Can Devan Dubnyk keep this up? (Trending Topics)

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Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

There's been a lot of attention paid to a goalie who singlehandedly revived his team's playoff chances in the last little while here, and it's not to say that Andrew Hammond doesn't deserve it.

But if Devan Dubnyk had a name that could be turned into a lovable food convict I think we'd still be talking about the incredible things he has done and is indeed still doing for Minnesota. The good news for Dubnyk is that, like Hammond, he's an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and he's going to have a lot of leverage in contract talks with Minnesota. “Do you really want Darcy Kuemper over me?”

So the question for Minnesota is how much they ought to fork over to Dubnyk in terms of both the number of years and the dollar value of a deal. The sad truth for the Wild is that they can probably ill afford to let him walk. 

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Dubnyk does, however, have two things working against him: Perception and, to some extent, reality. The reality, for example, is that he is not a .935 goaltender. No one is a .935 goaltender, first of all, but second Dubnyk is not that. What he is, however, is a slightly above average goaltender over the course of his career, save for one extremely terrible stretch.

That's where perception comes in, at least a little bit, and you can't ignore how bad he was for basically a full season. But you have to keep in mind, too, that he was putting up very good numbers behind some very bad Oilers teams for a number of years now. Perception is the reason he was picked up off the scrap heap by Arizona last summer, signed for one year and just $800,000, before being flipped to Minnesota for a pick. (Good asset management by Don Maloney, that.) He was pretty good in Glendale (.916) and obviously brought his game to a higher level behind a pretty strong Minnesota team that desperately needed any kind of goaltending help.

There was no real way to predict that he could do what he has so far — again, no one is this good — but we should have had a pretty good idea that he was going to constitute a significant upgrade over whatever other shambling disasters the Wild were putting in the crease before they acquired him. 

Even before the trade, we had almost 200 games of data on his ability at the NHL level, plus decent-to-strong numbers at just about every other level as well. But for the sake of this conversation, let's talk only about those NHL appearances; 200 isn't a ton, but it is a good enough amount that we can at least begin to craft a pretty good idea of what we're dealing with.

This is his save percentage on a rolling 10-game average (i.e. the first point represents his save percentage over his first 10 games, the second is games Nos. 2-11, and so on), with the dotted line being the league-average level of .913 since Dubnyk's career began.

As you can probably tell, that big dip toward the end is where his career in Edmonton came to an abrupt halt, and he was subsequently traded to Nashville, where he played two games at the NHL level and was allowed to walk in free agency. You can probably also guess where this season begins: where the save percentages start to peek above the dotted line once again and slowly trends upward to the unreasonable heights we're seeing today. 

Now, looking at that chart, there's no doubt that he spent more time than most NHL teams would like as an .890 goaltender, but lots of goalies go through similarly ineffective stretches, especially if they're league-average. In short: It happens. The one that spelled the end of his career in Edmonton was particularly long and particularly ineffective, and certainly you'd have to say that he earned criticism. Did the Oilers give up on him a little early? Sure, but they're the Oilers, and good asset management hasn't exactly been part of the repertoire the last decade or so. 

Goaltender evaluation has always been tricky, of course. Is Jonathan Quick “elite?” Well, I mean, he's won the Stanley Cup twice and his playoff performances have been outstanding, but over the course of his regular-season career he's usually average at best. Most NHL teams would trade for him, albatross contract and all, right this instant anyhow. 

Again, Dubnyk is in a position of extreme bargaining power, but one thing that also might be helpful is to understand how likely it is that he keeps up these performances. If Minnesota is likely to re-sign him, the fact of the matter is that they're likely to commit to him for a number of years at a fairly substantial price point. What are the odds that he stays at or near his career average, versus the odds that he deviates from that number toward what he's done so far this year with Minnesota, versus that he regresses back toward his numbers that got him (mercifully, it turns out) shipped away from Winnipeg? This graph from War on Ice illustrates nicely where his normal save percentage range in all situations really is:

War on Ice
War on Ice

That looks to me like it's a slightly above-average goaltender in the NHL, and again, if we look at the career number that's probably about right.

As has been discussed in this space many times before, the ability to save somewhere between 5.5-6 goals from your team's overall differential, is usually worth about one win over the course of a year. Let's assume that an NHL starter — which is what you're signing Dubnyk to be, obviously — faces about 1,800 shots per season (28 shots against per game times 65 starts). A goaltender who can turn in a save percentage of Dubnyk's career-average .913 (on nearly 5,900 career shots) will net you one extra win over Kuemper's career average of .910 on about 1,500 shots.

Basically, we have a lot more information about what Dubnyk is (average or slightly above it) than we do on Kuemper or anyone else in the Wild's system. You don't really know what a goalie can be at the NHL level until he gets to 2,500 or even 3,000 career shots against. I'd be very wary of signing a goalie to any kind of long-term deal when he has fewer shots faced than that, but there's obviously no such concern with Dubnyk.

Minnesota really should sign him and, to be fair, probably will. They can't let this run of unimaginable — Hart-worthy, some including me might say — hold them ransom, but he's going to be the best option they've got. They can't break the bank, but something along the lines of what he got in Edmonton way back when ($3.75 million per year) at four years or so is probably a good jumping-off point.

The good news is that even if he wants too much money and walks, you might be able to get a Devan Dubnyk-type goalie off the scrap heap. It worked for the Wild before, right?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.


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