Jump to content
Hockey Wilderness
  • How Do You Say Goodbye To Matt Dumba?

    Image courtesy of Official NHL Twitter (@NHL)
    Tony Abbott

    I'm not sure if it's a product of getting older, or being in the online sports media industry, or (probably) a bit of both, but when you've been writing about sports for a decade, your fandom changes. It's inevitable, I suspect.

    To do the job well, or at least with an attempt at objectivity, you have to watch the games with some detachment. Do I care who wins or loses? Yeah, as a Wild fan since my early teens, I think so. But I have to work to dust off the "Fan Mode" section of my brain to let the emotional rollercoaster of sports wash over it. 

    You gain a lot with it. I've had opportunities and made friends I never would have otherwise because of it. You also lose stuff, too. One of those things, I've found, is the concept of a Favorite Player. Obviously, you have to marvel at Kirill Kaprizov's skill, enjoy watching Joel Eriksson Ek's growth, or even pull for a kid with a compelling story like Mason Shaw. And I do. 

    But looking at the roster, pointing to someone, and going, "Yeah, that's my dude. I'm ride or die with him"? A player whose jersey I'd actually buy? Those days are over, for me. 

    Forgive the navel-gazing, but the reason I say all this is because the (increasingly likely) end of an era for the Minnesota Wild is also the end of one for me. Matt Dumba is my last Favorite Player.

    As long as I've been writing, Dumba's been there. I first fired up a long-since-disappeared blog in the summer of 2012, after I'd wrapped up school. The NHL Draft was happening, and I had one guy circled as the player I wanted most to fall to the Wild's No. 7 overall slot. I wanted the Wild to, as I coined it to the maybe 50 people who read me at the time, "Draft Smart, Draft Dumba."

    Why? In my reading of scouting reports scattered on the internet, everything about Dumba's game looked so damn cool.

    Remember where the Wild were defensively at that time. The Era of Nick Schultz's efficiently sleepy game just ended. Free-wheeling Brent Burns was gone, and his replacement was some Swedish Schultz-type named Jonas Brodin. Ryan Suter wasn't the hot free agent the State of Hockey had its eyes on -- that was Zach Parise. No one knew a shrimpy 22-year-old kid named Jared Spurgeon was about to be the most dominant two-way force in club history.

    So Dumba, who looked like the second coming of Brent Burns, was exactly what the Wild needed. The kid had a shot so powerful, you'd have thought it was designed by a supervillain. He was fast, he could hit people, and he was just... dynamic. In one player, he represented everything the Wild weren't, and I desperately wanted to see that player in the State of Hockey.

    When the Wild scooped him up at No. 7 overall, that was my dude. I was ride-or-die with Dumba. His development ended up running in parallel to mine. I joined the Hockey Wilderness staff in January 2013. Dumba made his debut with the slightly more prestigious NHL nine months later. As he became a full-time member of the Wild, I was establishing myself as a writer. His joining the team leadership as an alternate captain happened mirrors my taking on an expanded leadership role in my career. 

    Dumba is at the center of many of my formative experiences and my best memories over that time. I credit the Dumba Posting Wars of the mid-2010s Wild Twitter as being instrumental in honing my argumentation skills. To this day, I like to tell my friends about how when Dumba changed his number from 55 to 24, I had to rush out to the mall in Duluth to obtain the coveted DUMBA55 shirsey before it disappeared forever.

    That, by the way, is the last jersey/shirsey I've ever bought of a player. No one's compelled me to do that since.

    And sure, was it partly for the fun and irony of having a shirt that said DUMBA55? You bet. But that was a big part of the appeal of Dumba, for me. This was a guy who would do something like that even if only for a brief time. To me, it looked like a player who was truly having a blast and taking a joy – visible, palpable, infectious joy – from a system of hockey that tends to stomp that out of players long before they make the NHL.

    And when I say infectious joy, I mean it in a literal sense. An airborne contagion of euphoria that can extend dozens of feet upward and zip through glass. The first hockey game I covered as a media member was the 2016 Stadium Series game. Dumba followed up a Ryan Carter breakaway with a goal on the rebound and spun off into one of the coolest celebrations I've ever seen.

    So damn cool.

    Dumba, rocking an incredible amount of eye black in tribute to Ray Lewis, went out of control with excitement, pumping both his arms and jumping into the boards. "I think I blacked out for a second," Dumba said of his celebration. So did I. Up in the press box of the then-TCF Bank Stadium, my editor, who was sitting next to me, had to put both his hands on me to calm me down. I'd been so sucked into the joy of the moment that I forgot where I was. My brain went into "Fan Mode," which again, you can't really have in this gig. Not over time, not in the same way.

    Seeing him step into a leadership role on the team, trying (and succeeding) to build a post-Parise/Suter Era locker room that is welcoming to the next wave of players, was admirable to watch. So, too, was the stand he took in the COVID Bubble following the George Floyd murders, as well as his advocacy in the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and his work in the community. 

    Even after a pectoral injury that threatened to (and in some ways, did) derail his career, we've watched him adapt to the player that he is today: half of a trusted shutdown pair with Brodin. He took even one of the worst breaks we've ever seen for a young Wild player and turned it into a cool, good story.

    How do you say goodbye to that? The Wild have staved off the end with Dumba for so long, through three general managers, two expansion drafts, and trade rumors that persisted through every day of his expiring five-year contract -- both at his peak and at his worst.

    Now, Dumba could still prove us all fools for thinking he's heading out the door. He could stick around by taking a below-market deal. But that's going to have to be way below-market. The Wild have about $8 million of cap space after Marcus Johansson's contract, and still have multiple players to sign, including RFA Filip Gustavsson, and his impending pay raise.

    What do we expect Dumba to get? Evolving Hockey's contract projections forecast a six-year deal that carries around a $6.25 cap hit. That feels like quite a bit, but proven NHL defensemen on the right side tend to be tough to find on the open market. Even his projection on a two-year deal is $4.4 million, meaning Dumba would have to take a 50% or greater discount to stay in St. Paul.

    If anyone is going to do that, it's probably Dumba. "I love Minny," he told the media in his postseason availability on Monday. "My heart's in Minny." But after Johansson's signing the day after exit interviews, one would think that if it was going to happen, it'd have happened already. 

    Things typically don't end well. That's why they end. And as much as it sucks to say about my last Favorite Player, maybe it is time for a clean break from both sides. 

    Barring trade rumors being true, the Wild have Brock Faber and Calen Addison on the right side of their defense. Faber can step into the shutdown part of Dumba's game alongside Brodin. In some ways, Addison is a young Dumba. Less of a bazooka from the point and physical presence, but that same offensive-minded style that piles up points and polarizes people. 

    Even the most diehard Dumba fans have to admit, too, that while his transition from high-risk, high-reward offensive defenseman to the reality of his post-pectoral tear days is admirable, it doesn't suit what the Wild need. He's been worth only 1.3 points in the standings over the past three years, according to Evolving Hockey's xSPAR model. At least in Minnesota, his days as an impactful two-way defenseman are over.


    A lot of that is probably the pectoral injury that stole the extra zip off Dumba's shot, which sure seemed to influence his team's ability to score more goals than his "expected" rate. But some of it surely has to be the pressure of having to produce under the spotlight of constant trade-related scrutiny, no? Dumba's lived the last half-decade or more surrounded by unending rumors about his future. 

    His heart is in Minny. But barring a full no-move clause, are those whispers ever going away? Or is it better to get a fresh start with a team he knows is going to have a need for him? It's his decision, and while you can't say the Dumba Era's over until it is official, it sure looks like it's headed that way.

    I can look at this with a detached eye and say that it's probably for the best. Logically, I can believe that. But it's hard to do that all while smothering what remains of the "Fan Mode" part of my brain with a pillow. I get how this may be best for everyone involved, but it sucks. I still hate it. The guy is an absolute icon, I'm going to miss seeing him in a Wild sweater, and I don't mind taking the lid off my fan brain to say that. Matt Dumba forever. 

    Think you could write a story like this? Hockey Wilderness wants you to develop your voice, find an audience, and we'll pay you to do it. Just fill out this form.

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Featured Comments

    When you get older, your fandom diminishes no doubt.  It doesn't mean you lose passion though, but rather it is a tempered passion.  Oxymoron intended.

    My bet is Dumba's play to end the season and into the playoffs has earned him an FA offer the wild will not match.

    • Like 1
    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Great guy, by all accounts.  Gave us some decent regular season moments.  Probably known more for derailing his career by injury in a fight than anything he did actually playing hockey.  The main thing on my mind right now is that he’s been a key cog in the annual playoff choke job.

    It’s time.  We need to transition into a new era.  Hopefully he goes somewhere where he can be role player on a good hockey team that can win something.  He likely earned himself a little more money with his strong play to close out his career here.  

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Man, this is going to be tough to watch. I got back into Hockey right before joined the club (kind of fell off in the late 90s/ early 2000s when Minnesota didn’t have a team and the Devils club I had been following had lost a lot of the players I liked). So Dumba has been a part of the Wild identity since I have been following them.

    I have definitely criticized him in the past (especially early in his career), for his defensive play, but I came to appreciate his style and the energy he brought to the game. 

    More impactful to me than his on-ice contributions were his off ice contributions. He is just a stand-up human being. For all his work in the community, his social justice advocacy, and even the time that police officer caught him changing the tire for a family who had no idea who he was. Everyone I know who has had the pleasure to meet him say he is absolute class act and is 100% willing to drop whatever he is doing to give a fan a few minutes of his day.

    I think he has been instrumental in changing the culture of the Wild. With the departure of Koivu, Suter, and Parise this club had become a much better place, and even watching the bench you can see it. Since Dumba, Foligno, and Spurgeon took over when you look at the bench you see guys laughing, having fun, and genuinely looking excited to be there. Beforehand it was just a stoic looking place with very little positive emotion being displayed. 

    His exit interview was tough to watch, he looked like he was fighting tearing up. I just don’t see how the Wild can keep him around. I wish him the best of luck in his future hockey career, and maybe when he is done playing he can come back and take a job with the organization. I definitely wouldn’t object to having him working with the Wild and in community.


    • Like 4
    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I've been a Dumba fan since he came into the league. I loved the shot and the heat seeking missile mentality. I thought he didn't get a fair shake under Evason to be on the PP but it may have been due to his shot deterioration. 

    I don't think it was just the Tkachuk fight that got him, it was the shoulder in last year's hit that finished him off offensively. I had hoped it would return but I guess his shot was mailed to Siberia.

    If he can sign a deal for $6.25m somewhere, he might as well take it. 6 X $6.25m sounds to me like it will end poorly.

    In other news: Winnipeg has taken a 3-0 lead in it's series, Lambos had nothing.

    Kamloops won bringing them to 1-2, Bankier & Masters with apples, +1. Somehow I had missed this, turns out Masters is a RHS. He's a smaller defensemen, but I'd like to see what he looks like in camp next season. Maybe he's more willing to hit than Addison?

    Sherbrooke lost to drop to 2-1, Spacek was a -1. Sherbrooke is the underdog in this series.

    • Like 1
    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Join the conversation

    You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
    Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

    Add a comment...

    ×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

      Only 75 emoji are allowed.

    ×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

    ×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

    ×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...