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Goff: Did last season skew our perception of Matt Dumba?

LEDE: Matt Dumba was on pace for a career year last season before a pectoral injury ended his campaign after just 32 games.

Everything was trending in the right direction for the Wild’s young offensive-first defenseman last season. He started the year red hot with 12 goals (six via the power-play) in 32 games, which is a 31-goal pace. The NHL hasn’t seen a blue liner score 30 goals in a regular season since Washington’s Mike Green in 2008-09. On a team lacking a game-breaker, Dumba’s presence was monumental for the Wild. After his pectoral injury on Dec. 15, 2018, the Wild scored the fewest goals in the league by season’s end. Before his injury, their offense was 15th in goals scored and their power play was in the top 10. 

After rehabbing and posting social media viral videos of his intense workout regimen counting down his return to the ice, Dumba was clearly motivated to get back out there. However, through 28 games this season, he has found twine just three times and zero on the man-advantage. 

Did we set expectations too high after Dumba’s hot start last year? Has he just been unlucky? Let’s dive in.

The 25-year-old blue liner is in his seventh season (fifth full time) in the league. Here’s his goals per-game rate since debuting in 2014.

  • 2014-15: 0.14 (1 goal in 13 games)
  • 2013-14: 0.08 (8 goals in 58 games)
  • 2015-16: 0.12 (10 goals in 81 games)
  • 2016-17: 0.14 (11 goals in 76 games)
  • 2017-18: 0.17 (14 goals in 82 games)
  • 2018-19: 0.38 (12 goals in 32 games)
  • 2019-20: 0.11 (3 goals in 28 games)
  • Average: 0.16 (13 goal pace)

Since 2014, Dumba steadily increased his goal rate before exploding for a number that legends like Ray Bourque, Phil Housley or Bobby Orr have achieved. If we take a more modern approach, here are the only five players who have averaged more goals-per game since the 2016-17 season. 

  1. Brent Burns: 0.24 (19 goal pace)
  2. Erik Karrlson: 0.20 (16 goal pace)
  3. Victor Hedman: 0.14 (11 goal pace)
  4. Roman Josi: 0.19 (15 goal pace)
  5. Alex Pietrangelo: 0.19 (15 goal pace)
  6. Matt Dumba: 0.18 (14 goal pace)

Obviously Dumba’s big season last year, carries a ton of weight in that career average. For the sake of this exercise, let’s take out his 0.38 rate since it’s a bit of an outlier. With last season’s goal rate eliminated, his goal rate is .012, which is nearly identical to his goal rate of 0.11 for this season. Similar to his goal rates, Dumba’s shots per game have steadily risen in recent seasons.

  • 2014-15: 1.48 
  • 2015-16: 1.88 
  • 2016-17: 1.72 
  • 2017-18: 2.15 
  • 2018-19: 2.91
  • 2019-20: 2.36
  • Average: 2.08

Again, omitting his shot rate from last season as an outlier, now his career average is 1.91. Also, Dumba’s Shots For Percentage, (summary of shots while that combination of players is on the ice for and against) last season was the only season he posted a positive percentage since becoming a full-time player.

  • 2015-16: 48.17 SF% 
  • 2016-17: 47.92% SF%
  • 2017-18: 49.20% SF%
  • 2018-19: 53.95 SF%
  • 2019-20: 46.64% SF%

Finally, Dumba isn’t being used in the offensive zone at nearly the same rate he was last season either.  

  • 2018-19: 55.9% oZS% 
  • 2019-20: 49.4% oZ%

Transitioning to this season, Dumba’s shooting percentage is a lowly 4.5% this season, which is way down from his career average of 8.5%. When a shooting percentage drops that much, two things are at play: one being puck luck not bouncing his way and the fact the Wild weren’t gelling offensively in the first month of games. Dumba can be a game-changing defenseman but the eye tests of the first dozen games suggested Dumba was far from the problems plaguing the team.

If Dumba’s going to be an elite scorer, like Burns and Karlsson, he’ll simply have to increase his shots per game. Both Sharks defensemen have historically put more rubber towards the net than Dumba. However, Burns (5 goals this season) and Karlsson (3 goals) are also having down years and a big reason why is they’re passing up shots. 

  • Burns career average in San Jose: 3.72 shots
  • This season: 2.72 shots
  •  Karlsson: 2.91 shots per game
  • This season: 1.75 shots per game

For players like Burns, Karlsson and Dumba to be at their best, they simply have to shoot more pucks on the net. It’s unfair to call them defensive liabilities but if these players aren’t driving offense, then their shortcomings are magnified.

So to answer our questions from above, it’s safe to say that yes, Dumba’s 2018-19 campaign probably skewed our perception of his potential. At the same time, he’s still only 25 and a pectoral injury is a serious obstacle to overcome. Especially when it comes to gripping sticks for howitzers on opposing goalies. There’s been a few moments this season where Dumba’s has taken some serious licks. Head coach Bruce Boudreau said he’s looked more like NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown with the way he’s been able to get back up when knocked down. This doesn’t mean he’s not a player to keep around but with Dumba earning $6 million per season through 2023, they’ll need him to be a more dynamic player in the offensive end. 


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