Matt Dumba could be the short-term RHD solution that the Canucks are looking for
Photo credit:© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
For the Vancouver Canucks, making dumb decisions around free agency is nothing new.
Making Dumba decisions, on the other hand?
That’s entirely fresh territory.
It’s no secret that, despite being dramatically upgraded thanks to the sheer presence of Filip Hronek alone, the right side of the Vancouver blueline needs some work.
Currently, that right side consists of Hronek, Tyler Myers, and then…Noah Juulsen? As it stands, the role of bottom-pairing RHD is set to go to a journeyman like Juulsen, a not-quite-ready-for-primetime prospect like Filip Johansson or Cole McWard or Jett Woo, or to a LHD like Carson Soucy or Ian Cole playing on their off-side.
None of the above are ideal solutions, especially not for a team that still has some outside designs on being inside the playoffs this year. And should that rumoured trade of Myers come to fruition, the situation moves from troubling to dire.
A much more preferred outcome would be to have a strong left side of Quinn Hughes backed by Soucy and Cole, while Hronek and Myers remain on the right and are joined by a third NHL-quality RHD.
But where are the Canucks going to find one of those this late in the summer?
The trade market is tight, and if there are any openings there, the Canucks want to shed bodies, not add them.
The free agent market, however, does have some RHD talent left to offer up.
Tony DeAngelo, hockey’s most toxic personality, is out there. Hard pass on him.
Ethan Bear remains unsigned, but he’s injured until at least December, and the Canucks could have kept him in the fold if they wanted. If he’s an option, it’s a later option.
Cal Foote is an intriguing possibility, but he might not want to come to a team in which his dad helps run the defence. It could be awkward.
Which leaves us with little more to consider than Matt Dumba.
And oh yeah, he could definitely work.
Normally, a player like Dumba would be a little out of the Canucks’ budget. He’s 28, a first-time UFA, and has a long history of top-four play behind him. Under ordinary circumstances, players like Dumba demand contracts of five or six years at cap hits of $5 million or higher, and that’s just not something that Vancouver had available, or should have been spending if they had.
But the free agent market has been a cruel mistress of late in this flat-cap era, and Dumba appears to be the latest individual to get caught playing the waiting game.
We’ve seen this happen to a number of players. With the salary ceiling largely unmoved since the pandemic began, there just isn’t as much money to go around as there used to be, and those UFAs who wait for the perfect offer are finding that one might never arrive. At a certain point, all the teams that are willing to spend more money have spent it, and it’s then on the UFA in question to compromise.
Heck, we’ve seen this same thing happen to John Klingberg two offseasons in a row, as he turned down an eight-year extension in Dallas only to wind up signing consecutive one-year deals with Anaheim and Toronto.
Is Dumba approaching that territory? The date on the calendar says yes.
It’s not all bad news for Dumba. He can sign a one- or two-year deal now and hit UFA again after the cap has risen dramatically in the years to come. Some players are turning down long-term offers to specifically become free agents again when the cap is up, so it’s not the worst strategy in the world.
A short-term, medium-salary contract could set Dumba up to cash in big a summer or two from now, and it might be the best he can hope for at this point in the 2023 offseason.
So why would the Canucks be the ones to offer that to him, and why would he choose the Canucks?
It’s no real mystery why the Canucks would want Dumba, in a vacuum anyway. For any of his flaws that one cares to mention, he’s undoubtedly an improvement over the likes of Juulsen, and probably Myers, too, if we’re being honest.
Dumba’s game has evolved over the years. He’s gone from a career high of 50 points in 2017/18 to a career low of just 14 in 79 games for 2022/23, but that’s not all due to regression. Dumba has refined his play, focusing more and more on the defensive end of the ice.
Traditionally, Dumba has always posted analytics in the positive, with the major exception being last season, when most of his stats were in the high-40s. That’s partly due to it being a bad year for Dumba individually, but it wasn’t that bad, and there were some complicating factors. Dumba was asked to take on a tougher deployment than usual (a few ticks above league-average) and received an inconsistent slate of D partners. When paired with Jonas Brodin, Dumba performed like a more-than-adequate top-four shutdown D. When paired with lesser lights like Jon Merrill and Jake Middleton, he did not perform as well.
That bodes well for a theoretical Vancouver arrival, where Dumba would find himself almost guaranteed a steadier partner.
Then there’s the physicality. Dumba may not throw then with the total reckless abandon he once did, but he still hits, and he hits hard. The Vancouver blueline already promises to be more punishing with Soucy and Cole in the mix, and few would complain if that trend continued via Dumba.
All of which adds up to Dumba being a fine addition to the roster, salary aside. But we can’t really place salary side, can we?
We’ve already pointed out that the Canucks are going to have a difficult time fitting a full roster under the cap, what with Tucker Poolman still set for LTIR and not as much wiggle room available as last year.
So, as it stands, the Canucks don’t have room for any further additions, and especially not one of Dumba’s caliber.
But what if some cap were able to be freed up?
All it would really take is the trading of an Anthony Beauvillier or a Conor Garland to open up enough room for a short-term Dumba deal. Perhaps the additional dumping of a Tanner Pearson or something along those lines might be required to make it all fit, but the possibilities are definitely there.
For the Canucks to find themselves down a winger or two but up an RHD, without blowing up the cap structure, would have to be seen as an unmitigated win for roster balance.
Of course, that aforementioned rumoured trade of Myers also opens up plenty of space, but then that makes Dumba more of a necessity, not a luxury. For the time being, it’s probably best to have both of them.
Clear up some cap, ditch some wingers, and then offer Dumba a one-year deal at around Klingberg money ($4 million-ish). See what happens.
Why would Dumba take such a deal? Well, for one, because longer-term deals are probably no longer on the table for him and his camp. The amount of teams that even have $4 million left in usable cap space is low, and most of those teams are uninterested in spending that money, particularly on aging veterans.
Vancouver, meanwhile, can offer up a lot more than $4 million (if they can clear the space). They can offer Dumba guaranteed minutes in the top-four, and a genuine chance to partner regularly with Hughes. That opportunity alone should help Dumba’s numbers rebound, which then sets him up nicely to cash in on a larger contract come next summer.
The Canucks can also offer up a team with semi-competitive designs, and the chance for Dumba to be traded to a contender of his choice at the Trade Deadline if things don’t work out.
There’s a lot to like here for both sides of the potential negotiation. The Canucks will have to perform some roster management before any of this becomes possible, but the path is there should they choose to take it.
There’s risk involved, sure. But going into the 2023/24 season without an additional RHD on hand would be even Dumba.
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