When the Twins signed Joe Mauer to his 8-year, $184 million deal just before the start of the 2010 season (to take effect in 2011), Mauer was coming off an MVP season, he was entering the prime of his career and the Twins were about to move into Target Field. It seemed like a good idea at the time — a bargain, even, to many when compared against what he could have commanded in free agency. There was no way the Twins could afford to let him walk. He had all sorts of leverage.
Nikola Pekovic had the leverage of strong play and a Wolves team desperate to win when he signed his 5-year deal in the summer of 2013. Richard Pitino very well might have leveraged the threat of leaving to get an extension that now includes a $7 million buyout.
All of those deals, at least right this moment, seem detrimental. Mauer, whether due to age, concussions or both, has fallen off dramatically in the past two seasons and still has three years left on his $23 million per year deal. Pekovic has been injured for much of his extension. Pitino won two Big Ten games this season and has dealt with off-court turmoil in the program as well.
In the context of those contracts, and even in the bigger picture, the 6-year, $26 million deal the Wild gave goalie Devan Dubnyk this past offseason isn’t close to bad. But the deal was another classic case of leverage leading to a deal an organization pretty much had to make in spite of any reservations decision-makers had.
Conventional wisdom and math said Dubnyk’s performance post-trade in 2014-15, a half-season that propelled the Wild into the playoffs, was not sustainable. Not only was he an iron man, but also Dubnyk was exceptional during that stretch. He played his way into being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy; that’s how good he was.
The hope among fans, the organization and even Dubnyk was that he had found the right home, something had clicked and, over the long term, he would be something close to the goalie he was for the last half of last season.
The fear was that Dubnyk had caught lightning in a bottle, so to speak, and that a regression to his old form — decent, but not upper-echelon — was also a strong possibility.
We’re less than a full season into the new deal, so it’s hard to grade out the performance as a whole. But it’s not too early to say that, for 2015-16, Dubnyk has far more closely resembled the goalie he was prior to last year’s trade than the franchise-saver he was from Jan. 14 through the end of the regular season last year.
War On Ice takes us fairly deep into some good numbers that show the Dubnyk dropoff. We’ll focus here on four of them: low-danger save percentage; medium-danger save percentage; high-danger save percentage; and overall adjusted save percentage. I’ll compare Dubnyk this year to a goalie who would be considered good but not great — the goalie with the 10th-best stats — as well as Dubnyk last season with the Wild.
*Dubnyk is stopping 96.2 percent of low-danger shots this year. Low-danger shots are what you would imagine: shots from bad angles and long distances that are considered very routine. Though 96.2 might sound like a strong number, it ranks Dubnyk 38th of 49 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played this year. The 10th-best goalie has a low-danger save percentage of 97.4; Dubnyk with the Wild last season was at 97.6.
*Dubnyk is stopping 92.1 percent of medium-danger shots, ranking 30th of 49 goalies. The 10th-best goalie is stopping 93.5 percent; Dubnyk with the Wild last season stopped 94.1 percent.
*Dubnyk is stopping 83.4 percent of high-danger shots, ranking 21st of 49 goalies; the 10th-best goalie this season is at 84.7; Dubnyk with the Wild last year was at 85.6.
*Dubnyk’s adjusted save percentage, which takes into account the quality of shots he’s faced, is 91.4 this year (30th of 49); last year with the Wild he was at 93.2 (6th of 51 goalies who played at least 500 minutes during the time he was with the Wild).
His numbers this season are nearly identical across the board to his career numbers: three of the four (adjusted, high-danger and medium-danger save percentage) are exactly the same career vs. this year, while his career low-danger percentage is 96.4 compared to 96.2 this season.
None of this is to say Dubnyk is having a “bad” season. He was an All-Star. He’s 7th in minutes played; he’s 13th in wins. He’s a respectable 19th of 45 qualified goalies in goals against average at 2.37. And while it’s hard to remember many instances in which he flat-out stole a victory for the Wild, he has carried them for stretches of key victories.
This is merely a reminder of the power of leverage. If Dubnyk hadn’t played out of his mind for half a year, there’s no way he signs that offseason deal. That said, if the Wild had it to do over again, it would do the deal again. His cap number of $4.33 million is significant but not outlandish, and there’s something to be said for having a clear-cut No. 1 goalie locked up for several years, as opposed to the constant shuffling and worrying of years past.
There’s always a chance, too, that Dubnyk gets red-hot at the right time — either this year or in the future — since he showed he can do that last year.
Overall, though, Dubnyk has regressed to what he was before last year’s trade: a goalie that most nights is durable but more aptly is described as average than spectacular.