Somehow, the Minnesota Wild have survived some of the weirdest goalie situations over the past three years. Niklas Backstrom played a total of 82 games over the past three years, despite being paid like the starter. He comes into every season hoping he can stay healthy enough to carry the team, which he never can. Two years ago, the Wild were carried by one of the best stories in the history of the NHL when Josh Harding rode a .933 save percentage to carry the Wild to the playoffs. Unfortunately, a broken foot and his constant battle with multiple sclerosis might have ended his career just as it was finally getting started. They also had Darcy Kuemper, who was eventually supposed to take over this job for good.
Despite the many moving parts, none of those players will be the starter for the Wild. Last season, the Wild traded for former Edmonton Oilers goalie and, at that time, Arizona Coyotes netminder Devan Dubnyk. Originally, many thought he was going to save the Oilers franchise and would be the man they were waiting for in net. He was respectable for a stretch, posting a save percentage between .914 and .920 from 2010-2013. Then, the wheels fell off the next season. It might have been the pressure of carrying a franchise, or the frustration that comes with the lack of defense. Either way, in 2013-14, he posted a save percentage under .900 and a goals against average over 3.00. Those numbers are near the bottom of the league. The next year, he couldn’t even make it out of the minors outside of two terrible games with the Nashville Predators.
So at this point, we see the extremely difficult roads of both the Wild and Dubnyk, so it is curious how easily they fit together. He came in on January 15 and immediately shut out his first opponent. It seemed like this would be a great acquisition.
Dubnyk ended up playing as good as anyone in the league. He even moved into the top three of Vezina Trophy voting despite a very good year for goalies. He took the Wild through the top-seeded St. Louis Blues and went toe-to-toe with the eventual Stanley Cup champions. He was the reason for the Wild’s success.
The question now is can he do it again. They have other star players in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They have a good supporting cast. This can be a contender, but not without a goalie. Dubnyk is too important to this team’s future. They showed that with the contract he was given. The Wild signed him for six years and $26 million. They dedicated more than half a decade to this guy based off one amazing season. Everything is on the line here for both parties.
This season will likely show which Dubnyk we will see. Will it be the guy who can carry a team, or the guy who falls under the pressure of a new contract? That could be the difference between Stanley Cup contenders and missing the playoffs. Just look as far as their division. The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche are perfect examples of teams that are only really missing a goalie (their defense could use some work too, but a good goalie would have brought them to the playoffs). Next season is going to be the precursor to the Wild’s future success. Their stars aren’t getting any younger. If the front office made a mistake by bringing back Dubnyk, they will feel it for years to come.