The career makeover is complete.
In a dizzying 18 months that has seen him go from nearly being run out of the NHL to a Vezina Trophy finalist, Masterton Trophy winner and recipient of a six-year, $26 million deal, Devan Dubnyk has arrived in Nashville, where his career hit “rock bottom” two years ago, as an All-Star.
“It’s just a cool addition to the story,” said the Wild’s representative who, with Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, will represent the Central Division as goalies during Saturday night’s skills competition and Sunday’s 3-on-3 tournament.
“Getting named to go is an honor in itself, but to have it come full circle back to Nashville, it really is a chance to celebrate the transformation. Nashville is where I cleared waivers that allowed Montreal to assign me to the AHL after I got traded. So Nashville was as close to rock bottom mentally and where my game was at as well.
“It’s pretty crazy it all comes back around to the place it started.”
The CliffsNotes version: The 14th overall pick in 2004 by Edmonton Oilers, Dubnyk played five years for the Oilers until being traded to the Predators on Jan. 15, 2014 because Rinne was sidelined. He played two “bad” games his first week, then didn’t play again until being traded to Montreal in March. He was assigned to the minors. With his NHL career on life support, Arizona threw him a lifeline as a free agent with a one-year contract. Three months into last season with the Wild plummeting, Dubnyk was acquired and led it to the playoffs.
So what the heck happened in Nashville?
“First game, I was super nervous. We lost 5-4 to Colorado. I just wasn’t comfortable and regardless of the goals,” he said with a giant laugh, “I don’t think I made anybody else on the ice very comfortable either.
“Second game, I played OK against Calgary. We lost 5-4 in a shootout, and that was it. Combined with that, [goalie Carter Hutton] played incredible. So it was a combination of my below-average play, Hutts’ above-average play and Pekka coming back after the Olympic break that led to me not earning a chance to get back in there … after two games.”
On his career stats, Dubnyk’s ugly stint with the Predators jumps off the page. In 124 minutes, Dubnyk gave up nine goals on 60 shots, a 4.36 goals-against average and .850 save percentage — a far cry from his 27-9-2 record and 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage with the Wild last season.
Dubnyk, 29, played for the Predators so shortly, most his family never visited. His wife, Jennifer, did, of course, and so did his parents, Barb and Barry.
“I’m a pretty positive guy and try not to let what’s going on around the rink bog me down too much, but it was really hard to gather positive feelings,” Dubnyk said. “That’s why I’m excited they’ll experience this great city in more of a celebration rather than watching me try to pick up the pieces.”
Besides his wife, parents and two children, Dubnyk is joined this weekend by his sister, Christianne; brother, Dave; and extended family. He has spent the past few days showing off Nashville’s country music scene.
“Anybody that hasn’t been to Nashville, you can’t help but appreciate the talent,” Dubnyk said. “When you see the country artists performing live, it’s amazing how good they sound and how talented they are in these small little venues.
“Every time I go there, you walk into a small, little pub with 100 people watching and these people are unbelievable on stage. You’re like, ‘Where can I buy this album?’ I guess that’s how people get discovered. Like sports, you realize how difficult it is to make it.”
Dave Dubnyk, 31, the 6-9 older brother nicknamed “Heavy D,” said his baby brother always knew he’d make it.
“Devan was always the most confident kid in the world,” Dave Dubnyk said. “I remember at 7 or 8, it was never whether he’d make it to the NHL, it was always what he was going to do. Looking back on it now, you realize how the odds are always stacked against you.
“I look at all the superstar goalies he played with and against in junior, so few of them ended up making it. But in the back of his mind, he always knew his dream would become reality. Maybe that’s the mind-set you need to make it to the NHL.”
That’s also the mind-set you need to overcome what Dubnyk went through two years ago, when his career was breaking down.
“He never had any doubts, but there does come a point where you wonder if the opportunity would come up again because this is a tough business,” Dave Dubnyk said. “He got his foot in the door, and maybe it would close on him. But he never questioned his ability that he could still be a top goalie in the NHL as long as he got that chance to be one again.”
A year of success
Since his first game with the Wild on Jan. 15, 2015, Dubnyk leads the NHL in games played (78), is tied for first with nine shutouts, ranks second with a 2.00 goals-against average and is third with 45 wins and a .929 save percentage.
Now, he can’t wait to be on the ice Saturday and Sunday.
In 1995, Dubnyk still remembers running to McDonald’s everyday so he could collect the full set of All-Star hockey player stuffed Muppets. That’s right, Dubnyk collected All-Star versions of Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy.
In 1997, he still remembers cheering for San Jose’s Owen Nolan when he “called” his hat-trick shot by pointing at Dominik Hasek on a breakaway.
Now, Dubnyk is an All-Star. He arrived in Nashville and was showered with flair, including a gold-faced Gibson guitar with a 2016 All-Star logo engraved.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Dubnyk said. “It’s not like All-Star Games are good for goalies anyway, and 3-on-3 definitely won’t be. So you just try to stop as many pucks as you can and realize some or many goals will go in.
“Most important, you have fun with it because after this whole ride the last year, being able to experience this with my family makes it a lot more special.”