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Why Are We Blaming Matt Dumba For Minnesota's Defensive Issues?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that Matt Dumba is a polarizing player on the Minnesota Wild. The alternate captain has been playing in Minnesota full-time since the start of the 2015-16 campaign. He’s been a 50-point player and even took home a King Clancy award. No matter how you feel about him as a player, you’ve gotta love what he brings to the locker room and outside the rink. But as any Wild fan also knows, his name has been circling in trade talks for years for a reason. His play so far this year has shown fans exactly why.

Paul Fenton signed Dumba to a 5-year, $30 million contract a season after he scored 50 points. It looked like a home run contract at the time. Dumba appeared to be blossoming into the strong offensive defenseman we had always hoped for.

Then he fought Matthew Tkachuk.

It has gone anything but swimmingly since then. Dumba has not played in all 82 games or registered over 30 points since then. And for those keeping track at home, that five-year deal is up at the end of this season. This puts Dumba and the Wild in a precarious predicament.

So far this year, Dumba’s play has not been up to his usual standards. The Wild’s defensive corps as a whole has not been playing as fans have come to expect. Moments like these, though, tend to put Dumba in a negative spotlight.

While this is a 1v1 break against a very fast and skilled player, there are a lot of examples just like this where Dumba gets cooked. If you search “Matt Dumba” on Twitter, you’ll quickly find a plethora of angry Wild fans expressing their dismay about him. It’s easy to point to these gaffes by Dumba and rant endlessly about how bad he is, how Minnesota should kick him off the team, and thank goodness we only have one year left of this guy, yada yada yada.

There seems to be a lot of Dumba hate relative to other players on the Wild, especially for someone who sacrifices his body for the team like he does. After all, Dumba is second on the team in blocks, as well as third on the team and first amongst defensemen in hits. He’s also second amongst defensemen in defensive zone start percentage. Meaning that he starts the shift in his defensive zone a heck of a lot more than he doesn’t. Dean Evason recently demoted Dumba to play third-pair minutes with Jon Merrill, and his numbers have improved since then. The Wild as a team – particularly in net – have been much better since the shakeup on defense.

Since they made a change on defense, the Wild are eighth-best in the league in allowing scoring chances, and their goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has rectified his hideous Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). It’s now just around even instead of negative, meaning he is saving what he should be saving, and the Wild are winning games because of it.

So why is Dumba the focus of the defensive failure? Sure, he’s been noticeably bad out there, but he’s far from the only player who has struggled. Like Dumba, Middleton and Merrill both have negative relative Corsi for % at even strength, meaning that when they are on the ice, Minnesota possesses the puck less than they do with their teammates. These defensive shortcomings aren’t on Dumba alone, but he’s taking almost all the blame on defense.

Are Minnesota fans projecting the problem onto Dumba because they assume he’s leaving after this season? Dumba would most likely be a cap casualty due to the dead money from the Parise and Suter buyouts and the need to pay Matt Boldy. Dumba is getting paid $6 million, and he would probably command something similar to that on the open market.

As much as Minnesota loves him in the locker room, his play on the ice does not match that of a $6 million defenseman. The idea of trading him for what fans consider fair compensation is delusional. Maybe a few years ago, they could have gotten a first-round pick and a prospect for Dumba but not anymore. Weirdly, the same fans who believe the Wild can swap Dumba for a big return tend to be the same ones who call him the worst defenseman on the team. News flash: both statements can’t be true!

Calen Addison’s development is another angle. The former second-rounder is tied for first amongst rookies for points and has been absolutely electric on the Wild’s powerplay. He has stepped into a role Dumba once occupied, playing alongside Jonas Brodin.

Addison leaves a LOT to be desired defensively and has a long way to go for the coaching staff to trust him. He’s only starting 34.3% of his shifts in the defensive zone, which suggests Evason is sheltering him heavily from tough minutes… Still, Addison provides an offensive jolt to the blue line, especially with the extra man. As exciting as the few moments when Dumba winds up for a big slapshot that then misses the net are, it’s tough to see Dumba producing at a 50-point pace again.

People can most likely accept the reality that either way, Dumba is probably on his way out of Minnesota after this year. Whether it’s his money or the Wild’s or the product on the ice or Addison, people could see the cap hell the Wild have to face and understand sacrifices must be made.

Dumba is an easy target for scrutiny because of the stereotypes of his game. Dumba may not be the best defensive player, but the fact that he’s probably out the door anyway does not solve the problems that the Wild have right now. He is just one player. The Wild had a defense and goaltending issue. They did not have a Matt Dumba issue.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference.

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