Wild general manager Bill Guerin hasn’t kept it a secret that one of his primary objectives this offseason is to land a No. 1 center to put on a line with dynamic left winger Kevin Fiala. The issue is that finding an upper-echelon center is like obtaining a top-flight starting pitcher in baseball. The price tag — whether the move comes in free agency or via trade — is extremely high.
Guerin is expected to go the trade route in his quest to improve the Wild, meaning he almost certainly will have to part with one of the better defenseman on his roster. Until Tuesday afternoon, the thinking was that player would be Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba. Brodin, 27, was entering the final season of a contract that had a salary-cap hit of $4.2 million, and Dumba, 26, had three years left on is deal with an annual cap hit of $6 million.
Brodin and Dumba are very different players — which is why they often have been defensive partners — with Brodin being the more reliable, stay at home guy, and Dumba possessing the skill to rush the puck, create chances, use his big-time slapshot on the power play and, of course, hope that Brodin could cover for him if he got out of position.
So which one was more likely to move?
That question was answered Tuesday afternoon when the Wild announced that Brodin had signed a seven-year, $42 million extension that will begin in 2021-22 and puts a no-move clause on the final season of his previous deal for 2020-21. So Brodin is going nowhere, Ryan Suter still has five years left on a contract that contains a no-move clause and Jared Spurgeon has a no-move clause on the seven-year, $53 million deal that will begin this coming season.
Put all of this together and it appears Dumba could be moved before next season, whenever it starts. Why? Because if Guerin is going to get the type of center he wants — and there is no guarantee that will happen — it could come in a package that includes dealing a young forward, like Luke Kunin or Jordan Greenway, but it will take a centerpiece type of player and Dumba figures to be that guy. The fact Dumba is a right-handed shot should increase his value.
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If the Wild are looking at a guy like Toronto’s William Nylander, a winger who figures to be able to play center, or Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli, who will be a restricted free agent, those teams are going to ask for Dumba. Guerin also has to factor how he wants to work his protected list for next June’s expansion draft when Seattle joins the NHL, and that certainly could play a role in how he operates this offseason.
Guerin created the potential flexibility to move a defenseman in February when he dealt Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh in a trade that brought back right-handed shot prospect Calen Addison. Addison was invited to the Wild’s training sessions in July to get ready for the resumption of the NHL season and impressed team officials with his performance. Addison had 10 goals and 42 assists this season playing for Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League. Four of his goals and 24 points came on the power play.
Trading Dumba, however, wouldn’t be easy both from an on-and-off the ice perspective.
Dumba recently won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is awarded for leading on and off the ice and making humanitarian contributions to his community. He has done that both in the Twin Cities and the NHL.
Dumba played a key role in the launch of the Hockey Diversity Alliance in June. He also spoke out against racism following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and became the first NHL player to kneel during the U.S. national anthem before a qualifying round game between the Oilers and Blackhawks in Edmonton. Locally, Dumba helped head the “Rebuild Minnesota” initiative to assist local businesses in the Lake Street area that were affected by protests in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Dumba, the seventh-pick in the 2012 draft, has 62 goals (24 on the power play) and 112 assists in 411 games over seven seasons with the Wild. He signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the team in July 2018, just before he was scheduled for an arbitration hearing. Dumba’s contract does not include any no-trade language for 2020-21, but there is a 10-team no-trade list he can name starting in 2021-22.
Guerin, not surprisingly, wasn’t about to tip his hand on Tuesday about what he might do. “We could always think about doing that but, we’re really happy with our (defensive corps) like it is,” he told reporters when asked about moving a defenseman. “Not saying I won’t try to do anything else, but it was first things first with getting Jonas locked up and see where things are.”
If Brodin had balked at the Wild’s offer, there is a good chance he would have been the man on the move. But Guerin clearly liked what he saw in his first season as the Wild’s GM and his priority was on keeping Brodin in a Wild uniform. With that accomplished, you have to wonder if Dumba’s time in a Wild jersey is nearing an end.