There’s no two ways about it — Devan Dubnyk saved the Minnesota Wild’s season.
Before he joined them in January, they couldn’t get a save and were losing because of it. After he joined them, he was so good the biggest debate was whether he needed a rest. And for that, he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist.
But the Dubnyk magic eventually ran out. The 29-year-old went 4-6 in the playoffs with a .908 save percentage. He can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
So, what should the Wild do? They still have two goalies — Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper — signed for next season. Kuemper, just 25, could still be a very good NHL netminder. Backstrom, unfortunately, may not even be good enough to back up next season. (And don’t underestimate the importance of the back-up. It can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Just ask a team like the Dallas Stars.)
Chances are, GM Chuck Fletcher will at least attempt to re-sign Dubnyk. The challenge will be to get him under contract for a reasonable cap hit, as well as a term that limits the club’s long-term risk. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about goaltending in 2014-15, it’s that goaltending is extremely unpredictable.
The last thing the Wild will want to do is what the Coyotes did with Mike Smith, which is make a huge commitment to a guy based essentially on one excellent season, only to end up “married” to a guy with some of the worst numbers in the league. (Need we remind you of Dubnyk’s numbers in 2013-14?)
Of course, on the other hand, a team that doesn’t have goaltending is a team that has almost zero chance of consistently winning. (See: the Minnesota Wild, before Dubnyk.) Can the Wild really afford to let a Vezina Trophy finalist walk away?
Hence, the fascinating conundrum for GMs. Goaltending is the one position you absolutely cannot live without. While at the same time, it’s the one position where you can roll the dice on an inexpensive option and have it work out rather nicely for you.
Case in point, Braden Holtby’s cap hit is less than $2 million. He’s been pretty good for the Capitals, no? And let’s not forget about the Ducks, still very much alive in the playoffs, after gambling on two goalies for less than $2 million.
Try rolling the dice on a No. 1 center or d-man for less than $2 million and see how it works out.
Anyway, we don’t envy Fletcher here. He’s got a huge decision to make. And whatever choice he makes is fraught with risk.