LAS VEGAS – Devan Dubnyk was in this exact position a year ago.
Not in the position to command multiple millions over multiple years. Not in the position to put on a tuxedo and have a shot at winning not one, but two trophies (he’s a Vezina and Bill Masterton finalist). But in this mental and geographical position: an unrestricted free agent in Las Vegas, pondering his future in the NHL.
On his annual off-season buddies road trip, Dubnyk would discuss with his pals the insecurity of a profession that took him from Edmonton to Nashville to Hamilton to Who Knows in the course of a few months.
Dubnyk’s 2014 summer getaway wasn’t as spendy or carefree as it had been in the past.
“It’s scary to see that close on you that quickly. It was a nervous time for me,” Dubnyk, 29, said Tuesday at MGM Grand, in town for the NHL Awards. “There was not a whole lot of teams flying to get me signed last year at this time.”
He allows a reflexive chuckle. “I’m happy to be here instead.”
Here is the most coveted unrestricted free agent on the goaltending market. After the Minnesota Wild swiped Dubnyk mid-season from the Arizona Coyotes, the club rode his .936 save percentage and 1.78 goals-against average from the lottery to the post-season.
Now common ground must be found between the team that helped save a goalie and the goalie that helped save a team’s season.
“It was a great situation last year, and both sides want to make it work. When that’s the case, usually you’re able to get something done,” Dubynk said of his negotiations. “It’s the cap space, really, that’s causing the problem.”
Talks have been described as positive, and they will pick up later this week in Florida between Dubnyk’s agent, Mike Liut, and general manager Chuck Fletcher.
Dubnyk says knowing the 2015-16 salary cap, set Tuesday at $71.1 million, should help clarify a situation that has been muddied with Minnesota’s commitments to backups Darcy Kuemper ($1.25 million cap hit) and Niklas Backstrom ($3.417 million) through next season.
Add in the other free agents — Erik Haula, Christian Folin, Mikael Granlund, et al. — who need new deals, and the financial squeeze tightens.
“I had the most fun playing hockey I ever had in my career,” said Dubnyk. “At the same time, that earning window is small, and sometimes there’s opportunities and they can go away on you. I almost had it go away completely last year.”
Dubnyk is looking for a multi-year commitment worth north of $5 million per season, according to Wild reporter Michael Russo. But just because the Wild’s exclusive negotiating window ends Thursday doesn’t mean the goalie will jump at the first chance to test his value elsewhere.
Buffalo, San Jose, Dallas, Calgary and Edmonton are just five teams that could be poking around for help in net.
“There’s certainly no deadline. We’re not looking at something needs to be done by Thursday or drastic things are going to happen,” said Dubnyk.
The goalie spoke with Fletcher Tuesday morning — not numbers, but it was a healthy conversation — and both sides maintain they want to strike an agreement.
“As long as it’s fair — and it has to be fair,” Dubnyk said, “then you’re going to do everything you can to make sure it happens.”