After displaying promising growth in the 2017-18 season, the Minnesota Wild rewarded Matt Dumba with a five-year deal that paid him $6 million annually. He was coming off a breakout season where he scored 14 goals and 50 points. It was a huge commitment for Minnesota, but a decision they were confident in making because Dumba looked poised to become a force on the blueline, or perhaps even become one of the NHL’s best.
It felt like Dumba was a very similar version of Brent Burns.
The reality is that Dumba hasn’t lived up to his pricey contract, but that doesn’t entirely fall on him because he has dealt with various injuries, including his season-ending pectoral injury during an unwarranted fight Matthew Tkachuk that required surgery.
The Wild witnessed Dumba reach new heights during the 2018-19 season. The sharp-shooting defenseman scored 12 goals and 22 points in 32 games — a 31-goal, 56-point pace. Dumba led all defensemen in the league in goals at one point. It’s a shame that his season was cut short because he was producing like one of the NHL’s best.
Hopefully, it can all be put in the past, and this full 82-game season can be the next chapter in his career.
Dumba has never been the same since the demoralizing injury.
“You ask anyone who’s coming back from a significant injury like that, there’s a process that you have to go through to get back,” Dumba said at the beginning of last season. “It doesn’t happen like that, like I thought, it was kind of naive thinking that way. It was a good reality check for me.”
That can change this season, though, for many different reasons. After the defensive departures this offseason, there will be increased pressure on Dumba. However, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding him heading into the offseason because of never-ending trade rumors and the expansion draft. That all went away when he was protected, and he was later named an alternate captain.
In the past, Dumba has hinted that he thinks he can hit the 30-goal plateau. That’s a tough task, even tougher for a player who has struggled to get his game back to where it was pre-injury. The last NHL defenseman to reach 30 goals was Mike Green in 2008-09.
Dumba struggled in 2019-20 but improved last year. However, his point totals have significantly diminished over the past two seasons, which is quite concerning.
Dumba was worth one win above replacement last season, a positive sign after his struggles the year before.
It will be important for the Wild that Dumba can rediscover his scoring touch; it’s the element that is missing in his game. After scoring 12 goals on 6.3 expected goals in the 2018-19 season, he has been an underachiever in terms of finishing over the past two seasons. He has been a bit unlucky over that time, though, having a 3.6 and 6.7 shooting percentage.
One thing that Dumba needs to do is increase his shot volume. After shooting 6.03 shots per hour in 2018-19, then 5.69 in 2019-20, he only had 4.18 shots per hour at 5-on-5 last season — an uncharacteristically low rate.
If he can improve his finishing and shot volume, he will be set because he’s a strong play-driver, so generating offense is a strength of his.
Of course, there are some areas Dumba needs to improve in for him to maximize his potential and recapture his explosive offensive game and scorching shot. For example, he is often criticized for his ill-advised defensive turnovers and poor positioning. While his defensive game isn’t as poor as advertised by many, he does need to improve in this area and develop a more rounded two-way game.
If he can put it all together, he will be poised for a resurgence.
The other thing to keep in mind is that if he wants to stay in Minnesota, he will need to prove that his value exceeds the benefits of moving him in the next year before his contract ends and they lose him for nothing.
One of the biggest questions going into this season will be whether Dumba can recapture the magic that he had before his injury. The Wild need that version of Dumba this season, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the revamped defense. It will be integral to Minnesota’s success that he steps up and is a crucial presence on the blueline this upcoming season.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference & Hockey-Viz.