Frankly, there has been no better comeback story in the NHL.
A year ago at this time, Devan Dubnyk was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. Today, he has become the toast of the NHL for turning the Wild’s season around an incredible run of success since being traded to Minnesota on Jan. 14.
The Wild workhorse goalie, who will start his 36th consecutive game tonight (35th in a row for the Wild) against the New York Rangers, has allowed two goals or fewer 26 times. He has allowed 57 goals in 34 starts, one fewer than the Wild allowed in the 14 games before he arrived. He is 26-6-1 with the Wild with a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, which includes a crazy 14-1-1 road record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
Behind the scenes, it took a ton of work to resurrect his career and become this year’s feel-good NHL story.
If you didn’t read here, I wrote today about how Dubnyk has put himself in the conversation for the Hart and Vezina Trophies. In fact, Bovada has him as the fourth-best odds to win the Hart (15/1)
The Bill Masterton trophy is the award given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has chosen Dubnyk as this year’s Wild nominee.
Last season, Dubnyk was basically run out of Edmonton. He was dealt to Nashville, played two admittedly poor games and was traded to Montreal after the Olympic break and immediately assigned to Hamilton.
During the playoffs, Dubnyk was so far buried on the depth chart, the Canadiens permitted him to leave the team and return to his wife and infant son in Edmonton so he could be a husband and a dad.
“It was crazy. It feels like last year was so long ago now,” Dubnyk said this morning after being informed of the honor by the two Wild beat writers. “The most important thing was getting that break in the summer, really getting a chance to reflect on last year, think about what happened, what could I have controlled and what couldn’t I have controlled?
“The most important thing for me is I wanted to take the mindset of realizing that if I would have played better, I wouldn’t have been in that situation, and not think that I didn’t get a fair shake or wasn’t treated fairly somewhere. The thing is if I would have played better hockey, I wouldn’t have ended up in Hamilton.”
Last summer, the NHL allowed a free-agent interview period for teams. That turned out to be perfect for Dubnyk.
His agent knows Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett well, and Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, like Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, always liked Dubnyk’s game from afar.
Burke and Dubnyk had a long phone conversation.
“To have them put full confidence kind of just allowed me to start from square one and feel good about what I had done and really try to forget about that period of time,” Dubnyk said.
Off the ice, Dubnyk said, “A lot of it was mental. I’ve always been comfortable as far as my summer program and conditioning. I think I got on the ice a little more early on. And then to have that opportunity to go to Vail and work with [former NHL goalie] Steve Valiquette [on a new head trajectory technique] was important for me and also going to Arizona early and talking to Burkie and starting that early.
“The reflecting part – during the season] you don’t have a chance to think about it. It’s not a lot of fun and you’re just kind of stuck in it. You go to the rink every day and it’s kind of the same old, same. You don’t have a chance to sit back, but once I was able to get away with it and get back with my family, it gives you the opportunity to really just look back on the entire situation and go through it and understand what it was that happened and what I could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Now, he’s come to Minnesota and was immediately embraced by his teammates. It helped a ton that he showed such commitment by flying all night after the trade to start that first game in Buffalo when the Wild so needed something different. The next day, after that 7-0 win, a lot of teammates also took note that there he was at J.P. Parise’s funeral even though he had his entire life uprooted and his wife and son were still in Arizona.
This afternoon, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN from 3-6:30 p.m. One of my guests is Zach Parise. I pre-taped the interview because the interview is running at 5:55 p.m. and he has a game tonight.
“I remember playing against him, scoring on him a couple times before he got here, I remember that,” Parise said, laughing. “Other than that, I didn’t know much about him at all. So I was surprised and happy we traded for him because I knew he was a big guy, and it’s just been a really good story.”
Parise also said how well he’s fit in, saying, “He’s a really easygoing guy, very easy to get along with. You’ve got a guy like [Niklas] Backstrom, you can’t talk to him on the day of a game. It’s like you don’t even exist.” He said, kiddingly, “I don’t know how he lives his life like that. So it’s kind of refreshing to have someone you can joke around with in the locker room before the game.”
Dubnyk said he is enjoying everything about being here.
“I’ve been trying to do that the whole way through,” Dubnyk said. “You want to stay level. You don’t want to get too high and think too much about it, but at the same time my approach from the get-go this year was to really try to enjoy and embrace every opportunity that I got. That continued when I got here, just taking those days in between games to just enjoy the wins and enjoy the feeling that we have here and what we’re doing because it is a special thing, and that’s made it that much more special. It’s not like I’m trying my best to pretend nothing’s going on here. It’s been fun and I’m enjoying it, so it’s just going to get more exciting from here on out.”
In 2013, Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy.
The Wild’s all-time nominees are Harding (2013-14, 2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).
As I mentioned, I am filling in for Barreiro today.
Besides Parise, my guests include Super Troopers/Beerfest, etc. actor/comedian/writer/director Erik Stolhanske, Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson, Rangers play-by-play guy Kenny Albert, Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos and the Wild’s Kevin Falness will be in with me as well.
I’ll also be on Fox Sports North tonight to talk about the Wild, Dustin Byfuglien, Dubnyk and the Wild’s upcoming schedule and potential playoff opponents if the Wild makes it.
Lineup the same as has been reported all week.
Coach Mike Yeo said today that Matt Cooke’s conditioning after so much time off still needs to improve, so the first “realistic goal” for Cooke to return is likely next Tuesday in Chicago.
The Rangers are awesome on the road. The Metro leaders are a road win for its 26th to break a team record. They are fast and good, so the Wild will have to beware the first 10 minutes tonight to make sure the inevitable rust from four days off doesn’t kill them.
Yeo is worried about an emotional letdown after two big wins and just wants the Wild to get back to that desperation level it was playing with every night.
Also, after four days of hearing how good they are and after four days of so much talk that they’re already in the playoffs, Yeo wants to make sure his players remember they’re not yet.
Yeo met with the six potential fourth-liners down the stretch, tonight’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder and scratched Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and the injured Cooke to explain that they all have arguments as to why should play down the stretch, but if they’re not, it is incumbent on them to have good attitudes, support the rest of the team, not create problems and work hard.
He doesn’t foresee problems but wanted to get ahead of it and explain the situation.
“It’s healthy for a team to have competition,” Schroeder said. “It pushes guys. But at the same time you don’t want guys being upset and negative around the locker room. You want guys to be upbeat and positive and trying to help and support each other.
“Good teams have depth. It’s difficult for everyone from the coaches on down to make decisions when guys are playing so well and the team’s playing so well. So if you’re in, play your butt off and try to stay in the lineup. But things can change night to night.”