Devan Dubnyk went on one of the best regular season runs in the NHL during his 2014-2015 campaign — and it resulted first in his being dealt from the Arizona Coyotes to the Minnesota Wild to go from backup to starter, then in him saving Minnesota’s quickly collapsing season. Many consider Dubnyk the driving force behind a revived admission in to the post-season for the Central Division club, and that’s a more than fair assessment.
The 6 foot 6 Saskatchewan native was on a one year deal, though — making only $800,000 on the singular campaign, a salary far below the market value for even an established backup. For a starter — with prior starting experience — Dubnyk’s 2014-2015 salary is laughable.
This may be why he’s having trouble coming to terms with the Wild on a contract extension.
The Vezina and Masterton finalist insisted at the end of Minnesota’s post-season appearance that he wanted to stay in St. Paul next season, openly expressing his gratitude to the club for helping him acclimate mid-trade so quickly. The Wild have seemed fairly eager to keep him on next year as well, particularly given their likely impending buy-out of veteran netminder Niklas Backstrom and the struggles prospect Darcy Kuemper has continued to see.
What’s the hold-up, then? Well, likely the same hold-up that nearly every top negotiation undergoes — finding a middle ground between what Dubnyk’s camp is reportedly demanding (a multi-year deal and $5M AAV cap hit) and what many consider to be an acceptable deal for the 29 year old goalie.
On one hand, Dubnyk was clearly cheap for the club this season. $800,000 is nearly half what Ottawa Senators netminder Andrew Hammond saw in his most recent contract extension; it’s a laughable salary outside of an entry-level deal for anyone but a depth pickup. Dubnyk had experienced a fall from grace, but even so it was a bargain deal for the Arizona Coyotes.
To put it in comparison, Dubnyk was given a $3.5M AAV two year deal by the Edmonton Oilers prior to his disastrous season of trades, mediocre numbers, and an AHL appearance. To consider that Dubnyk — who, by this point, likely believes he’s proven himself more than he had in 2012 — will want anything south of $3.5M AAV is simply approaching the negotiations with optimism.
There are two factors that could still be driving Dubnyk to demand north of his last major contract — tactical improvement in net and comparable value around the league.
It was clear that Dubnyk was at least capable of holding a steady NHL backup position when he was with the Edmonton Oilers, but the defensive collapse in front of him likely did what it’s done to the rest of the corpses in Edmonton’s goalie graveyard — falsely ballooned stats against his favor and made him look but unsustainable and unworthy of an NHL-calibre position. This was almost certainly exacerbated by the style of netminding most heavily favored by Dubnyk’s goalie coach in Edmonton, Frederic Chabot — an attack-heavy style that relied on forcing the shooter out of the slot yourself, anticipating shots and approaching them head-on.
Mitch Korn tried unsuccessfully to work this out of Dubnyk, then Sean Burke managed to make it happen. For Dubnyk’s camp, the argument is that the 29 year old netminder has been able to successfully adapt his style of play to square more to the shots he faces from further within his own crease; with this increased likelihood that his solid stats are sustainable, he can demand a pay raise.
There’s also the relative value of netminders around the league. Whether fans agree with it or not, it’s impossible to deny that the cost of quality in net has skyrocketed in recent years — especially when it comes to pending unrestricted free agents. No longer able to drive the price back down through held negotiation rights and bridge deal discounts, teams are having trouble holding on to goaltenders who are lured in by the absurd term and salary some of the league’s netminders are seeing. Dubnyk, who doesn’t play a high-risk butterfly style and successfully reined in his tendency to attack the shot, may argue that he’s a lower liability than either Jonathan Quick (butterfly, $5.8M AAV, 10 years) or Mike Smith (attack-first, $5.66M AAV, 6 years).
For the Minnesota Wild, though — who are short on cap space and hoping not to take on another too-long or too-high contract to accompany the Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, and Mikko Koivu deals — their only hope may be to convince Dubnyk that a discount will pay off down the road.
If they can’t successfully achieve that, free agency is about to get a new headliner.
*All cap estimates and salary figures compiled from generalfanager.com*