The Minnesota Wild stood on the outside looking in with a record of 18-19-5 on January 14.
At that point in the season, the Wild were one of the biggest underachievers in the NHL and a reason why was the club’s glaring goaltending dilemma.
The trio of Niklas Backstrom, John Curry, and Darcy Kuemper was not getting it done.
So, Minnesota acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes on January 14 in a desperation move – and the club’s fortunes immediately began to take a turn for the better.
Dubynk has started every game since making his Wild debut and he is the reason why the club is headed to the post-season. His 26-6-1 record, .939 save percentage (.936 percent at 5-on-5), 1.70 goals-against average, and five shutouts since joining the Wild check in at the low, low cost of a third-round draft pick.
So how did a seemingly washed-up goaltender turn into a Vezina Trophy candidate who’s started 34 consecutive games?
Dubnyk struggled with the Edmonton Oilers to begin the 2013-14 season to the tune of a 3.36 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage in 32 games before landing in Nashville via trade, and later in Hamilton with the AHL Bulldogs as a depth goaltender in the Montreal Canadiens organization.
Dubnyk spent his off-season working with a technique called Head Trajectory to help restore his game.
“It’s all to do with your head. It’s like closing on pucks,” Dubnyk told NHL.com earlier this year. “You discover you have to move a whole lot less than you used to feel you need to.
“It’s such small movements forward and just closing off the angle of the puck, and when you start to realize that and you realize how big you are when you put yourself in the right position — and that’s a big part of it — you start to feel comfortable and then you can be patient on your feet. You can sit there and let plays happen in front of you and not be going down early, and everything kind of comes with it once you realize how big you are.”
The Arizona Coyotes gave Dubnyk an opportunity and the 6-foot-6 goaltender ran with it. In 19 games with the woeful Coyotes Dubnyk posted a comparatively tidy 2.72 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.
Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke also gets some credit in helping the 28-year-old restore his confidence.
With the Wild in desperate need for goaltending and the Coyotes looking at five more years of Mike Smith and his $6 million annual salary, Dubnyk went north and rescued the Wild from their deficiencies between the pipes.
Wild head coach Mike Yeo was just two weeks removed from an expletive-filled practice tirade that appeared to have him on the ropes as an NHL coach when Dubnyk entered the picture. Dubnyk’s stellar play in goal has afford Yeo some job security.
Whatever happens down the stretch or in the post-season, Dubnyk has effectively secured himself a significant pay day as an unrestricted free agent to be.
Dubnyk has made the Wild a contender, now it’s up to general manager Chuck Fletcher and Co. to lock him up before someone else does. As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston wrote, the sky’s the limit for this guy.
Dubnyk went from scrapheap fodder to workhorse Vezina candidate in less than a year. For that he stands as Sportsnet’s best transaction of the season.
Trade of the Year Runners-up
Evander Kane Trade
Winnipeg Jets swap Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian with the Buffalo Sabres for Tyler Myers, forward Drew Stafford, two prospects and a first-round pick. Kane may be the most talented player in the deal, but Myers and Stafford have been crucial in the Jets’ push for the playoffs.
The David Clarkson deal
The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked the hockey world by unloading David Clarkson’s bloated contract to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton. There’s a realistic chance Horton never plays hockey again, which is a shame, but for the Leafs to rid themselves of the remaining five years and $26.25 million still owed to Clarkson in exchange for cap relief via long-term injured reserve was straight magic at the hands of Dave Nonis and Co.
The Islanders add two important defencemen
The New York Islanders’ busy October 4 saw them land Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Islanders are not a playoff team without this pair of moves by GM Garth Snow.