The 2023 NHL trade deadline is less than two months away: March 3rd. Although the Ottawa Senators probably won’t be making the playoffs, they could still be active on the trade front for certain players. One report came last night from Darren Dreger that the Senators have interest in Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba:
"The #Oilers are exploring the D market, but Ken Holland is willing to be patient." - Pierre LeBrun— Brennan Klak (@nhlupdate) January 10, 2023
"The Edmonton Oilers and the Ottawa Senators have interest in Matt Dumba, but Minnesota still needs him, price would be high" - Darren Dreger
Now, who knows if this is actually true, there’s a chance that Pierre Dorion asked about Dumba but then decided to move on. Furthermore, the Wild are in a playoff spot so it would be a bit strange to trade him (despite him being a UFA in the summer). Nevertheless, Dumba is an interesting player to talk about in regards to Ottawa upgrading on defense.
It’s no secret that Dorion has been looking at acquiring a right-shot defenseman since the summer, and players like John Marino, John Klingberg, Jacob Chychrun (who shoots left), and others have come up in rumours. There’s still a minuscule chance that Chychrun ends up in Ottawa, although that seems unlikely. Right-shot defensemen are extremely coveted around the league simply because there just aren’t that many of them who are any good. It’s why the Senators held on to Cody Ceci for years, hoping he’d turn into a top-four player. So it’s no surprise that Dorion has had an incredibly challenging time finding the right player for this group.
And to answer the question: yes, Ottawa absolutely needs another top-four defenseman. They seem pretty set with Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson, and Artem Zub holding down three of the spots, but Travis Hamonic and Nick Holden are bottom-pairing players and UFAs at the end of the season, Erik Brännström has been solid but is probably best-suited behind Sanderson, Nikita Zaitsev is a cap dump waiting to happen, and Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson could be full-time NHLers, but I’m not so confident that either one will be good enough to be Sanderson’s partner. The 2nd pairing RHD spot is the most glaring hole on the roster moving forward.
Enter Dumba, a defenseman who averages 21:07 of ice time per game, second on the Wild behind just his partner Jonas Brodin. He has been a stalwart in Minnesota since 2013, and more specifically since 2016 when he started to play over 20 minutes a night. Since 2016, he’s 45th amongst 295 defensemen (with 100+ GP) in average time on ice (22:21)—not amongst the league’s best, but clearly in the top-pairing range. He hasn’t always been a point producer, but he did put up 50 points in 2017-18 and has had three other seasons with 10+ goals. Dumba can have a physical edge as well, which is definitely something the Senators have been searching for. He’s 51st in hits with the same parameters from earlier, and I’m sure fans would love that side of him.
There’s no denying that Dumba has the pedigree. Sadly though, he isn’t the player he once was, and he makes little sense as an acquisition for the Senators.
Firstly, let’s talk about his contract. Dumba is making $6M this year and is a UFA in the summer. $6M is a hefty contract for a player who is only expected to play on the second pairing. Artem Zub is supposed to be on the first pairing and he’s making only $4.6M. Who knows what Dumba will end up getting on a new contract, but I can’t imagine he’ll be taking a massive pay cut at the age of 29. After all, Erik Gudbranson got a 4-year deal at $4M per year at the age of 30.
Even if he takes a slight pay cut and receives a 4-year deal at $5.5M per year, there’s just no way that Ottawa can meaningfully add to their roster after that. I recently outlined how tight things are going to be without adding Dumba to the mix:
Sens have ~$17.2M in cap space next season, with 4 RFAs and 5 UFAs— Trevor Shackles (@ShackTS) December 30, 2022
Pinto: $2.5M bridge
Replace Holden/Watson/Motte w/ $1M players
Acquire G/re-sign Talbot (~$3M)
Trade NZ's $4.5M with a pick
Left with $1.8M in cap, still need a RHD though
The Senators desperately need to move Nikita Zaitsev if they want to improve their roster next season and also keep Alex DeBrincat. Beyond that, there isn’t a ton of room to maneuver. Adding a salary at around $6M would be palatable if Dumba was an elite talent, but he’s far from it. He used to be a legitimate top-pairing player, but not anymore. These are a few of his player cards from this season and the past three seasons, respectively:
Evolving Hockey has him at the 18th percentile overall, and JFresh has him at the 28th percentile over the course of three seasons. For reference, Nikita Zaitsev is at the 17th percentile over those same three seasons, so somehow not that far off. In addition, he’s dead last on the Wild in goals above replacement (-5.1), even though his partner Brodin is at +1.7. It’s not as if these models are biased against him or something, because he was 5th amongst defenseman in GAR in 2017-18 at a whopping +13.8. Again, Dumba has been fantastic before. But aging curves for small, physical defensemen who don’t get a lot of points probably aren’t ideal. I don’t love the fact that his GAR has declined for five straight seasons:
So not only will he be making a lot of money, he’s clearly on the decline, and the Wild will be asking for a good return. I have no idea what the Senators would have to part with, but prospects like Egor Sokolov, Zack Ostapchuk, Roby Jarventie, Tyler Kleven, Tomas Hamara, etc. in addition to picks would probably be on the table. I have no issue with moving any of their prospects besides Ridly Greig for a good player because their system is quite thin right now. However, they’d be giving away assets for no reason with a Dumba trade.
The more I think and write about this, the more it befuddles me. I sincerely hope that the smoke is just talk and that Dorion isn’t actually interested, because not only would Dumba not improve the roster, it’d cost some valuable assets and it’d hurt their ability to retain other players due to a high salary. It’d feel like the Dion Phaneuf trade all over again, trying to catch lightning in a bottle with a defenseman who used to be a stud.
I don’t want to sound like I am completely slandering Dumba, because there was a time when he was legitimately a fantastic defenseman and I would’ve been ecstatic to have him in Ottawa. Furthermore, I love what he’s been able to do with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and he showed a lot of courage by raising his fist during the national anthem. But at the same time, players change over time, and Dumba just isn’t what he used to be.
You might be asking, well who else should they be targeting then? And that’s a great question. To be totally honest, I don’t know yet either, but it’s something that will take a deeper dive for another time. But just because there aren’t a ton of options doesn’t mean that we should settle for someone who would make things much worse for Ottawa. The problem is that I’m not sure I trust Dorion to find this missing piece, as proven NHL defensemen have been hard to come by for them.