the Wild to the second round, but turned in some rather poor performances in the post-season.
So the jury is still very much out on Dubnyk and his long-term potential. If Dubnyk goes slightly over $5 million a year, it would put him in the same snack bracket as the likes of Jimmy Howard and Roberto Luongo and a few hundred thousand dollars a season behind guys such as Mike Smith, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick. The Wild see him somewhere in the fours, right around where guys such as Jaroslav Halak, Jonas Hiller and Steve Mason are.
Complicating all of this is the market is flooded with goaltenders. Always has been, always will be.That's the nature of the position. The Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks are trying to get rid of one of their goaltenders. Cam Talbot, who saved the New York Rangers season – behind arguably the best defensive team in the league, it should be noted – is looking for a place where he can be a No. 1 goalie. The Chicago Blackhawks have no room for Antti Raanta. The list goes on.
But again, it’s easy to tell a team to take its chances on a goalie. But it’s far more difficult to swallow hard and do it. The Wild knows it has a guy who led the team to the playoffs last season, saved its season basically, and it knows it has one week to negotiate with him exclusively.
What Fletcher has to determine is whether or not Dubnyk made the Wild successful or he was a product of its success. It’s probably a little bit of both. Dubnyk has changed his style in the past year and has become an advocate of the “head trajectory” craze that has done wonders for some goaltenders. But even though the Wild was struggling when it acquired him, those who watch the team closely will tell you its play was coming around as well.
Put it all together and you have a goalie who wants to cash in on a great run, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And you have a team that isn’t 100 percent sure what it has, but knows what it had when he wasn’t there. It will make for an interesting week and change for the Minnesota Wild.