A breakout performance like the one Wild defenseman Matt Dumba concocted last season was significant in more ways than one.
It confirmed his reputation as a mobile, two-way presence who can ignite offense, patrol the point on the power play and log heavy minutes that require a cleaner impact in his own zone.
Fulfilling these responsibilities better than he ever had in his NHL career also positioned the right-shot defender for a sizable raise on the brink of restricted free agency.
That’s exactly what Dumba secured when he signed a five-year, $30 million contract Saturday to avoid arbitration, but a commitment of that magnitude also highlights the potential the team believes the 23-year-old still has – growth that Dumba is eager to achieve to help catapult the Wild deep into the playoffs after it’s stumbled the past few seasons.
“I hope I’m just scratching the surface,” Dumba said. “That’s why we sought after a deal like this. Same with Minnesota. I’m very confident in myself.”
The two sides were scheduled for a hearing Monday in Toronto after Dumba filed for arbitration earlier this month, but optimism persisted that an outcome could be reached ahead of time.
A long-term deal suited Dumba, who’s familiar with the team and considers Minnesota home after five seasons. He called the decision, “a no-brainer” for him.
“I’m very appreciative and happy that I’m going to be in the State of Hockey for five more years,” said Dumba, who was on the golf course in Kelowna, British Columbia, when he heard an agreement was finalized.
Re-signing Dumba for that long and before arbitration also made sense for the Wild considering his most recent season.
He racked up career-highs in goals (14), assists (36) and points (50) while appearing in all 82 regular-season games and five playoff contests. Dumba was plus-15, chipped in four game-winners and averaged more ice time than he ever had at 23 minutes, 49 seconds. His four-point game March 29 against the Stars set a franchise record for most points in a game by a defenseman, and Dumba’s total output finished third-best in team history among blue liners.
It’s possible he would have received an extremely favorable result in arbitration and if the Wild opted for a short-term contract, the price tag for his next deal could have soared if Dumba continued to produce at this pace.
And considering he’s still in his early 20s, that evolution is feasible.
Overall, Dumba has 128 points in 310 games since getting drafted seventh overall in 2012. He’s registered double digits in goals in three straight seasons all before turning 24, a feat also accomplished by the likes of Aaron Ekblad, Dion Phaneuf and Drew Doughty. Dumba is one of 14 defensemen since 2005-06 to score at least 10 goals in two seasons before 24.
“When you look at it in that light and you’re seeing him going forward as possibly getting better, then it certainly made sense for us to go to the term that we did,” General Manager Paul Fenton said.
Dumba will earn $5.2 million next season, $7.4 million in 2019-20, $4.8 million in 2020-21, $7.4 million in 2021-22 and $5.2 million in 2022-23. This averages out to $6 million per year; only winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, at approximately $7.5 million, have a higher average annual value on their deals among Wild players.
Just 19 defensemen in the entire league eclipse Dumba’s average starting next season. Ekblad, who has 134 points in 309 career games, is at $7.5 million, while Seth Jones and Colton Parayko – who have similar points-per-game clips as Dumba – are at $5.4 million and $5.5 million, respectively.
This contract, which includes a limited, 10-team no-trade clause during the final two seasons – the years in which Dumba was eligible to be an unrestricted free agent, also solidifies the Wild’s top-four on defense.
“I love the competitiveness that Matt brings to the game on top of the offense, and I think that was the attraction here,” Fenton said. “We wanted to keep our defense intact.”
Now the team’s focus will shift to its last unsigned RFA, winger Jason Zucker.
Like Dumba, Zucker filed for arbitration and his hearing is scheduled for next Saturday. The 26-year-old is also coming off the best showing of his career, as he posted 33 goals and 64 points in the final season of a two-year, $4 million deal.
Since Zucker is only one season away from reaching free agency, an arbitrator would award a one-year deal. After signing Dumba, the team has approximately $7.3 million in cap space if it kept rookie Jordan Greenway in the NHL and had winger Luke Kunin start in the minors.
“We’ve talked to his representatives several times,” Fenton said. “The rest of this week it’ll certainly be something that we’re going to work on and try to get a resolution.”
Getting Zucker signed could be the Wild’s final major move of the offseason, although it’s still possible the team swings a trade to shake up its roster after making a handful of signings in free agency – bringing in depth forwards Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks and J.T. Brown, goalie Andrew Hammond and defenseman Greg Pateryn.
If those remain the only additions to the team, bolstering the defense would rank as one of the legacies of the summer for the Wild – a focal point underscored by locking up Dumba.
“I’ll be for sure held accountable by the coaching staff and my teammates but also myself,” Dumba said. “I want to take this to new heights. I want to go to new levels and just break down all those walls. [I’m] very excited to get this season going.”
The Wild will be affiliated with the Allen Americans of the ECHL for the 2018-19 season, an agreement that will serve the development efforts and personnel needs of the Wild and its American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.