It’s not often that a hockey player has his breakout season 11 years after being drafted, but that’s exactly what has happened to Minnesota wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
The conventional wisdom of the hockey world would tell you that it does take a little bit longer for a goaltender to mature in comparison to a position player, which is why it would have been no surprise to see Dubnyk solidify a permanent spot between the pipes for himself midway through his career with the Edmonton Oilers, but even though he had shown flashes of steady play with the club, things just didn’t come together for him.
It’s not all Dubnyk’s fault of course. His big 6’6 frame is built to cover up the net and he accomplished more than enough in his four years in the minor leagues to warrant an extended look in the NHL. As luck would have it, the Edmonton Oilers, the team that drafted Dubnyk in 2004 have been struggling for years, despite the fact the team seems to have lady luck on its side when it comes to the league’s draft lottery.
Thanks to the good fortune, or misfortune depending on your point of view, the team has managed to draft the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Dubnyk over the last 11 seasons. Had each of those players played up to the potential they displayed in their junior careers all at the same time in the NHL, the Oilers could be in the middle of a dynasty right now.
Unfortunately that’s not the way things worked out for Duby and the gang, which led to Devan being shipped to the Nashville Predators halfway through his fifth year in the league only to once again find himself moving on, this time to the Arizona Coyotes.
Although there was no chance that he was going to find himself any significant playing time behind Mike Smith in Arizona, Dubnyk did finish his tenure in the desert with a 9-5-2 record, which was just good enough to draw the interest of the Wild, where the former 14thoverall pick finds himself with a spectacular 26-6-1 record through 34 games to go along with 5 shutouts. Those numbers aren’t too bad for a guy who’s never had more than two shutouts in an entire season prior to this year.
Of course what really matters is that now Minnesota finds itself in the middle of a playoff race when at the beginning of the season things seemed to be all out of sorts for the club and it looked as if the team was more likely to be booking spring tee times rather than playoff games.
While the team as a whole has played better over the last three months, the bulk of the credit definitely goes to Dubnyk. He has officially risen from the ashes and brought new hope to the Wild organization.
Although a hot second half of the season does not a career make, it’s safe to say that Dubnyk may have just found the perfect place to continue his career, although probably many years later than he thought he would have.
It’s been a difficult season for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, and that’s putting it lightly. To see that for yourself, all you have to do is take one look at the standings. You’ll find the Leafs just 4 points ahead of the lowly Carolina Hurricanes for second last place in the Eastern Conference.
It’s a harsh reality to swallow for fans, management and the players themselves. The 2014-15 season started out with so much promise. All of the above seemed optimistic at the team’s ability to rebound following a 2014 spring that saw the team completely fall apart during the stretch drive, taking a nose dive right out of the playoffs despite a very strong first half of the season.
As is usually the case in Toronto when things aren’t going well, the axe has to fall on someone and changes need to be made. In the offseason, that meant the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as team president and analytics guru Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager. During the season, it has meant the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle, the trading of Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and probably others before the NHL’s March 2nd trade deadline.
The idea that the Leafs should be cleaning house and that the organization is more likely to get its hands on Connor McDavid than a playoff spot, like most people thought the team would prior to the start of the season, still leaves one question we thought wouldn’t come up…is it time for Phil Kessel to go?
He’s emerged as a point-per-game player in the last couple of years and yet it seems the perennial 30-goal scorer has a reputation for being very difficult to coach, as per former Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson. He’s also evidently more excited by the thought of working on his ping-pong game than he is about practicing and on top of that, it’s obvious he’s not a fan of answering questions from the media.
It’s those truths that have fans irritated, the team losing and Phil likely thinking about the possibility of a new beginning and greener pastures somewhere else, if only in the back of his mind. Still, with a $64 million contract signed and sealed locking up all of his prime years, it’s likely Kessel will still be a Maple Leaf when the clock strikes 3pm on March 2nd.
If the Leafs were to move him now, the winger’s services wouldn’t likely give the team a fair return on investment. The better move would be to ship him in the offseason as the calendar inches closer to the NHL draft. The current season is already a write off and the rumour mill in Leaf land will be non-existent on March 3rd while Canadian media focuses on the league’s playoff races, leaving the Leafs to play the role of spoiler.
That said, the questions around Kessel should not be if but rather when he’ll get dealt. If you need proof as to why his departure from the city is imminent, consider what happened to the player that was once upon a time traded for Kessel, the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin.
Like Kessel, Seguin fell out of favour in Boston and needed a change of scenery. Things soured almost as quickly as they apparently have for Kessel. Seguin signed a long-term deal with the Bruins in the summer before he was moved to the Dallas Stars.
Fast-forward to today and Seguin has flourished into one of the game’s best players alongside teammate Jamie Benn. He’ll likely finish his second straight season in the state of Texas eclipsing both the 30-goal and point-per-game marks respectively, leaving the hockey world to talk about his growth rather than his shortcomings.
One would have to think in light of witnessing Seguin’s turn around, Kessel realizes at this point that he could probably use a fresh start. Yes he may be signed to an 8-year deal, but in the NHL 8 years is an eternity and it seems an eternity is a little too long of a time span for fans, management and players in Toronto.
That said, Kessel is still a Maple Leaf…for now.