As an organization, the Minnesota Wild is built on two-way play and consistency. During the Jacques Lemaire reign, they were consistently among the best defensive teams in the NHL. They've also been that for most of the last decade.
That's not all that's consistent, either. Over the past seven seasons, they’ve regularly bowed out of the first round of the playoffs. Still, the current gold standard of Wild consistency is their insistence that Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba play together on the blue line.
Stuck On You
The duo has been glued together for the better part of five seasons. With the exception of the 2018-19 season, the pair has logged at least 720 minutes of ice time at even strength in each campaign. They've accumulated over 2,314 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time together in the past three seasons. That total only trails the New York Rangers duo of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren for the most in the NHL.
There are clear benefits to this kind of consistency in a defensive pairing. It takes time for a defenseman to get acclimated to how their partner plays the game. The more ice time a pairing gets together, the more comfortable they get. After over 4,000 minutes of professional hockey together across eight years, it’s safe to say that Brodin and Dumba are fairly comfortable with one another.
That kind of familiarity is one of the primary reasons the defensive combo had one of their best seasons as a pair in 2021-22. In 760 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, they controlled 54.5% of the expected goal share. That's good for ninth-best amongst defensive pairs with 700-plus minutes of ice time. With that much success, it'd be easy to assume that the pairing is only getting better with age.
But all things come to an end, and the time to end this constant on the blue line is now. It's time to break up the Brodin and Dumba duo for good.
Tangled up in Blue
Sometimes a relationship runs its course, even if there isn't anything noticeably wrong, per se. When you're dealing with thousands of minutes, there will inevitably be highs and lows. But at some point, there's an understanding that things have stagnated and the only way to continue to grow is by moving on to something new.
This is an apt description of the Brodin and Dumba pairing. They’ve had good times (2021-22), bad times (2020-21), and a whole lot of time in between. If the Wild keep them together, odds are they’ll probably be fine. They’d be a serviceable Top-4 pairing despite inevitable ups and downs. The problem now is that “fine” won’t cut it anymore.
The Wild are entering the season with a less-than-ideal situation in net. A soon-to-be 38-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury will likely carry the bulk of the starts while Filip Gustavsson tries to fill the backup role. If Minnesota wants a chance to do any damage this season, they will need to have the blue line play a significant role.
Obviously, that hasn’t happened this season. The Wild have allowed a league-worst 20 goals in only three games. While the goaltending has been atrocious, the defensive corps hasn't offered much help either. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Brodin-Dumba pairing.
The duo has been on the ice for six even-strength goals in just 45 minutes of ice time, the most for any pairing with at least 25 minutes. They’ve also been outshot 22-33 and have allowed 13 high-danger scoring chances across that time. For a pair that has spent most of their career playing together, that isn't good enough.
Go Your Own Way
Minnesota has always been hesitant to separate the Brodin and Dumba pairing. During the Ryan Suter Era, there would be the odd switch of Dumba pairing with Suter, and Brodin with Jared Spurgeon. Inevitably, though, things would revert to the usual pairings. There was no attempt to add bottom-pairing guys into that mix because the quality was so beneath the Top-4 that trying something different would weaken the entire group. The only way to succeed was by going with the default, which meant a lot of Brodin and Dumba together.
However, that isn't the case anymore. The additions of Jacob Middleton and Calen Addison give Minnesota a considerable amount of depth on the blue line. They should be able to mix and match pairings across the lineup, freedom the Wild haven't had in ages. Now we can see what Brodin and Dumba can do without each other.
Dean Evason has already gone on record saying that a Brodin and Spurgeon pairing "could play against the [top players]." Why not give it a shot rather than trotting out the same pairs against the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, which they did on Monday? The duo would give the Wild a definitive top pairing and guarantee the team an impactful 22 to 24 minutes a game. Meanwhile, Dumba can join Middleton as a heavy-hitting duo that can skate and move the puck as a solid second pairing.
Another option is giving Brodin another offensive-minded partner in Addison. Brodin is known to be a stalwart on the defensive side of the puck. Pairing him with the 22-year-old would bring a similar balance that the Brodin-Dumba duo offered. The only difference is that Addison has more room to grow. That growth becomes easier with a veteran presence in Brodin helping to speed up his development.
The Wild have too many intriguing options to sit pat and hope the blue line is good enough. Evason has shown a willingness to juggle the lines so far this season, and it’s clear that something else needs to change. If it doesn't work, then guess what? He can always put Brodin and Dumba back together if they flounder. At this point, though, it’s very clear that the two need some time apart to figure out who they are as individuals.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
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