Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Minnesota Wild desperately needed a solution to their goaltending problems, but few people would have believed Devan Dubnyk could be the answer.
Considering the season Dubnyk has gone through, the Wild would have to be desperate to give him a chance. But beggars can't be choosers and presently Minnesota couldn't be happier with its choice.
Sometimes the most impactful moves come several weeks before the NHL trade deadline and are accompanied by little fanfare. Both Dubnyk and the Wild are hoping their union was one of those deals - the kind that makes hardly any splash at the time, but looks like a stroke of genius in retrospect.
The Wild's issues in the crease have been well documented. The problems began before the season when Josh Harding broke his foot while reportedly kicking a wall in anger. Harding, who led the Wild with 18 wins last season, has since recovered from the broken bone, but is currently not an option for Minnesota due to issues related to multiple sclerosis.
Sans Harding, the Wild gave Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper plenty of chances to take the No. 1 job and run with it, but that plan didn't work out for either guy.
Enter Dubnyk, who came to Minnesota from the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 15 for the price of a third-round draft pick in 2015. It marked the second straight year Dubnyk was traded on Jan. 15, as he was shipped from Edmonton to Nashville on the same day in 2014.
After getting dealt from the Oilers, Dubnyk saw his reputation take a nose dive. Once a first-round pick by Edmonton (14th overall in 2004), the Saskatchewan native played in only two games with the Predators before getting shipped to Montreal and ending the season as the fourth-string goaltender in the Canadiens organization.
The lowest point came after the trade to Montreal when Dubnyk could barely stop pucks at the AHL level, posting a 3.33 goals against average and .893 save percentage in eight appearances for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
"It was a difficult time for me mentally and where I was with my game," Dubnyk said of the depths he reached at the end of 2013-14. "From a goalie standpoint, if a guy crosses the blue line with the puck and you are thinking about what you are doing, you are going to get torched, and that's kind of where I was."
Despite his awful stretch at the end of last season, the Arizona Coyotes thought Dubnyk deserved another chance. He signed a one-year deal to serve primarily as Mike Smith's backup, and proved himself to be a competent No. 2 option, going 9-5-2 with a 2.72 GAA and .916 save percentage.
During his time in Arizona, Dubnyk regained the confidence needed to re- establish himself as an NHL-quality goalie. Former NHL netminder and Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke gets credit from Dubnyk for getting his mojo back.
"Right from the get-go, he just put so much confidence in me," Dubnyk said of Burke. "There's no words, it's not like he pumps your tires every day, it's just the unspoken, you know he's got your back, you know he believes in you and you know he'll go to bat for you."
Burke's faith in the lost goaltender is paying dividends now that Dubnyk has traded the scorching deserts of Arizona for the frozen tundra of Minnesota. After proving himself as a worthy backup with the Coyotes, the Wild offered Dubnyk a chance to log No. 1 minutes and he's been able to seize the opportunity.
In seven games since relocating to St. Paul, Dubnyk has outperformed Minnesota's other goalies by leaps and bounds, going 5-1-0 with a 1.71 GAA and .935 save percentage. Dubnyk also has recorded two shutouts with the Wild, leaving him just one shy of Kuemper for the team lead less than three weeks into his tenure.
The Wild's fortunes have risen right along with Dubnyk. It's been a difficult season in Minnesota to say the least and it's amazing head coach Mike Yeo survived the firing rumors and lasted long enough to see this Dubnyk-inspired turnaround.
With Dubnyk in tow, the team enters Tuesday's game against Chicago only three points out of a playoff spot. The new goaltender will get his eighth consecutive start in net and hopes to continue the process of rehabilitating his own image while helping give another boost to Minnesota's once slim postseason chances.
It's always interesting when a trade that is barely a blip on the news cycle when it happens becomes a major story line only a few weeks later. In this case, it's possible that both a player's career and a team's fading playoff hopes turned for the better thanks to one "minor" trade.
"With Devan coming in as a new face and fresh start, we knew he was a good goalie, so we just kind of wiped the slate clean and it clicked," said Wild center Charlie Coyle.
"He has definitely given us confidence, but it goes both ways."