Mired in a six-game losing skid and fading fast from the Western Conference playoff race, the Minnesota Wild acknowledged the obvious and made a trade for a goaltender, acquiring veteran Devan Dubnyk from Arizona in exchange for a third-round draft pick. With just two wins in the past 14 games, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was left with little choice but to make some type of move in net. But this move represents a small-g, low-risk gamble that doesn't mortgage the team's future, but also isn't a commitment to a long-term acquisition.
The 28-year-old Dubnyk has done a solid job rehabilitating his reputation in Arizona this season, posting a 9-5-2 record in 19 games. Last season had been an unmitigated disaster, as he'd been dealt from Edmonton to Nashville for Matt Hendricks and his save percentage and goals-against average only got worse as the campaign dragged on. But as a backup to Mike Smith, he's boosted his numbers back to respectability (a save percentage of .916 and a goals-against average of 2.71) – and with an $800,000 cap hit on a one-year contract this season, he doesn't hurt the Wild's flexibility either this season or next. He's got a chance to further re-establish himself and earn an unrestricted free agent raise on a team built to be in the playoff mix for the foreseeable future. If that doesn't happen, Fletcher moves in an entirely different direction.
However, there's no doubt he had to do something. Minnesota's goaltenders (Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom) simply weren't providing the basics a team needs to compete for a post-season berth. There are other goalies presumed to be available on the trade market – most notably, a young up-and-comer such as L.A. backup Martin Jones, or perhaps Ottawa veteran Craig Anderson – but the asking prices for them undoubtedly were higher than the Wild were prepared to pay. But we've seen goalies leave Arizona on highs before and not flourish, and this move may not wind up doing much of anything for Minnesota.
For the long-term good of the team, a player such as Jones – whom many hockey men see as a near can't-miss No. 1 netminder once he gets out of Jonathan Quick's shadow – might be worth paying the higher price on the trade front. The 25-year-old Jones will be a restricted free agent this summer, and that's another reason to value his services. The Kings aren't dummies, of course, and they'll demand top prospects and/or draft picks in any transaction for Jones, and although Fletcher has enough of both to get a deal done, that seems like a last resort. Dubnyk is clearly the first resort.
For now, at least, the Wild have a fresh face in town who has something to prove, and if he doesn't deliver some immediate results in the next few weeks, the next new face is likely to be a replacement for head coach Mike Yeo. Fletcher is running out of shakeup options for this moribund group, and the next change won't be so relatively low-key.