There finally came a time, just recently, when Devan Dubnyk sat down, took a deep breath, scratched his head and wondered: “What just happened?”
It had been a whirlwind since he joined the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 15 and almost singlehandedly rescued the team from oblivion. Nothing but commotion since he won the Masterton Trophy in late June and then signed a six-year, $26 million contract shortly afterward. A vortex of details as he and his wife Jennifer prepare for the birth of their second child.
And then, at last, he began to relax.
“It took me a little time to wind down,” Dubnyk said from his summer residence in Kelowna, British Columbia. “It probably wasn’t until almost August. The season went longer for me than it ever had, and there were the awards and then the contract. Now it’s been nice to sit back and really think about it and soak it all in.”
Just in time, too, because he’ll have to crank it up again when training camp starts in a couple of weeks. That’s when the entire hockey world will begin to speculate on just what the heck Devan Dubnyk can do for an encore.
“I’ve thought about it a ton,” Dubnyk said. “It would be nice not to have to go 27-9 again there at the end. We have to get going faster, have a more consistent start.”
Good luck there. That has been an elusive goal for the Wild. Yet I wouldn’t put anything past a guy who went from journeyman goaltender to multimillionaire in half a season. He’s either a late-blooming super goalie or the luckiest man alive.
The season before, he had played with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League before signing with Arizona.
Now he will be in Minnesota until he either becomes a franchise legend or we are all tired of him. His six-year contract gives him something he has never had: security.
“It is different,” he said. “Once you start a family, kids come along, the one thing you want most is security. You want to look after them as best you can. It’s not just having job security, but job security in Minnesota, where the team is only going to get better. That was part of the negotiations. It was tight cap space, but security was important to me, and they knew that after what I’ve gone through.”
It wasn’t a slam-dunk deal, and the negotiations went through June.
“I never thought of it,” Dubnyk said of leaving Minnesota. “But when it went as late as it did, I was trying to wrap my head around maybe having to go someplace else. But Chuck and I had a good conversation in Las Vegas.”
Which is where Dubnyk received the NHL’s Masterton Award for best exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Dubnyk was all those things, except maybe for when Steve Ott crowded him in the playoff series against St. Louis and he gave him the stick. But no one ever loses any sportsmanship points against Steve Ott.
Dubnyk was acquired from Arizona on Jan. 14. The Wild were eight points out of a playoff spot, and coach Mike Yeo recently had gone berserk, smashing his stick and storming out of practice. The Wild were in Buffalo to face the awful Sabres on Jan. 15.
Ever try to get from Phoenix to Buffalo quickly? You’re better off putting a postage stamp on your forehead and hanging around the post office. Dubnyk managed overnight flight connections and reported for duty in the morning. He was told to get between the pipes.
This was a critical moment. The Wild had lost confidence in their goaltenders and had been skating through games with slumped shoulders. Then Dubnyk pitched a shutout as the Wild won easily.
No dummy, Yeo started Dubnyk 38 straight times. When the regular season ended, the new guy sported a 1.78 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. A team that seemed a sure bet to miss the playoffs made it to the second round. It’s been crazy ever since.
“It’s a pretty cool story to have to go through,” he said. “You learn a lot about life in general and not just hockey. I tried to enjoy it when it was happening. I’ve filed it all away. Playing as much as I did, there was a lot of information. Whether we won 1-0 or 6-4, or if we lost 1-0, I have it stored in my mind. So many different situations.”
He’s convinced that this vast data bank will help next time around. But we didn’t get into specifics. He needs to think about rainbows and balloons - anything but hockey - for the next few weeks. He has to wind all the way down before cranking it back up.
Tom Powers is a sports columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.