Wild’s second straight scratch of Matt Dumba creates even more trade speculation

Wild’s second straight scratch of Matt Dumba creates even more trade speculation

SUNRISE, Fla. — When Wild coach Dean Evason indicated Friday that veteran defenseman Matt Dumba was going to be scratched for the second straight game, it certainly raised some eyebrows.

And it sparked several theories:

1. A trade is in the works

2. The Wild want to see how they can play without Dumba, who knows his days are numbered.

3. There was a behind-the-scenes conflict between Dumba and the staff after the first scratch.

While theory ‘B’ has some merit, the Wild insist there’s no trade in the works. It doesn’t sound like this is disciplinary action, either. Dumba is being scratched for the same reason he was scratched Thursday against Carolina. It’s performance-based, especially stemming from Tuesday’s game against Washington. If they’re going to run the team like a meritocracy, it makes sense to give Alex Goligoski another shot if they liked what they saw Thursday despite the 5-2 loss.

“We thought (Goligoski) was real good,” Evason said. “Obviously the result looks not good, but we didn’t give much up five-on-five. We’ve got to stay the hell out of the box regardless of good calls, bad calls. We can’t take penalties and expect to get away with it.”

It is surprising Dumba isn’t returning to the lineup. You figured you scratch him once to send a message, be a “wakeup call,” then put him back in. It’s what happened with rookie Calen Addison earlier this season. And Dumba, 28, isn’t some green kid, he’s been with the organization for a decade. He’s an alternate captain. And it’s not like there haven’t been games earlier where Dumba played worse than he did on Tuesday, which sparked his first performance-based scratch since 2016. All those are fair arguments.

But it’s also reasonable to think that Dumba shouldn’t be guaranteed his spot. The Wild need a lot of guys to play better, from their top line to new $49 million dollar man Matt Boldy. The margin for error is very slim, and with the Avalanche and Oilers making a push in the standings, every point matters. What is interesting is how these kinds of moves are communicated from the staff to a player like Dumba. Evason and Dumba both acknowledged there was a meeting ahead of Thursday’s scratch, though they declined to give details on it.

Dumba said there wasn’t further communication Friday ahead of his second straight scratch. I asked Evason if he had given Dumba a heads up that it might not just be a one-game blip?

“We don’t work like that,” Evason said. “When … we have a thought process and we’ll tell the player we have a thought process, but it can change. We won’t tell them they’ll be in or out. We go game by game. We see what happens last night and then we make a decision from there, and we made a decision.”

General manager Bill Guerin has insisted publicly that he’s not “shopping” Dumba. He told The Athletic over the weekend that they’d only trade Dumba if it made sense, that if they were getting a player back that could help them, likely a defenseman. Dumba, who is in the final year of his deal with a $6 million cap hit, knew his fate was pretty much sealed after the Wild signed Boldy to a seven-year, $49 million extension Monday.

These are, at the very least, his last few months with the team. Dumba told our Mike Russo the other day that Guerin has been upfront with him and his agents that he could get moved before the deadline. As Guerin put it, “It’s a tough business.”

But there’s no guarantee Dumba is moved at the March 3 deadline. From what I’m hearing, there’s not been a ton of interest. It’s not like teams are banging on Guerin’s door. Most teams, especially the contenders, are completely capped out or in LTIR. Dumba has struggled at times this season too, so it’s hard to get a read on what other clubs might see in Dumba.

“It’s hard to say because his salary is high and he hasn’t had a great season,” said one NHL scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could speak freely. “None of the contending teams have cap space, so it’s hard to see a fit unless money is going the other way. I think he’s a competitive player that makes questionable decisions at times. Secondary PP guy.

“It’s a hard trade to make, you’re not dealing from a position of strength.”

Another NHL scout, whose team is looking for help on the blue line, indicated there are a number of other defensemen on the market (pending UFAs or otherwise) and Dumba is “one of the last guys we talk about.” The scout noted Dumba could be a fifth or sixth defenseman on a winning team, but there are times where he takes too many penalties and makes too many turnovers.

This is not to say that a Dumba trade won’t happen — anything can change with a phone call. But the fact Dumba has been scratched a few games in a row isn’t exactly an indication that one is imminent,

A hot name leading up to the trade deadline is Canucks center Bo Horvat. It’s not a surprise considering Vancouver has struggled to sign him, and they’re definitely appearing to be in sell mode. I can see why the Wild are sometimes linked with Horvat (Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli have mentioned Minnesota having either a level of interest or have inquired).

But both my The Athletic colleague Mike Russo and I have reported that the Wild are not in on Horvat. They may have called about him or inquired at some point, but don’t expect them to be a serious bidder. You have to think part of that is the Wild aren’t in a position to attempt to sign him long-term. There are other pending UFA forwards out there that make sense like Jonathan Toews or Ryan O’Reilly, or Patrick Kane.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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