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A deadline deal for Dumba brings considerable risk

Matt Dumba Arizona Coyotes Matt Dumba - The Canadian Press

Finding quality defenders has been the bane of existence for NHL general managers going back decades, and the modernization of the position has only further complicated the matter.

While the pool of talent at the position has increased, so too have the expectations on blueliners – gone are the days of rosters being stuffed with “stay-at-home” types, traded off for more capable two-way players with skating and puck-handling pedigree.

Whether it’s roster building time in the off-season or in advance of the trade deadline, defenders who have exhibited an ability to play both ways are going to be in high demand. It’s one of the reasons I think Calgary’s Noah Hanifin is an excellent trade idea for several contenders.

But the reality is bona fide top-four guys are extraordinarily hard to find. Teams must be willing to take on risk – perhaps a player with an injury history, a player whose environment (including teammate quality) was substandard, and so on.

One player who fits that bill is Arizona’s Matt Dumba, who may have an interested suitor once more in the form of the Ottawa Senators.

I think some hockey speculators were surprised last summer when Dumba signed a one-year “prove it” type of contract with the Coyotes after his five-year, $30-million deal with the Minnesota Wild expired in 2022-23.

The former seventh-overall pick in the 2012 draft has some of the physical tools front offices dream about, but he also has a checkered history of sorts. He never developed into the high-end offensive player scouts saw from his Western Hockey League years, the injury bug has clamped down hard in recent years, and he has already cleared 700 games played.

I emphasize the injury history and mileage because Dumba, 29, from an offensive production standpoint, simply isn’t the player he once was.

In the earliest parts of his career, Dumba – predominantly playing with the very capable Jonas Brodin in Minnesota – delivered quality minutes and generally out-performed the opposition at even strength, which is what you expect to see from a top-four defender.

But right around the 2018-19 regular season, that narrative changed:

What’s notable about that steady downturn in goal differential is that Dumba is doing it despite the teams he’s playing for. From 2018-23 for example, the Minnesota Wild were 71 goals better than their opponents, 13th best in the NHL and reliably a playoff-calibre team. Over that same timespan, the Wild were outscored by 13 goals with Dumba on the ice. Said another way: both Minnesota and Arizona have played better with him on the bench, rather than on the ice.

There are several contextual factors as to why that may be the case, but any interested buyer at the trade deadline – or a team perhaps interested him as a free agent this summer – must reconcile why Dumba’s results look more third pairing-calibre than anything in the top four.

Part of the issue as I see it: The Wild and Coyotes have struggled to generate meaningful offence with Dumba deployed, and that’s with common partners (Brodin and Ryan Suter in Minnesota; Travis Dermott in Arizona) who are very capable. 

The numbers:

The decline in offensive production with Dumba on the ice is staggering, and this season in Arizona, the Coyotes are nearly a full goal better per 60 minutes with Dumba off the ice. That caps off what is looking like a five-year (and counting) trend of waning offensive impact. Couple that with defensive numbers that have reliably been worse than team averages, and you have a player who just doesn’t appear to have much of a positive impact.

Again, the job of a front office is to be able to separate signal from noise, and perhaps Dumba still has something left in the tank – something that neither the Wild nor the Coyotes have been able to tap in to in recent years.

But I would argue it’s very difficult to find multi-year results like this from reliably productive defenders, and because of that, acquire (or sign) Dumba at your own risk.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference