Copper & Blue: Devan Dubnyk had a breakout season last year after failing to help the Oilers. How do you think Dubnyk has done since joining the Wild, and is he worth that new contract?
Hockey Wilderness: Last year when Dubnyk was acquired his run was something magical. I can't really explain it. However, this year there has been some, emphasis on the word "some," concern with his start. But looking at his adjusted save percentage going back to when he played for the Oilers and that - if you want to call it defense - defense, it's been fairly solid.
While the Wild and Wild fans don't expect him to recreate the run he has last spring, it's acceptable for someone to assume that he can provide NHL-level average to slightly above average goaltending. Now is his 6-year, $26 million contract worth it? After last season, he was going to get paid. With the AAV at $5.5 million it's on par with average starting goaltender salaries. His contract is structured in such a way that the first 4 years are front loaded with it tailing off in the last two. That makes it a much more movable contract when the time would come to possibly move him. Is his contract deserved? Some fans think it's just the result of one half season of stellar play, but his play other than his last season in Edmonton has been relatively solid.
C&B: It seems that the Wild are very much a fringe playoff team year in and year out. What has held the team back from progressing in the playoffs?
HW: The Wild are the kings of the 1st Wildcard. First and foremost, with the new divisional playoff format, and the nightly gauntlet that is the Central Division, making it to the top three of the division is incredibly tough, so the only thing left is a wildcard spot. But even more than that, since head coach Mike Yeo took over 4 seasons ago, there has been periods of play in December and January that have all but finished the Wild off. Four seasons ago it was injuries to a fairly talentless team. Then a late season slump in the final weeks allowed the Wild to just barely sneak in the 8th spot in the West via a tie breaker with Columbus.
The season before last, broken ankles from blocked shots to Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jared Spurgeon, the team's three best players at driving puck possession, forced all three to miss time at the same time. It made watching this team in December brutal to watch. Niklas Backstrom was old and injured, Josh Harding's early season success was derailed around Christmas time when his MS regiment was adjusted, and it took rookie Darcy Kuemper and Ilya freaking Bryzgalov to muster up enough decent goaltending to clinch the 1st Wildcard and beat the Avalanche in 7 games.
Then last year, Darcy Kuemper, whose amazing start to the season, completely fell off and Backstrom was again old and injured. The power play was a mess and couldn't be relied upon for any goals, and the Wild spiraled out of the playoff picture in December and January. Enter Dubnyk and he started 38 straight games and posted a .936 save percentage to bring the Wild back from the dead and allowed them to beat St. Louis in 6 games in the first round. Ultimately, goaltending and injuries to the wrong players have held the team back. With goaltending hopefully shored up, we shouldn't see the midseason swoon like in past seasons.
C&B: Thomas Vanek has bounced around the last few years and seems to be trending downwards in his career. Do you think Vanek can turn it around and become the player he once was?
HW: Thomas Vanek signing as a free agent before last season was probably the worst kept secret in that free agent season. He was the subject of much hatred and vitriol from Wild fans as he passed up great scoring opportunities and didn't help the power play, which went 0-for its first-30 chances. Velanek didn't score until sometime in November and looked slow and lazy. However, when you play on a team that features Zach Parise, everyone looks lazy as slow.
So far this season, Vanek has 4 goals and looks more mobile as he had sports hernia surgery in the offseason. He making plays in the offensive zone and is being exactly what most Wild fans were expecting from him last season. Even though he still is a polarizing figure on the team - either you love him or hate him - he's been better. But he still provides next to nothing defensively.