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Matt Dumba returns to WHL with Portland, who is next domino to fall?

Matt Dumba has not dressed for the Wild since Nov. 23 (The Associated Press)

It's not all that surprising that the Minnesota Wild have sent defenceman Mathew Dumba back down to junior hockey. For one, he hasn't played with the National Hockey League club that drafted him since November 23, and even when he has been in the lineup, he's averaged just 12:26 a night as a defenceman, one of the lowest time on ice averages in the NHL.

For two, the Wild were probably more comfortable with sending Dumba down to a team that will definitely contend. Just before the start of the Team Canada selection camp for the World junior championship, Dumba's Western Hockey League rights were shifted from Red Deer to Portland. The Winterhawks are well back of Kelowna for top spot in the Western Conference and are just 3-7 in their last ten, but they've been without four of their best players: Nic Petan, Taylor Leier and Derrick Pouliot were all playing with Team Canada, while Brendan Leipsic just sat out the last of a seven-game suspension that began on December 17 after flattening Keegan Kolsar of the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Via the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo this morning, before the news was made official:

Fletcher is close to returning defenseman Matt Dumba, who played 13 games earlier this season, to Portland of the Western Hockey League.Fletcher first wants Wild doctors to examine Dumba, who was injured during the World Junior Championship and also suffered from a virus that led to weight loss.

The Winterhawks are one of the best teams in major Canadian juniors, and Dumba could get a long playoff run to help his development.

With Jared Spurgeon injured, Jon Blum has been called up from Iowa of the AHL and is now the Wild’s seventh defenseman.

The weight loss suffered by Dumba is a bit of a new thing. He gave some interviews during the World junior tournament and definitely did not sound or look completely healthy, something the Wild weren't counting on when they loaned his services to Brent Sutter. Dumba struggled in the early part of the tournament, but recovered in time to be paired with Team Canada veteran Griffin Reinhart. Despite the team's failing, Dumba and Reinhart played reasonably well together.

Still, you have to think the Wild stand to gain more from sending Dumba back to junior hockey. He did play in 13 games, meaning the first year of his entry-level contract is burned, but without playing 40 games, the Wild don't burn an extra year of restricted free agency. Neither the Wild nor Dumba were benefitting from the 2012 7th overall selection sitting in the press box all season, and now that the Wild have regressed a little and have suffered some key injuries, there's less of a reason to teach a player the pro game while the coaches have other things to concentrate on.

As for the Winterhawks, well, they pull off a Portland Special, managing to acquire another star player without really giving up much in return. As an 18-year-old a year ago, Dumba was tied for 18th in points among defencemen, and gives the Winterhawks another offensive threat on their powerplay which ranks 6th in the league. Most of the Winterhawks turnover from their MasterCard Memorial Cup team a year ago came from the back-end, losing phenom Seth Jones, and leaders Troy Rutkowski and Tyler Wotherspoon.

The Winterhawks confirmed the move with a release Tuesday afternoon:

“We’re excited to add a player of Mathew’s caliber to our roster as we enter the second half of the season,” said Portland Winterhawks General Manager & Head Coach Mike Johnston. “He has proven to be an elite player at this level, and the experience he’s gained in the NHL and the World Junior Championship will be tremendously valuable for us.”

Other than Pouliot and Western Michigan University transfer Garrett Haar, the Winterhawks have little offence coming from their blue line. This makes Dumba possibly the biggest WHL domino to fall of trade deadline season. The Calgary Sun's Scott Fisher lamented that very few big names will be moved around between now and Friday, so kudos to the Winterhawks for making the risky play and picking up their man early.

Teams looking to add a defenceman may want to call up the Vancouver Giants' Scott Bonner. Bonner has two potential chips, Dalton Thrower and Brett Kulak, both likely in their final WHL seasons. The Giants are a good team that have been done in by goaltending in the first half of the year, and in a competitive Western Conference, we'll have to see whether Bonner trades for a goaltender or dispatches Thrower and Kulak to the highest bidders expected to compete with Portland.

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