If the Wild wasn’t belly-up 2 ½ months ago, “we were pretty darn close — like right on the verge of it,” veteran center Kyle Brodziak said this week. “Then we made a trade.”
And Devan Dubnyk saved the Wild’s season.
“From where we were then to where we are now, in our eyes, he’s our MVP,” said leading scorer Zach Parise, with the Wild on a 26-6-2 run since Dubnyk signed on heading into Thursday’s clash with the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers. “He’s definitely been the biggest contributor to the turnaround of our season. I know how important — and the people here in Minnesota know how important — he’s been to our team. Hopefully, people around the league recognize that.”
An interesting debate is starting to crop up around the NHL. Should Dubnyk be a candidate for the Hart Trophy, the award given to the player judged most valuable to his team, even though he has only been in Minnesota 11 weeks?
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association begin voting for the award next week. The key phrasing in the Hart definition is most valuable “to his team.”
“It’s hard to look around the league and find a guy who’s meant more to his team,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
On Jan. 13, after a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Wild was in 12th place in the Western Conference. Late in the day Jan. 14, General Manager Chuck Fletcher dealt a third-round pick to Arizona for Dubnyk. The 6-5 goalie flew all night and arrived the morning of Jan. 15 in Buffalo because he so badly wanted to start that night.
Still, because it was well-publicized that the Wild was sinking, Yeo met with Dubnyk. In an attempt to alleviate pressure, Yeo told him, “We don’t need you to come in and be a hero.”
Instead, since shutting out the Sabres that night 7-0, Dubnyk has been the Wild’s savior.
The Wild hasn’t lost two games in a row in regulation under Dubnyk. In a league where there are empty-net goals, the Wild hasn’t lost by more than a goal since Jan. 19.
The Wild’s goal differential is plus-47 under Dubnyk. The team has remarkably given up one fewer goal in 34 games under Dubnyk than in the 14 games before he arrived.
On Jan. 14, the Wild and Edmonton Oilers were tied for last in the NHL with an .889 save percentage. The Wild now is tied for 11th with a .912 save percentage, with Dubnyk at .939 since his arrival.
In 34 consecutive starts for the Wild, Dubnyk is 26-6-1 with a 1.70 goals-against average and five shutouts. He is 14-1-1 in 17 road starts (including 10 wins in a row) with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. In the past five second nights of back-to-backs, he has a 1.17 goals-against average and .967 save percentage.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” right wing Chris Stewart said. “He’s the main reason for this turnaround.”
Montreal goalie Carey Price seems like the Hart front-runner. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin is the most notable forward contending. He hit the 50-goal mark for the sixth time and has bought into coach Barry Trotz’s two-way message.
But Price’s consistency for the Canadiens has been exceptional. He leads the league in goals-against average, saves percentage and shutouts and is tied for the lead with 41 victories.
But suddenly Dubnyk has entered the conversation for both the Hart and Vezina (best goaltender, voted by the league’s 30 GMs). If you include what he did in Arizona, he is sixth in the NHL in wins, second in goals against and saves percentage and fourth in shutouts.
And the accolades keep coming in for Dubnyk. On Tuesday, he was named the NHL’s third star of the month for March (led the NHL with 11 wins) after being first star of the month for February. On Monday, he was named the NHL’s first star of the week (4-0 in consecutive back-to-backs) for the second time; he has been a third star of the week once.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Dubnyk said of the praise he keeps getting after a nightmarish 2013-14 season in which he played for three organizations. “You go through what I did last year, you really appreciate times when people are saying good things about you.
“It’s been a crazy ride this year. The personal recognition is certainly nice, but it’s nice because it’s going along with a great run for all of us as well.”