For years, Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba has been rumoured to be on the trade block. Much of the speculation stems from the dip he took offensively after breaking out in 2017-18 when the former seventh-overall draft pick scored 14 goals and 50 points, which earned him a five-year, $30 million contract that summer that he hasn’t been able to live up to.
Dumba has always downplayed the rumours, stating he’s happy to stay in Minnesota as long as he can, and so far, that’s been true. But this year, that may change. Not only is he in the last year of his contract and on pace to put up one of his worst offensive seasons since 2015-16, but the Wild are in a bit of cap trouble and have several young, talented defencemen ready to break into the NHL. It’s almost a guarantee that he won’t be around for another season, meaning that a trade would help the team recoup some assets before the two potentially part ways.
There are more than a few teams who are in the market for a top-four, right-shooting defenceman, even with Dumba’s regression, so the price will likely be high. But that shouldn’t stop the Ottawa Senators from trying to bring him to their organization. The team desperately needs to upgrade their defence, and although bringing in a potential rental player is risky, it’s an avenue the Senators need to go down.
Minnesota’s Prospects Have Pushed Dumba Out
Despite Dumba’s repeated claims that he loves playing for the Wild, the defenceman is on his way out. In a recent report from The Athletic, Minnesota Wild reporter Michael Russo said, “This is almost surely Dumba’s final season with the Wild after being drafted by them in 2012. He’s outlasted countless trade rumours and two expansion drafts, but it’s time…If Guerin could move Dumba in a parallel move, it’s likely he would do so. Dumba has played better lately, but he got off to a subpar start to his season and could be upgraded. It really wouldn’t be surprising if Guerin traded Dumba in advance of the deadline, even if the team is in a playoff slot.” (from “Russo and Smith: From trade targets to playoff potential, 6 burning questions about the Wild,” The Athletic, 03/12/22).
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Apart from cap issues, there are two big factors helping push the Dumba trade rumours to the forefront, those being Calen Addison and Brock Faber. Originally a second-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018, the Wild acquired Addison as part of the deal that sent Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh just ahead of the 2020 Trade Deadline, and he has since become the Wild’s most prominent defensive prospect. This season, he already has 15 points in 26 games and ranks fifth in rookie scoring, which has completely overshadowed Matt Boldy, who was expected to be a Calder candidate.
Faber hasn’t made his NHL debut yet, but it could be coming soon, which may tie into how long Dumba remains in Minnesota. According to Russo, “The Wild feel they are developing a strong defence corps and plan to sign Brock Faber after the University of Minnesota’s season. They believe Faber can step into the lineup right away, but the Gophers have national championship aspirations. Even just going to the tournament makes a Faber signing impossible until at least late March — or well after the March 3 trade deadline.” (from “Russo and Smith: From trade targets to playoff potential, 6 burning questions about the Wild,” The Athletic, 03/12/22)
Even if the Wild cannot bring in Faber in the final month of the 2022-23 season and have him potentially play some playoff games, they’ll need to make room for their other prospects. Boldy, Sam Steel and Filip Gustavsson are all pending restricted free agents, and with just over $3 million in cap space, they’ll have a tough time retaining them all. However, moving Dumba will certainly make that more manageable.
Senators Need a Change on Defence
The Senators are in a tough spot. Even the most optimistic member of the organization knew making the playoffs was a long shot this season, but to be sitting 27th overall two weeks into December is far less than ideal. The team was supposed to be seeing far more on-ice success this season, and while they’ve got some great individual performances from the likes of Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, and Jake Sanderson, among others, that hasn’t translated to wins. Players are frustrated. Fans are frustrated. Even management is showing some frustration. It’s not a happy time in Ottawa.
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Thankfully, there have been signs of life. The Senators have won three of five games in December, which is just one win off from their total in November. Their goal differential is also much better than their place in the standings show, sitting at just a minus-six right beside the 11th-place Los Angeles Kings. But the team’s defence can’t seem to get out of its way. Rookie Shane Pinto was especially critical of their poor effort against the New York Rangers, saying, “I just don’t think we were hard enough in our own zone. I think that was the main reason. Just a couple of soft goals in front of Talbs (Cam Talbot), we kind of left him out to dry there.”
It’s no secret that the Senators have been looking for a defenceman for quite some time. General manager Pierre Dorion wasn’t able to acquire one in the offseason, and now that they’re near the bottom of the standings, they’d be dealing from a position of weakness. But it’s the position that needs the biggest upgrade. The team is allowing 3.30 goals per game this season, which is worse than last season when they finished 26th.
There are some highly talented defence prospects coming up, like Sanderson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, Tomas Hamara, and Jorian Donovan, but defensive players need much longer to develop. So, even though Sanderson and Bernard-Docker are showing some elite skills already in their young careers, it’s unlikely they won’t hit their potential for at least another couple of seasons. The team needs an established defensive presence to win more games.
What Would a Dumba Trade Look Like?
A few issues will prevent the Wild from trading Dumba right away. First of all, they’re currently sitting in the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and having an experienced top-four defenceman like Dumba on their blue line makes them a more competitive team. If they want to make a push for the playoffs, they could treat their alternate captain as a rental player rather than dealing him to the highest bidder at the deadline.
Secondly, and maybe more importantly, removing Dumba opens up a large gap on the right side until Faber arrives. The most NHL-ready option the Wild has on the right side is Andrej Sustr, whose never been a 20-minute-per-night player and had a career-high 21 points five seasons ago. Add in the $6 million cap hit, and that makes a trade pretty difficult to pull off for any team.
However, the Senators could potentially get through all those hoops. Ottawa still has over $4 million in cap space, which could accommodate Dumba’s contract as long as they moved someone of lower value. The first name likely to pop up in negotiations would be Nikita Zaitsev, who has long been on the trading block due to his poor defensive play, but he has been a 20-minute defender in the past, and the right system could rekindle that ability. He is cheaper than Dumba at $4.5 million but is signed for the next two seasons. Travis Hamonic, who has just a $3 million cap hit expiring at the end of this season, could also be another option, as he’s much more consistent when given more minutes.
The Wild are also in the market for an impact forward, which the Senators could also make work with the likes of Tyler Boucher. While the idea of seeing the powerful winger play alongside the likes of Tkachuk is almost too tempting to part with, he’s not what the Senators need right now. Mark Kastelic, Parker Kelly, and Ridly Greig already fill that role within the organization, and Boucher hasn’t proven that he’s better than any of those other players. But he certainly will be an impact forward in the NHL.
Given the Wild’s current situation, a comparable trade for Dumba could be the Devon Toews trade, which saw the New York Islanders acquire two second-round picks from the Colorado Avalanche. While that move didn’t work out well for the Islanders, it was an appropriate value at the time. For the Senators, they could potentially replace one second-round pick with Boucher and the other with a defenceman like Hamonic or Zaitsev, which would give value to both franchises immediately.
More questions need to be considered before a deal can be ironed out, such as whether the Senators would have to retain any of Zaitsev’s contract or whether a draft pick must be included or not, but this could be a solid starting place for both teams to address their current issues. Both the Wild and Senators are looking to make changes, and right now, a trade is the best bet for both to start making progress.