Last season wasn't the first time Matt Dumba didn't play past the first round of the playoffs.
Or the second. Nor third.
One of the longest tenured members of the Wild, Dumba has advanced to Round 2 only once in his NHL career: his first full season as a pro in 2015, which culminated in the team getting swept in its second series by Chicago. In the seven years since, Dumba and the Wild have exited early all six times they have made the playoffs.
"Frustration's fair," the defenseman said. "Frustration's fair."
But despite the same outcome, Dumba felt the team behind the latest lapse was different and the sting that's lingered is now shaping the Wild's response in what will be a telling season for them and Dumba, who is on the brink of a contract year.
"We had the will to win, and maybe we didn't have the will to prepare to win in those situations," Dumba said, reflecting on the six-game loss to Central Division rival St. Louis. "I think that's what we're going to take into this year is just no matter what it is, if it's little battles in practice or these preseason games, it's finding that will to prepare to win because we believe that we have a squad here that can win every night."
As the Wild have regrouped for training camp, they have shed more insight into what they believe went wrong against the Blues and a common takeaway has been their attention to detail.
"I look back at those other years and step away from the offseason, and you look at it and could we have went all the way?" Dumba said. "I don't know. Last year I think so, if we had that preparation and really dialed in, which we didn't do.
"So, we have to hold ourselves accountable to that and I think our group here has recognized that, especially the leaders."
Dumba is one of those, as he is on the cusp of his second term as an alternate captain, and he remains in a position to affect the Wild's performance as part of a revised look to the defense.
Instead of reuniting with usual partner Jonas Brodin, Dumba is working with the gritty Jake Middleton at training camp on a pairing that is penciled in for the team's preseason opener Sunday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center vs. Colorado.
"I also want to bring that intensity and physicality to my game," Dumba said. "With saying that, I think I can use my strengths against those players, too, the speed, quickness, use my skating ability to get up the ice and take advantage of those guys as well."
When he has been at his best, that mobile defending is what Dumba has delivered for the Wild — plus a clutch release on the power play.
Injuries, however, have restricted his ice time in recent seasons. Dumba suffered a punctured lung, dislocated rib and broken rib in April but still returned in time for the playoffs; after the season, he recovered for a month.
"That's part of the preparation, part of being a pro," said Dumba, who had seven goals and 20 assists in 57 games in 2021-22. "Injuries happen, but you've got to stay the course mentally, physically. That mental grind of this game is so important. I'm starting to really figure that out as a veteran guy.
"It's kind of falling in love with that monotony of doing the same things over and over and looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing, hey, I've got to take care of what I got here and not be satisfied. It's not about maintaining; it's about getting better every day. That's what I want to do."
Dumba also wants to stay with the Wild, a future that will eventually have to be addressed since the 28-year-old is in the final leg of a five-year, $30 million contract that includes a 10-team no-trade clause.
He and General Manager Bill Guerin "haven't put too much emphasis" on the situation, said Dumba, who mentioned the two have an open and honest rapport.
"Chips are going to fall as they may, and I'm going to do everything in my power to be the best player, best leader I can be on this squad," Dumba said. "If I do that, I think everything will get worked out and that's my goal. But I have to do that."
The salary-cap pinch that headlined the offseason and was the backdrop for Kevin Fiala's trade to Los Angeles isn't going away.
Actually, the cost of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts will increase again. But uncertainty is nothing new for Dumba, a regular in the NHL's rumor mill. And yet, he's still here.
"If I worried about that, I'd probably be in a shell hiding somewhere because I've heard about the numbers," Dumba said. "I heard about the cap space every year of my career. I've been on the block. So, you know what? I'm just fine."