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Is Matt Dumba the Flyers’ move?

Should the Flyers be pursuing the Minnesota defenseman?

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Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

It appears that Dougie Hamilton, the headliner of the 2021 free-agent market, is not the Flyers’ top priority.

In the latest edition of 31 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman reports that the Flyers’ defensive targets seem to be elsewhere. He later expands on this point:

15. Philadelphia’s got a lot of balls in the air. I figured they’d be in on Hamilton, but, as mentioned above, he doesn’t appears to be their top target. I’m speculating here, but my guesses would include Seth Jones and Matt Dumba (who GM Chuck Fletcher knows very well). It also wouldn’t be a shocker if they have asked the Coyotes about 2019 first-rounder Victor Soderstrom. The Flyers liked him at that draft, and Arizona actually flipped picks with them to move up and take the Swedish defenceman.

Neither Seth Jones nor Matt Dumba being linked to Philadelphia is all that surprising. Both players are right-shot, minute-eating defensemen whose ages fit the make-up of the Flyers’ roster. On the other hand, Victor Soderstrom’s name coming up is a bit of a surprise, given that he likely wouldn’t fill the Flyers’ most pressing need in his rookie season.

That’s not to say adding Soderstrom would be a bad idea. The Flyers lack up-and-coming right-shot defensemen and were reportedly high on him at the draft. The Coyotes moved up in the draft to pick Soderstrom, selecting him three picks before the Flyers picked Cam York.

Is Dumba the right fit?

We’ve discussed the possibility of a Jones trade over the last week, with varying degrees of concern. While there’s little cross-over with Dumba, he wouldn’t be a concern-free addition either. Though, he’d come with concerns that may be easier to accept.

Dumba, who turns 27 next month, has seen his offensive production dip in recent seasons following a ruptured pectoral muscle that caused him to miss 50 games back in the 2018-19 season. Prior to the injury, Dumba had followed up a 50-point campaign in 2017-18 with 12 goals and 10 assists in 32 games. His return to the Wild wasn’t so triumphant.

Here’s what SB Nation’s Minnesota Wild site, Hockey Wilderness, said of Dumba’s 2019-20 campaign:

Dumba’s 2019-20 season started off with a bang in the season opener against the Nashville Predators, as he scored a sweet top-shelf goal, his first in nearly 10 months. Right off the bat, it seemed as if Dumba was picking up right where he left off in 2018-19.

Unfortunately, things started to go south for Dumba after the first few games. Not only was he not producing offense at nearly the rate he had the previous two seasons, but his defensive play also seemed to become much more erratic, and there were several instances where he would leave fans wondering “What is he doing?”

As the season went on, Dumba continued to struggle offensively, but his defensive play did actually start to steadily improve, especially when playing alongside Jonas Brodin on the second pair.

They go on to say that both rust and luck played a role in Dumba’s inconsistent season, and the proof is in both the time that he missed, as well as his career-low shooting percentage. The success of his partnership with Jonas Brodin continued into the 2021 season, so much so that the two saw just as much ice time as Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon this past season, even slightly more on average.

Per PuckIQ’s quality of competition metric, only Brodin saw a higher percentage of his five-on-five minutes come against elite competition among Minnesota defensemen. The way that the Wild appeared to deploy their top-four suggests that they viewed the two pairs as a 1A-1B situation, and for good reason. Brodin and Dumba were fantastic together at the start of the season, by both the eyes and the numbers. By season’s end, Suter and Spurgeon once again looked to be the team’s best defensive pair, but the fact that there was even a competition speaks volumes to how well the pair had performed through the early portion of the season.

The repeated use of the word “pair” is key here, because we can’t discuss Dumba’s season without noting that his defensive partner, Brodin, is one of the league’s better defensive defensemen. In the past, as well as in the latter half of this season, Dumba’s play without the puck has come under fire. You don’t have to look for very long to find a lot of the same complaints about Dumba’s game that you’ll see from Flyers fans about Travis Sanheim.

Dumba is billed as an offense-first defenseman who plays with a physical edge, and Brodin’s reliable play without the puck helps allow Dumba to play his game. Philadelphia’s blueline doesn’t exactly have a Brodin-like player; that Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jake Muzzin player archetype. The question then becomes whether or not Dumba’s defensive deficiencies become an issue away from Brodin.

While his in-zone defense might leave more to be desired, Dumba excels at disrupting the opposition through the neutral zone. His neutral zone reads allow him to deny entry to his team’s defensive zone with control much more often than his peers. Per Corey Sznajder’s data, Dumba allowed a carry-in on just 48.2% of his targets in the 2021 tracked sample. Looking back on his previous three seasons, we find that this isn’t an outlier, but the norm. He’s been a well above average neutral zone defender for some time now.

His transition game overall is decidedly positive, with a good first-pass out of his own zone and the ability to skate the puck out when an opportunity presents itself. He’s not a “safe” player by traditional standards, and that may give pause given how erratic the Flyers’ blueline acted throughout last season. However, he’s a good player, one worthy of his $6,000,000 cap hit over the next two seasons.

What would it take?

Probably the biggest concern with Jones is what the Flyers would have to give up in order to acquire him in a trade. With Dumba, the reputation matches the play, and combined with the impact of the expansion draft, it may not take as much as one might expect to bring Dumba to Philadelphia.

The Wild have three defensemen with a no-movement clause (NMC) in their contracts (Suter, Spurgeon, and Brodin) that will all need to be protected in the Seattle expansion draft. Assuming they don’t get Suter to waive his NMC, they’re left with four options:

  1. Protect Dumba and expose at least one promising young forward in either Jordan Greenway or Kevin Fiala
  2. Leave Dumba unprotected, allowing Seattle to select him in the expansion draft
  3. Trade Dumba ahead of the draft for futures/help at the forward position
  4. Strike a trade with Seattle to take someone else in order to keep both Dumba and their young forwards on the roster

While option four sounds reasonable, NHL teams may shy away from making such moves after how poorly those trades turned out for them in the Vegas expansion draft. Option one just isn’t ideal at all for a team that needs to be bringing in and retaining young forwards, not watching them leave. That leaves the middle two. Minnesota may view Calen Addison as ready to take the next step, and rather than complicate things, allow Seattle to select Dumba, opening up a spot for Addison next season.

Losing such a talented defenseman for nothing is not the most attractive option. Instead, they could look to trade Dumba ahead of the expansion draft in order to capitalize on his value around the league. Should they go that route, Minnesota’s biggest need is at center, and they could be a landing spot for a certain young, underperforming high draft pick.

There’s been no public report linking the two, so this is pure speculation, but it’s easy to see why the Wild could have interest in Nolan Patrick. Wild General Manager Bill Guerin has said that while he’d like to improve his team down the middle, that they’re not going to overextend themselves to do so. As weak as their center depth looks, Patrick wouldn’t be a significant upgrade unless his game takes a major step forward next season. However, if you can acquire a young player that helps fill your team’s biggest need — and could still become a solid player — as a part of a package for a player that you could lose for nothing to Seattle, it has to be appealing.

If Patrick and a first-round pick would be enough to get a trade done, it shouldn’t be a tough decision from the Flyers’ perspective. Unless the Wild are higher on Patrick than we’d expect, or feel too cornered by Seattle, the Flyers would likely have to add something to the deal. That something, or someone, is where things can get complicated. Is Wade Allison a no-go as an addition on that trade? What about Morgan Frost?

However, the Wild could be set on getting a young, but proven NHL forward for Dumba and lock in on Travis Konecny. Presented with a one-for-one, it’d be a massive decision for Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher to make. Konecny’s even-strength production, and really, his overall impact, would be hard to replace. Of course, we know how hard it’d be to replace him because of how absent he appeared to be at times this season, specifically in the weeks that followed Alain Vigneault healthy scratching him for a game.

Adding Dumba to the mix would also complicate the Flyers’ own expansion plans, but that shouldn’t make them shy away from striking a deal. The Flyers need to upgrade their defense, and Dumba may be the player, or one of the players, that gets it done.

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