Reality bites: Dumba’s season could be finished; struggling Eriksson Ek reportedly Iowa bound

The four-day Christmas break might have provided Wild players with a much-needed get-away from hockey, but it’s likely general manager Paul Fenton and coach Bruce Boudreau weren’t exactly overjoyed during the time off.

The Wild returned to action on Thursday night in Chicago sitting only two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but knowing they will be without the services of defenseman Matt Dumba for at least three months.

Dumba was injured in the Wild’s 2-1 loss on Dec. 15 against Calgary, but the team did not reveal his exact injury until after he underwent surgery to repair what turned out to be a ruptured right pectoralis muscle. Given Dumba’s uncertain timetable, his season could be finished.

Dumba, the seventh-overall pick in the 2012 draft by Minnesota, has been criticized by many for his defensive play but his value to the Wild this season has been obvious to anyone who watches the team on a regular basis. He leads NHL defensemen with 12 goals, including six on the power play, and also had 10 assists in 32 games.

That means Dumba was projected to have a season in which he finished with 30 goals and 25 assists in 79 games. Dumba was a minus-5 when he was injured in the first period against the Flames and was projected to finish a minus-12.

Nonetheless, his ability to move the puck and his howitzer of a slapshot made him a key on the Wild’s blueline. The Wild was getting a pretty good return on the five-year, $30 million contract that Dumba signed during the offseason. He was second on the team in ice time to defensive partner Ryan Suter, averaging 23 minutes, 23 seconds per game.

The Wild could not make an immediate move to replace Dumba because the Christmas roster freeze does not end until midnight Friday.

The Wild also reportedly is planning another roster move by sending center Joel Eriksson Ek to Iowa of the American Hockey League. This comes as no surprise considering Eriksson Ek’s struggles this season.

Eriksson Ek, the 20th pick in the 2015 draft, has one goal and three assists in 27 games this season after scoring six goals and having 10 assists in 75 games in 2017-18. Eriksson Ek also has had his struggles on the defensive side this season and is a minus-6.